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by Abby Geni

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Counterpoint Press
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5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.80(d)


The Last Animal by Abby Geni is that rare literary find — a remarkable series of stories unified around one theme: people who use the interface between the human and the natural world to contend with their modern challenges in love, loss, and family life. These are vibrant, weighty stories that herald the arrival of a young writer of surprising feeling and depth.

“Terror Birds” tracks the dissolution of a marriage set against an ostrich farm in the sweltering Arizona desert; “Dharma at the Gate” features the tempest of young love as a teenaged girl must choose between man’s best friend, her damaged boyfriend, and a beckoning future; “Captivity” follows an octopus handler at an aquarium still haunted by the disappearance of her brother years ago; “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” details a Greek chorus of Jewish girls at a summer camp whose favorite counselor goes missing under suspicious circumstances; “In the Spirit Room” centers on a scientist suffering the heartbreaking loss of a parent from Alzheimer’s while living in the natural history museum where they both worked; in “Fire Blight” a father grieving over his wife’s recent miscarriage finds an outlet for comfort in their backyard garden and makes a surprising discovery on how to cherish living things; and in the title story, a retired woman traces the steps of the husband who left her thirty years ago, burning the letters he had sent along the way, while the luminous and exotic wildlife of the Pacific Ocean opens up to receive her.

Unflinching, exciting, ambitious and yet heartfelt, The Last Animal will guide readers through a menagerie of settings and landscapes as it underscores the connection among all living things.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This uneven debut collection of stories sets the familiar motifs of infidelity, heartbreak, and loss against unfamiliar and often exciting backdrops, and successfully interlocks human foibles with a single theme: the profound coloring of our relationships by our experience of the natural world. In "Terror Birds," the dissolution of a marriage comes to a violent conclusion on an ostrich farm; in "Captivity," an octopus handler becomes caught up in a mystery surrounding her missing brother; and in "Dharma at the Gate," a girl with an emotionally abusive boyfriend writes in her journal, "Without my dog... I would not know how to feel certain things. Without him, I do not believe I would ever feel joy." Varied in perspective and setting, the stories take on an almost mythical quality. Unfortunately, while the stories and the people telling them are diverse, the prose is not, and midway through the collection, it becomes saccharine and cloying. Every character sounds the same and seems to speak through Geni's narrative voice, which is particularly a problem in "Terror Birds," where the shifting of perspective from mother to son underscores Geni's inability to break free of her own stylistic tics. This collection shows brooding promise but lacks the right filter through which to render it. (Oct.)

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