Wednesday Book Review: ‘The Blessings of the Animals’

Horse Nation book editor Erin McCabe finds this novel by Katrina Kittle a fast-moving, and just plain moving, read.

From Erin:

Costco Ain’t Just for Big Stuff

Sometimes you can find amazing things Costco.  No, I’m not talking about the 10 pound bag of carrots, although my horses certainly think that’s an amazing find.  I’m also not talking about the giant boxes of Wheat-Thins and Cheez-Its that provide life-sustaining nutrition at horse shows.  What I am talking about is the Costco book section.  In the past six months, Costco has surprised me with not one (The Eighty Dollar Champion) but two horsey books.  And so, I present to you, The Blessings of the Animals, by Katrina Kittle.

Wandering through the book aisle is one of the few pleasures I find in going to Costco (everything else is just so overwhelming and giant).  So, imagine my surprise when I found a book with a horse on its cover.  I mean, I already have a “to read” list that’s a mile long.  I already had a book I was planning to read for this week.  But I feel like part of my job is to find horsey books in unexpected places, and so of course I had to take The Blessings of the Animals home with me.

The book has a pretty dang promising opening.  In the first chapter, small animal veterinarian protagonist Cami Anderson receives a call to help rescue several starving horses (which makes me wonder:  do all horse lovers harbor the desire to run their own rescue organizations?).  She ends up taking a pair of fillies to her father who, it turns out, is a former Olympic rider (seriously, what is it about fiction being populated with former Olympic riders?  No wonder as a kid I thought it would be no problem to earn myself a spot on an Olympic team).  She also brings home one of the horses to her own barn, which is already populated by her teen daughter’s horse, a pony, and a goat named Muriel.  But even with all that, the horses in the book are mostly in the background, part of Cami’s life, an integral part of several of the story’s turning points, but not the focus of the novel.

What the book really explores is relationships.  Specifically marriage in all its various forms (from Cami’s own ill-advised marriage which ends in divorce, to her parents’ 50-year marriage which has survived infidelity, to her best friend’s engagement at age 40, to a family friend’s parents who have found love inside their arranged marriage, to Cami’s animal-rescue sidekick who is staunchly unmarried to her partner of 20 years, to Cami’s brother who is unable to marry his partner).  All of which is to say, if you’re interested in a book that holds marriage at its center then this is probably the book you’ve been waiting for.  It definitely goes a lot deeper than that joke: “My husband said he’d leave me if I went to one more horse show… damn, I miss him.” However,  if you want a book about how a damaged rescue horse helps a woman overcome her divorce (like the back of the book promises), well, you might be a little disappointed.   Not that the horse doesn’t help, just that he doesn’t help enough for this to really qualify as a “horse book.”

Still, the book is enjoyable.  Most of the story is told from Cami’s perspective, except for the sprinkling of vignettes told from the perspective of some of the other women in the story (if you’ve read a book by Sena Jeter Nasland—Four Spirits, Ahab’s Wife—who Kittle credits as one of her teachers, then you’ll sort of know what to expect).  To be honest, I wasn’t sure these vignettes were necessary, although they did add information that would be otherwise unavailable to the reader with Cami as narrator.  There’s enough insight into relationships and enough serious issues tackled here (gay marriage, adoption, cancer, love, divorce) to make the book feel more substantial than fluff, but the writing itself is breezy and light, making the book a fast read.  I wouldn’t say I fell in love with any of the characters, but I liked and could identify with them all. Oh wait, I take that back.  I did fall in love with one character:  Muriel the goat.  If Muriel doesn’t convince you that you need a goat in your life, well, I just don’t know what to say.


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