cover image Rough Animals

Rough Animals

Rae DelBianco. Arcade (Two Rivers, dist.), $24.99 (296p) ISBN 978-1-62872-973-3

In DelBianco’s furious and electric debut, a contemporary western, Wyatt and Lucy Smith are twins living a hardscrabble existence on a cattle ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. Early one morning, Wyatt discovers that one of his steers has been fatally shot. The killer is a barely-teenaged girl, who, during a brief shoot-out, wounds Wyatt and kills three more of his cattle before escaping. Knowing the entire ranch enterprise has been economically doomed by the shooting, Wyatt decides to go after the girl, who is wounded herself, and demand restitution. With Lucy holding down the fort, Wyatt follows the girl south towards Salt Lake City, tracking her through an inhospitable desert of armed outlaw bikers, camouflaged meth labs, drug deals gone wrong, and hungry coyote packs. Interspersed with Wyatt’s narrative are flashbacks to the twins being raised by their father, who schools them in the cruel lessons of nature. Although clearly influenced by the prose styles of Cormac McCarthy and the late Jim Harrison, DelBianco nevertheless develops her own distinct voice, alternately laconic and roughly poetic. And though the girl is more device than actual character, the novel succeeds as a viscerally evoked and sparely plotted fever dream, a bleakly realized odyssey through an American west populated by survivors and failed dreamers. (June)