cover image City Beasts

City Beasts

Mark Kurlansky. Riverheard, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-59448-587-9

In these pages, Kurlansky (Salt), known for his masterful ability to weave compelling and epic world histories through the lens of a single food or commodity, turns to fiction. The tales share what the subtitle promises%E2%80%94animals who become characters in their own right, inserting themselves into people's lives and sometimes taking on tremendous, if not unintended, significance in the process. In %E2%80%9CThe Gloucester Whale Cod," a man from a respected lineage of Italian fishermen in a coastal Massachusetts town risks his pride and his life to keep an enormous whale cod from market. In %E2%80%9CMiami," the disgruntled Yoni is an Orthodox Jew who takes to feeding the crocodile in his backyard, wondering how to interpret the creature's arrival while he sheds his religious observance. When an exotic bird from Guatemala escapes from the Bronx Zoo and buzzes the Central Park boathouse in %E2%80%9COdd Birds in New York," local birdwatchers go to extreme lengths to watch. While the stories are original and often entertaining, there's also a tidiness and methodical quirkiness that come to feel predictable, illustrating Kurlansky's true strength remains with his nonfiction. (Feb.)