The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals
Mandelbaum’s heartwarming and sharp-witted debut novel (after the collection Bad Kansas
) features an estranged mother and daughter better at connecting with injured and abandoned animals than with each other. Mona Siskin, owner of the Bright Side Animal Sanctuary in St. Clare, Kans., steals a “Make America Great Again” sign from the neighboring Fuller brothers’ lawn, the sign’s letters “stamped with all the careless glory of a lower-back tattoo.” When Big John Fuller approaches Mona the next morning, she assumes he’s there to confront her about the sign. Instead, he offers to purchase her property. Bankrupt and overextended, Mona had reluctantly put the land on the market a week before, but she doesn’t want to sell to Big John, who once reported one of her workers to ICE. In Lawrence, Kans., Mona’s 24-year-old daughter, Ariel, who ran away six years earlier after betraying her mother and her first love, is surprised to learn of Mona’s plans to sell, and enraged by reports of arson at the sanctuary, along with anti-Semitic graffiti targeting her mother. She returns, hoping to help save Bright Side, and things get off to a rough start as she reckons with the past. Ariel accidentally lets five dogs escape, prompting Mona to ask if Ariel returned just to give her a heart attack. A more promising sign comes when Big John bonds with one of the runaway dogs, among many surprises in this nuanced look at political divisions and a mother and daughter’s difficult relationship. In Mandelbaum’s bighearted, emotionally intelligent tale, the love for animals proves irresistible. (Aug.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated this was the author's first book.