As the title suggests, animals are the connecting motif among the 11 stories here, though newcomer Tinti’s real concern lies with damaged human beings.
In the title piece, an elephant keeper tempts fate by placing his head under the foot of his elephant—because of his own experience as victim and victimizer. The dog that appears in “Home Sweet Home,” sniffing around a dead body, belongs to a murderess who not only kills her husband’s mistress but also gets custody of her stepson, who has been unloved by his father. The pain of an absent or abusive father is frequently the underlying theme. In “Talk Turkey,” the most involving story here, three unhappy preteen boys run away from home. After an accident on the road, the two with fathers, however imperfect, are rescued by said fathers and pick up their lives; the youngster being raised by his single mother is left behind, never heard from again. The zoo diorama restorer who feels stalked by a stuffed bear in “Preservation” is coming to grips with the impending death of her father, a famous artist but negligent parent. The same bear appears in “Hit Man of the Year,” where it becomes a weapon used by a mob killer whose character is defined by his fatherless status and resulting lack of love. Tinti’s animals are seldom more that props or metaphors for what’s going on within her human characters; an exception is “Reasonable Terms,” in which zoo animals go on strike. The two most brutal tales, “Slim’s Last Ride” and “Bloodworks,” involve children whose attacks on animals are particularly vicious. “Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus” comes as a refreshing finale: the heroine, abandoned by her father but followed by his hired detectives, escapes into the African jungle, becomes an explorer of mythic proportions, and has a monkey named after her.
The clearly talented Tinti isn’t afraid to take risks, but sometimes she pushes her artfulness a bit too self-consciously.