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“When people let you down, the natural world is the place to find solace, or so the reader learns from this fascinating new collection of short stories. Whether it be from Alzheimer's, depression, affairs, or reasons yet to be determined, family members in these stories keep disappearing. Fortunately, there are substitute connections, whether it's the teen student in 'Dharma at the Gate' who has her dog, or the young aquarium worker of 'Captivity' who is quite aware of the intelligence of the octopus. Geni's work is filled with unique images and situations, some of them heart-stopping.”
— Daniel Goldin, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
The Last Animal by Abby Geni is that rare literary find — a remarkable series of stories unified around one theme: people who use the interface between the human and the natural world to contend with their modern challenges of love, loss, and family life. These are vibrant, weighty stories that herald the arrival of a young writer of surprising feeling and depth.
"Terror Birds" tracks the dissolution of a marriage set against an ostrich farm in the sweltering Arizona desert; "Dharma at the Gate" features the tempest of young love as a teenaged girl must choose between man's best friend, her damaged boyfriend, and a beckoning future; "Captivity" follows an octopus handler at an aquarium still haunted by the disappearance of her brother years ago; "The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr" details a Greek chorus of Jewish girls at a summer camp whose favorite counselor goes missing under suspicious circumstances; "In the Spirit Room" centers on a scientist suffering the heartbreaking loss of a parent from Alzheimer's while living in the natural history museum where they both worked; in "Fire Blight" a father grieving over his wife's recent miscarriage finds an outlet for comfort in their backyard garden and makes a surprising discovery on how to cherish living things; and in the title story, a retired woman traces the steps of the husband who left her thirty years ago, burning the letters he had sent along the way, while the luminous and exotic wildlife of the Pacific Ocean opens up to receive her.
Unflinching, exciting, ambitious and heartfelt, The Last Animal takes readers through a menagerie of settings and landscapes as it underscores the connection between all living things.
About the Author
Abby Geni is the author of The Lightkeepers, winner of the 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction and the inaugural Chicago Review of Books Award for Best Fiction.
Praise for The Last Animal
A Finalist for the 2014 Orion Book Award for Fiction
"Human predicaments are complemented by the wild natural world in this excellent debut story collection from Chicago–based author Geni. The characters and events here are unusual and far–reaching, but Geni's careful craftsmanship renders them immediate and real. Each story is threaded with page–turning, deeply felt tension, yet each has also been planted with a seed of magic in varying stages of growth.. An entrancing collection, recommended even for those who generally shy away from short story." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred)
"The short stories in Geni's debut collection beautifully reveal how exposure to nature helps people in emotional pain to recover. In each well–researched piece, Geni vividly depicts the setting, as well as the animals or plants that play important roles All ten stories here are wonderfully written, with precise language and a true compassion for the hardships of the characters. Highly recommended." —Library Journal (Starred)
"The Last Animal by Abby Geni is the rare short story collection that's as coherent and powerful as a well–constructed novel. It begs to be read straight through rather than sampled casually. Although each story stands on its own, as an ensemble, their brilliance becomes apparent Geni's prose is clean and slightly dreamlike, in an intimate voice that lingers occasionally on glimmering sensory details Reading The Last Animal is like glimpsing a distant, hauntingly familiar shore illuminated by the rotating beam of a lighthouse." —Shelf Awareness, (Starred)
"Geni's first book puts us on notice. Here is a fiction writer who perceives the many forms of consciousness at work on the planet. In shrewd, sure stories, Geni registers the life force of trees, deciphers the confusions of human emotions, and considers the mystery of our interactions with other species Endangerment, disappearance, isolation, love adrift, the attempt to hold on to and define life—Geni illuminates each condition and effort with keen realism and empathetic imagination to wondrously disquieting effect." — Booklist
"I have known for a while that Abby Geni is a brilliant writer, and I'm happy that at last the world will find out. These are sharp, incisive, thoughtful, and utterly original stories, and I recommend this book with all my heart!" —Dan Chaon, National Book Award Finalist, author of Stay Awake and Await Your Reply
"Combining the cool precision of a naturalist with the heart of a born storyteller, Abby Geni catalogues an astounding array of characters whose lives have been undone by the mysterious departures and disappearances of loved ones. Instead of solving these mysteries, she plunges us deeper into them, and the results, like so many of the creatures in this book, are strange, haunting, and beautiful." —Jim Gavin, Middle Men
"Abby Geni is a sharpshooter, a tamer of wild animals, a clear–eyed wonder. The Last Animal is a phenomenally ambitious debut collection and announces Geni's many talents to the world with the volume of a herd of stampeding elephants. I loved this book, and you will, too." —Emma Straub
"Abby Geni's worlds exist at the boundary between desolation and abundance, civilization and nature, love and loneliness. It is as if everything and everyone in these beautiful stories is at least half wild." —Ramona Ausubel, A Guide to Being Born
"The Last Animal is a work of rare insight and beauty. Abby Geni's vision is expansive and haunting and wholly new, and she illuminates her characters' loneliness and longing in a way that will break your heart. This book is about love and animals and loss and the whole world; you must read it." —Karen E. Bender, A Town of Empty Rooms
"It's rare to find a single story that's both highly imaginative while also unflinchingly earnest, thrilling while also deeply moving and wise. With The Last Animal we get ten stories that fulfill this ambitious criteria, and an amazing collection that announces Abby Geni as a powerful and original new voice in fiction." —Alan Heathcock, Volt