I have to say, Unlikely Animals is one of my favorite weird reads ever. To start: this book is collectively narrated by the…residents?…of a local cemetery. Really, they’re all a bunch of gossips, deeply interested in the lives of the people who live in their New Hampshire town.
Their focus in this story is the Starling family. Emma has returned to town from California, where she was supposed to be in medical school (but wasn’t), and now is back because her father, Clive, is dying of a brain disease. Clive is having hallucinations and is obsessed with finding Emma’s former best friend, Crystal, who has disappeared.
On top of all this, Emma also has a touch of magic about her–the ability to heal small things, which seems to have disappeared. So between the magic, the ghosts, the visions, and the gossips in the cemetery, there’s a lot of levity to be had here, mixed in with the very real crises of drugs, disease, and the disappearance of a young woman. Despite these dark themes, it’s not a spoiler to say that this had one of the most delightful endings in recent memory.
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Natural-born healer Emma Starling once had big plans for her life, but she’s lost her way. A medical school dropout, she’s come back to small-town Everton, New Hampshire, to care for her father, who is dying from a mysterious brain disease. Clive Starling has been hallucinating small animals, as well as having visions of the ghost of a long-dead naturalist, Ernest Harold Baynes, once known for letting wild animals live in his house. This ghost has been giving Clive some ideas on how to spend his final days.Emma arrives home knowing she must face her dad’s illness, her mom’s judgment, and her younger brother’s recent stint in rehab, but she’s unprepared to find that her former best friend from high school is missing, with no one bothering to look for her. The police say they don’t spend much time looking for drug addicts. Emma’s dad is the only one convinced the young woman might still be alive, and Emma is hopeful he could be right. Someone should look for her, at least. Emma isn’t really trying to be a hero, but somehow she and her father bring about just the kind of miracle the town needs.
Set against the backdrop of a small town in the throes of a very real opioid crisis, Unlikely Animals is a tragicomic novel about familial expectations, imperfect friendships, and the possibility of resurrecting that which had been thought irrevocably lost.