Christian Kiefer, on the English faculty at American River College in Sacramento, writes in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where he lives with his wife and five sons.
Kiefer’s brooding, probing style is on full display in “The Animals” ($25.95 in hardcover from W.W. Norton; also for Amazon Kindle), the story of Bill Reed, a loner who operates the North Idaho Wildlife Rescue. Among the hurt animals is Bill’s beloved grizzly, Majer, blind now but a lover of marshmallows. Bill is in love with Grace, the veterinarian, and her son Jude, both abandoned by Grace’s now ex-husband.
But Bill is a man with a past--Nat is his real name--and he is forced to confront it when his former lifelong friend Rick tracks him down after his release from prison. It is a past of booze, cocaine and gambling, abject poverty, thievery and broken friendships. There is violence here and loss upon loss and a final, deadly confrontation.
Yet something else. Nat remembers when he was thirteen going shooting with his brother and Rick. They came across a red-tailed hawk struggling on the ground and put it in a coat.
“The hawk is quiet but you can feel its life even through the jacket, a kind of fierce and fragile whirring that seems to run up through your arms and into your chest. What thoughts you have are about the impossibility of this moment, that some great and mighty creature of the air might find itself broken beside a roadway just at the moment that you and your friend and your brother happen to pass. And yet here it is between your hands, a wild thing as if from some storybook.”
That memory is part of Nat, too. “But the universe held its workings in secret,” he understood, “and a man could claim nothing from that void and instead would need to design in that obscure and private place that is his heart the laws that would govern his life.”
Kiefer will be honored with a book signing at Lyon Books in Chico, Thursday, March 26 at 7:00 p.m.