cover image The Last Animal

The Last Animal

Ramona Ausubel. Riverhead, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-42052-2

The Ice Age meets the Anthropocene in this gem from Ausubel (Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty), centered on a scientist’s improbable attempt to revive an extinct species. A research trip brings Jane, a recently widowed graduate student, to the permafrost of Siberia, along with her two daughters, Eve, 15, and Vera, 12. Since their father died, Jane has thrown herself into work, and the girls would rather be anywhere than Siberia. Then the miraculous discovery of a baby mammoth preserved in ice brings them together. Back home in San Francisco, Jane shares her discovery with Helen, a glamorous amateur zookeeper who lives with zebras and giraffes on her husband’s estate on Lake Como. Soon, Jane and Helen hatch a plan to impregnate Helen’s pet elephant with a genetically modified embryo based on the baby mammoth’s DNA. Supporting players include a group of beardy professor-scientists in zip-off cargo pants who believe resurrecting the planet’s long-lost megafauna will heal the misdeeds of generations, and an Icelandic boy toy who catalyzes a perfectly reckless moment of teenage rebellion for Eve. Ausubel is at her best when exploring the ties that bind, especially in a family flung into unprecedented circumstances. In charting the parallel worlds of grief, scientific devotion, and adolescence, Ausubel comes up with a seamless global caper that brims with compassion and makes the reader glad to be alive. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow and Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)