Menace at the edge of sanctuary

In “The Animals,” a wildlife rescuer faces his ugly past.

 

“My god that you could walk through such a landscape. My god that such a landscape existed anywhere but in your dreams. And yet here it was.” California-based novelist Christian Kiefer creates a gorgeous, desolate tableau in which his characters are bewitched by natural beauty even as they’re betrayed by human actions, especially their own.

Wildlife rescuer Bill Reed and his unofficial Idaho sanctuary are in peril as The Animals begins, when the district game warden threatens to close the place down, citing federal environmental rules and regulations. Meanwhile, Bill’s nightmarish past catches up with him, when Rick, who was once his closest friend, is released from a long stretch in prison. The two were inseparable during their bleak childhoods in Battle Mountain, Nevada, enduring family tragedies and alcoholic parents. Together, they later escaped to Reno, only to get lost in dead-end jobs, drugs and trouble with the law. Now, Rick has returned in search of the money they netted in a long-ago burglary. Or perhaps it’s really vengeance he wants; the threat of violence hovers over the novel like a pall.

Istock

What solace there is comes by way of Bill’s animals, all of them once wild, most now recovering from various traumas in cages or enclosures, yet still pulsing with life. Bill has fled his gambling addiction and subsequent debt, seeking redemption in a solitary life in the woods. “A geography of snowed-over silence. Elk would come down through the trees on their way to the meadows in the south, their calls echoing up from those blank white plains.”

Kiefer’s narrative voice recalls that of Faulkner, complete with a blind bear named “Majer.” The bear’s presence haunts the reader; from the beginning, we fear for Majer’s life. Bill’s harsh and precarious world is increasingly endangered, and as the novel unfolds, our fears are realized in unpredictable ways and with unforeseen consequences.

Lovers of wilderness and of words will find both pleasure and sorrow in the rich, lyrical sentences of The Animals. “Were a fox to step out from behind the trees and speak in human words, or a raven to descend wearing a suit coat and a top hat, you would not have been surprised. Worlds overlapping.”

The Animals: A Novel
Christian Kiefer
320 pages,
softcover: $15.95.
Liveright, 2016.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Conservation Project Manager Position Description Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • TECHNICAL ADVISOR TO THE GOOD NEIGHBOR AGREEMENT
    Northern Plains Resource Council seeks an independent contractor to implement the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) between local communities and the Sibanye-Stillwater Mining Company in Montana....