The Animals

In his great poem "The Bear," Galway Kinnell refers to "the chilly, enduring odor of bear." In Christian Kiefer's outstanding novel, The Animals, that enduring odor rises up in Majer, a blind bear with "eyes filmed in milk, the pupils twin gray pools." Bill Reed lovingly cares for Majer and other animals--a wolf, raccoons, porcupines, martens, raptors and more--at the North Idaho Wildlife Rescue. Kiefer's second novel, after the well-received The Infinite Tides, goes deep into the dark, poetic places Kinnell's poem explored.

Kiefer uses classic noir technique to portray a man trying to escape his past in order to atone for it. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Bill (Nat back then) was in Reno 12 years earlier, and then in a Carson City prison. It's now 1996, and he's happy to be living a fairly isolated existence in the woods. He has a nice girlfriend, Grace (the local veterinarian), a new name and he's enjoying taking care of the animals he has saved, "brought back from whatever deprivations had been enacted upon them," whether collision, firearms, fences, traps, poisons. All that changes when he gets a phone call from an old Nevada friend just out of prison after 12 years. He wants his share of "the money," and he's coming to get it.

Kiefer's juxtaposition of past and present, the lost with the found, a life without love with one filled with it gives this novel depth and feeling. If you love great fiction--and animals--the raw emotional power of this book will leave you devastated. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

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