Decrepit humans rescue desperate canines, cats and the occasional rat in this collection of shaggy but piercing short stories.
Kearney’s impoverished, misfit, outcast characters live mainly on the fictional Sebequet Peninsula, which features a Native American reservation, ramshackle trailer parks and plywood cabins surrounded by trash and rusting metal. In this zone of squalor and despair, people’s connections with animals are, for many, their only links to life. In the story “Sparrows,” a disabled man and his meth-head sister precariously prop each other up but find a stabilizing influence when they take in a maimed pit bull. In “Beverley and Jim,” a raucous old woman, stricken with multiple sclerosis and alcoholism, lives in a caved-in trailer with a herd of cats. An exasperated neighbor helps her out only to realize her importance in his life too late. In the engrossing title story, members of the Sebequet community—including a pot-dealing commune, an animal-control officer and a busybody city transplant who runs a local resort—work out their mutual responsibilities by helping a household full of abused dogs. The Sebequet-based stories are remarkable for their understated, yet vivid, realism and their pitch-perfect rendering of the hard-bitten poverty and frayed social fabric of rural America. Other stories move beyond this territory: In “Driving While Remembering,” a woman returns to her childhood home in Des Moines, Iowa, and realizes how much she has missed; “Circles” ponders a Wyoming wilderness landscape—gorgeously painted by Kearney—and a woman’s regret at rejecting a stray dog; “The Christmas Rats” elegizes the lingering impact of two short-lived, offbeat pets in a girl’s life. Kearney’s prose is elegant and unfussy, with threads of humor and lyricism. She has an excellent eye for settings and ear for dialogue, and she treats her characters, and their relationships with their pets, with a cleareyed, unsentimental sensitivity and psychological depth. Through their struggles, she shows readers a search for meaning through the humblest acts of caretaking and companionship.
A superb collection of stories about the most elemental of bonds.