The Animals

The Animals by Christian Kiefer

The Animals by Christian KieferThe Animals by Christian Kiefer
Published by Liveright on March 23rd 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 352
Buy from IndieBound


Over a decade after leaving behind a crime-ridden past, Bill Reed lives a quiet life tending to an animal sanctuary in Idaho. Opened by his uncle, the sanctuary is home to injured wildlife that have helped rescue Bill just as much as he helped them. Despite attempts to forget his past, when a childhood friend is released from prison, Bill is forced to face the actions he took and decisions he made so many years before.

From the first lines of its haunting opening, written in second-person perspective, The Animals establishes its overarching themes. Can we truly move forward from our past or is it bound to catch up with us? In scenes that flash between decades, both moving forward until they converge, Kiefer combines the beauty of literary fiction with the suspense of a crime novel.

“What you have come for is death. You might try to convince yourself otherwise but there is no truth but the truth that is, and yet still you will come down the mountain, down from the animals, as if you might encounter something other than what you already know will be, your hope the clinging desires of a fool.”

Though the shifts in perspective feel slightly disjointed at first, the purpose becomes clear as the novel progresses and each return to the telling you grows more ominous than the last. Bill’s intense relationship with the animals he cares for, the new life he’s built and the past he made every attempt to leave behind collide in a powerful conclusion that highlights Kiefer’s incredible talent. One of the best novels of 2015 so far, The Animals is a fantastic example of powerful story in the hands of a master writer.


  • I tend to feel suspicious of second-person – it can so often feel gimmicky, you know? This sounds like it really worked, though!

    • It can! I think it works here because it’s not the whole novel.

      • Christian Kiefer

        Hey Shannon:

        Can you e-mail me a mailing address? I’ve got a new think coming out in March & I want to make sure you get a copy. (& Sarah and Julianne too, actually.) is me.


  • I was hoping to hear good things about this one – on the list it goes!

  • I wasn’t sure about this one when you first mentioned it, but your description of “combines beauty of literary fiction with the suspense of a crime novel” really intrigues me. Adding to the ever expanding TBR!

    • Yes! It’s rare that it’s done well, but it really works in this one.

      • Yes – totally! But, when it’s done well, it’s about my favorite thing ever. I think My Sunshine Away was a good example of an intriguing crime, but reads like literary fiction.

  • Oh, this sounds interesting. Second-person can be hard to pull off, but the quote you’ve pulled seems to work. Adding to the list. Like I needed more books to read… though I suppose I always appreciate having a known slump-buster on the list.

  • I don’t want to read this yet, as I’m going to try and go see the author next week, but I’m looking forward to the event and the book from our brief discussions of this one. Thanks for lighting the fire!

    • I hope I’m not wrong, but I feel like it’s squarely in your wheelhouse. I can’t wait to hear about the event!

  • Second person! That’s definitely the only advertisement I need to capture my attention. I really love second, when done well, thought’s horrendously difficult to pull off. The literary/suspense combination also sounds verrrrry tempting, haha.

    • Have you read The Wives of Los Alamos? It’s written completely in second person about the women married to men working on the atomic bomb. Many people disliked it because they couldn’t get into the perspective, but I LOVED it.

    • I take that back, The Wives of Los Alamos is first person plural, but it’s such a cool perspective that you don’t see often…highly recommended!

      • First person plural is even cooler, though! :D I absolutely have to see how it works, then. I will absolutely try to library it soon.

    • Susan W

      Funny, I saw second person and was all thanks but no thanks. I find it interesting that most of the comments about this post are about the use of second person. It really is a dividing factor. I find when I try to read it, I spend too much time trying to figure out the ‘you’, is it me the author is talking to or am I talking to the character? I might be the only one with that problem but second person just reads awkward to me.

      • Second person is absolutely a love or hate kind of thing, I think! And it’s strange because, as you said, sometimes it can feel like the narrator is addressing the reader instead of the character (or vice versa, I guess). Weirdly, I absolutely hate when a narrator breaks the fourth wall (a first-person narrator addresses the reader as “you” once in a while, à la Charlotte Brontë), but full-time second person doesn’t bother me at all for some reason. Perhaps it’s the novelty of the perspective that attracts so many readers?

  • Ooooooh, this sounds REALLY good, Shannon! Thanks so much for the intriguing review; I’m going to have to add this one to the list!

  • Ooh, this sounds excellent!

  • Similar themes to The Buried Giant. I have to look it up!

  • Lindsey Stefan

    “One of the best novels of 2015 so far” is high praise! I’m going to have to look this one up.

  • You’ve sold me on this. Second person sounds intriguing… I can’t think of a book I’ve ever read in the second person….

  • Huh- it isn’t often I see books based in Idaho that people really like. I’ll have to look this one up. It’s interesting it’s about an animal sanctuary based in Idaho, because one of the “bad” things Idaho is known for is animal abuse.
    ~Litha Nelle

    • It crosses between a few locations (Reno in his past, Idaho in present), but I can’t really think of many books I’ve read set in Idaho. It’s interesting you mention the animal abuse, because many of the animals he keeps were rescued from abuse or accidents.

  • I want it. Second person segments make me super nervous, but I want to read this book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention (both now and earlier)!

    • I feel like this kind of revengey/drug crime dude is a thing I have (that sprung out of my love for gritty Southern fiction), and it’s started to lead me wrong…but this one was so good.

  • Oh glad to hear the positive review as I have this one in my sights. Combining both a crime novel and literary fiction makes it sound like a quick good read. thanks

  • It’s really interesting hearing you guys talk about the second person here. I don’t think I’ve thought about it nearly as much as you all have (despite having written the book). I wish all my readers were as smart as the folks on this site! Thanks for reading it, Shannon, and I’m super glad you liked it.

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