cover image Beasts and Children

Beasts and Children

Amy Parker. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner, $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-544-37013-5

The monkeys, seals, elephants, pangolins, sunfish, and domestic pets of Parker's wonderful collection of linked stories offer sublime metaphors and splendid foils for the floundering adults, as prone to moments of astonishing cruelty as the beasts are to sudden vengeance. Characters include sisters Carline and Cissy Bowman, whose family spends a fortune to ransom the father out of Thailand in "The White Elephant"; another pair of sisters, Jill and Maizie, are daughters of diplomats stationed in Ching Mai, and who venture out of their compound in "Rainy Season." Other stories involve a road trip to catch a lover ("The Balcony"); Jill and Maizie visiting a Thai orphanage ("Endangered Creatures"), and Carline and Cissy dealing with memories of their mother's bout with cancer ("Catastrophic Molt"). More than the dissatisfied and guilty adults, Parker's sympathies lie with the children, who with preternatural calm and piercing devotion survive early formative ruptures that will haunt them. Parker's sentences are clear, polished, finely-faceted gems, the images incandescent and precise, the tone balanced between the hypnotic and the absurd. Drawing out the implacable connections between beauty and danger, between love and pain, each individual story delivers a final punch of surprise both unpremeditated and yet perfect, "whole and alive in the way that only children and animals seem to be." It's to Parker's credit that the collection feels as complete as a novel, a journey transporting readers from the exotic to the familiar, leaving them blinking, dry-mouthed, and changed. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (Feb.)