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When Flannery, a young scientist, is forced to return to Austin after five years of research in Nigeria, she becomes torn between her two homes. Having left behind her loving fiancé without knowing when she will return, Flannery learns that her sister, Molly, has begun to show signs of the genetic disease that slowly killed their mother.
As their close-knit circle of friends struggles with Molly’s diagnosis, Flannery must grapple with what her future will hold: love and the pursuit of scientific discovery in West Africa, or the pull of a life surrounded by old friends, the comfort of an old flame, family obligations, and the home she’s always known. But she is not the only one wrestling with uncertainty. Since their college days, all of her friends have faced unexpected challenges that make them reevaluate the lives they’d always planned for themselves.
A mesmerizing debut from an exciting young writer, Migratory Animals is a moving, thought-provoking novel, told from shifting viewpoints, about the meaning of home and what we owe each other—and ourselves. (publisher)
About the author:
Mary Helen Specht‘s work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times and Bookslut. A winner of the Richard Yates Short Story Award, among other prizes, she is a former Fulbright scholar to Nigeria and Dobie Paisano writing fellow. She earned a MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and now teaches creative writing at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.
Praise for Mary Helen Specht and MIGRATORY ANIMALS
“A finely wrought first novel. . . . Specht weaves fascinating details on snowflakes, weaving, birding, genetics and engineering, plus a spot-on-portrait of Austin.”
“Specht’s vivid debut probes the nature of family, the notion of home, and the tender burdens of both. . . . Specht’s distinctive prose — rich with sharp observations, nimble language, and lyrical imagery — makes the novel a quirky and memorable read.”
— Publishers Weekly
“An ambitious, highly accomplished debut novel. . . . Specht moves among a deep cast of characters and corresponding perspectives with absolute mastery. This is the best kind of novel, one that’s filled with knowledge–about America, Africa, climate change, weaving, and snow, just to name a few of the core concerns of this fine book. But most important, and impressive, is Specht’s sure handling of the interior life, and the ways in which we help to make or break those around us.”
— Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“A novel of tremendous scope and insight that succeeds both as an exploration of larger global concerns and an acute examination of the most intimate parts of our lives. Mary Helen Specht is a terrific writer — passionate and generous, wry and insightful — and Migratory Animals is a wonderful and very moving debut.”
— Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
“Mary Helen Specht’s lyrical novel reminds me of the work of both Claire Messud and Barbara Kingsolver. Migratory Animals is a luminous debut about a group of young friends finding their place in the world. Rich with love and heartbreak, it’s the book I’ll be wanting to share with all my friends.”
— Amanda Eyre Ward, author of How To Be Lost
“This emotionally nuanced debut shimmers with all the intricate, singular beauty of the snow crystals that beguile Flannery, one of the novel’s many unforgettable characters. The men and women of Mary Helen Specht’s imagination inhabit a world of breathtaking vividness, where life’s pains and pleasures ripple through to marvelous effect. A heartbreaking, edifying, and resonant work of art.”
— Keija Parssinen, author of The Ruins of Us
“In prose as quirky and elegant as its characters, Specht proves that — after confusion, missteps, even denial — a village can embrace you. Each of these characters set on saving the world in his or her fine-tuned way is forced to face the bad news life inevitably delivers. One by one, they lower their sights and love each other fiercely, protectively, making a community more beautiful than the one they first envisioned because it’s real. This big, dreamy novel flies by as swift as time.”
— Debra Monroe, author of On the Outskirts of Normal
“A beautifully precise group portrait in which Mary Helen Specht manages to capture not just a particular set of characters but a generational mood and moment. Without forcing any answers, it asks a powerful, probing question: how should you behave when life suddenly gets real?”
— Stephen Harrigan, author of Remember Ben Clayton
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Back of the book: Veterinarian Cami Anderson has hit a rough patch. Stymied by her recent divorce, she wonders if there are secret ingredients to a happy, long-lasting marriage or if the entire institution is outdated and obsolete. Couples all around her are approaching important milestones. Her parents are preparing to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. Her brother and his partner find their marriage dreams legally blocked. Her former sister-in-law—still her best friend—is newly engaged. The youthfully exuberant romance of her teenage daughter is developing complications. And three separate men—including her ex-husband—are becoming entangled in Cami’s messy post-marital love life.
But as she struggles to come to terms with her own doubts amid this chaotic circus of relationships, Cami finds strange comfort in an unexpected confidant: an angry, unpredictable horse in her care. With the help of her equine soul mate, she begins to make sense of marriage’s great mysteries—and its disconnects.
The Blessings of the Animals is a novel about relationships – mostly marriage but also parental, sibling, and friends. And then there’s the love of and responsibility to animals. Katrina Kittle shows the beauty of being faithful to the people (and animals) in one’s life and the fallout when that doesn’t happen. She also shows that being faithful to someone and making him/her content are not the same thing. In the end, we are responsible for our own feelings of contentment.
The animals in the book are wonderful. They made me laugh out loud and also had me tearing up. I don’t want to give away any of the joy in learning about them so I’ll just say I felt as emotional about them as I did the human characters. Cami is a veterinarian and there is nothing she won’t do for the animals. What the animals give to her is what she would hope to receive from the people in her life. It would have been so easy for her to just shut down when her life changes abruptly but Kittle gives us a woman who rises to meet her responsibilities to her daughter, her friends, and her job. It’s hard but she gives it her best and in doing that she starts her life moving in a new direction.
I didn’t plan to read this book as quickly as I did but I was hooked from the first page. I enjoyed all the characters and adored the animals. The Blessings of the Animals will be on my 2010 Favorite Books list. It would be a great selection for a book club.
Review copy from Harper Perennial