Mazza (Dog People, 1997, etc.) weaves together faxes, italicized internal musings, flashback dialogue, standard narrative, and letters typed on an old-fashioned manual machine to explore the convergence of a wildlife biologist’s personal identity crisis with another crisis in the natural world.
Brian travels to Wyoming to conduct a follow-up investigation on cougars that have been experimentally relocated from California. In a small town near Rawlins, he hires a young assistant, Leya, and takes up a moonlighting job killing the coyote that are considered vermin by local ranchers. Monitoring his cougars, shooting coyote from a helicopter, becoming involved in questionable dealings with a local rancher, and possibly falling in love with Leya, Brian tests himself continually, both as a marksman and as a potential killer or protector of human prey. Unfortunately, for all the trappings of experimental fiction, Mazza has constructed Brian essentially as the stock romantic male: brooding, withdrawn, sensitive. His fear about his murderous intent, we discover, is tied to guilt over the part he played (or did not play) in his older sister’s suicide when he was 13. The story of that horrendous family crisis, though, with its violence and incest anchored in cliché, fails to build weight or suspense. Similarly, while Brian’s romance with Leya is charged on Brian’s part with an affecting emotional ambivalence, Mazza writes dialogue, particularly for Leya, that’s annoyingly talky and self-conscious. Still, the author shines in her descriptions of nature and her feel for wildlife. The solution she leads Brian to in the powerful drama of a cougar that hasn’t adjusted to relocation according to human standards is particularly satisfying.
An ambitious but intrusively “literary” novel of people and animals, the animals this time far more interesting than the people.