This week’s New Title Tuesday pick Rough Animals by Rae DelBianco is not the type of book I normally choose, but I took a chance and enjoyed getting out of my comfort zone – not just in terms of genre but also habitat. The story is about the hardscrabble life of struggling ranchers far from the conveniences and relative safety of urban life.
Ever since their father’s untimely death five years before, Wyatt Smith and his inseparably close twin sister, Lucy, have scraped by alone on their family’s isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. That is until one morning when, just after spotting one of their bulls lying dead in the field, Smith is hit in the arm by a hail of gunfire that takes four more cattle with it. The shooter: a fever-eyed, fearsome girl-child with a TEC-9 in her left hand and a shotgun in her right. They hold the girl captive, but she breaks loose overnight and heads south into the desert. With the dawning realization that the loss of cattle will mean the certain loss of the ranch, Smith feels he has no choice but to go after her and somehow find restitution for what’s been lost.
His decision sets him on an epic twelve-day odyssey through a nightmarish underworld he only half understands; a world that pitches him not only against the primordial ways of men and the beautiful yet brutally unforgiving landscape, but also against himself. As he winds his way down from the mountains of Box Elder to the mesas of Monument Valley and back, Smith is forced to look for the first time at who he is and what he’s capable of, and how those hard truths set him irrevocably apart from the one person he’s ever really known and loved. Steeped in a mythic, wildly alive language of its own, and gripping from the first gunshot to the last, Rough Animals is a tour de force from a powerful new voice.
The jacket cover says that Rough Animals is for fans of Breaking Bad and No Country for Old Men. This is an apt description and readers should be aware of the violence and desperation driving the story. With that said, the writing is as spare and clear as the desert sky.
Rough Animals, at its core, is about survival. In an interview with Aram Mrjoian for Chicago Review of Books, DelBianco said, “Survival has a lot more to do with mental strength than physical strength. So while there are limits (especially in a world of shotguns and TEC-9s), usually the question of how much a person’s body can take is determined by what their mind will allow them to do—whether they can ignore social norms, move past their old ideas of what is honorable or ‘right,’ and even dismiss logic when it says they should already be dead.”
Vogue critic Corey Seymour wrote, “Rough Animals, the just-out first novel from Rae DelBianco, is that rara avis: A fiction debut at once sure-footed, almost existentially gripping, and raucously, violently unexpected.”
Fair warning, there are some gruesome events in Rough Animals. That is exactly why I believe it will soon be a motion film blockbuster that I’d happily see in its first run at the theater.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
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