The Last Animal

Abby Geni
  • Review
By – April 30, 2014

We all know that there are lit­er­al, lit­er­ary excep­tions to the Don’t judge a book by its cov­er” adage. The Last Ani­mal, Abby Geni’s col­lec­tion of award-win­ning short sto­ries, is one such case: as dark­ly entranc­ing as the water­col­or octo­pus on its jacket.

Geni’s over­all col­lec­tion plays expert­ly with per­spec­tive and with each sto­ry fea­tur­ing a char­ac­ter in a dif­fer­ent time of life, with differ­ent capac­i­ties for knowl­edge, for love, and for under­stand­ing the world around them. Geni explores each dis­tinct protagonist’s strug­gle with loss: whether in the moment, long or imme­di­ate­ly after the event, or in antic­i­pa­tion of estrange­ment, of death, of unex­pect­ed dis­appearance. A soli­tary man shirks his med­ical appoint­ments for his ter­mi­nal can­cer, instead reconstruct­ing the Wright broth­ers’ orig­i­nal air­plane in a win­try shed; a cephalo­pod researcher and her moth­er are tor­ment­ed by mys­te­ri­ous post­cards from the broth­er who dis­ap­peared years ago. A griev­ing ento­mol­o­gist prowls and sleeps in the offices of the Smith­son­ian Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry night­ly; the old­est girls’ bunk at a Zion­ist sum­mer camp tries to solve the mys­tery of their beloved counselor’s abrupt dis­ap­pear­ance; a moth­er describes the world as seen through the dis­abled son she car­ried and birthed for her and her partner. 

These unique sto­ries are thread­ed togeth­er by their engage­ment with nature and nat­ur­al forces — ani­mals, plants, ill­ness, envi­ron­ment — and by a com­mon nar­ra­tive voice, apply­ing a con­sis­tent, poignant qui­etude to the ordi­nary and excep­tion­al tragedies, pains, and numb­ness of the human world.

Relat­ed Content:

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.

Discussion Questions