cover image HERMINE: An Animal Life

HERMINE: An Animal Life

Gerald Murnane, , trans. from the German by Jaimy Gordon. . New Issues, $14 (111pp) ISBN 978-1-930974-28-9

It's not just a dog's life—it's a pig-cow-rat's life. In this deftly executed allegorical novel, Beig (Lost Weddings ) gives an episodic, animal-centered account of the life of a young woman in rural Germany between the two world wars. Brief chapters—"Horse," "Cat," "Pig," etc.—recount the protagonist's less-than-idyllic encounters with the natural world. At birth, Hermine resembles a mutant horse; at school, she finds herself unable to write the assigned essay "Hurray, We're Slaughtering!" As a young teacher, she inadvertently causes the injury of a pupil during a spirited game based on a bear hunt, and she maims a badger with her motorbike. Disowned by her family for killing their pet goose, she is even scolded by her husband: "No one can have an animal with you around." Granted, "some days Hermine liked well enough," but most days she loses her battle with the bestiary. Beig, who began writing in her late 50s, gives shape to her story by charting Hermine's growing awareness of an inner life that distinguishes her from the inhabitants of the animal kingdom and makes subtle reference to the tumult of 20th-century German history. Surrounded by slaughter, Beig suggests, we find comfort in our ability to reflect. This earthy, unsentimental novel is the perfect holiday gift for nihilists with a sense of humor. (Jan. 1)