Rough Animals by Rae DelBianco

"This fever of hungering earth outside their door and under it and they'd fed it something that made it so that now they could not leave it but in doing so had bound themselves to be consumed by it someday as well, had maybe even given it a taste for it. But it is his family's land. They had belonged to it from the beginning."


Ever since their father's untimely death five years before, Wyatt Smith and his inseparably close twin sister, Lucy, have scraped by alone on their family's isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. That is until one morning when, just after spotting one of their bulls lying dead in the field, Wyatt is hit in the arm by a hail of gunfire that takes four more cattle with it. The shooter: a fever-eyed, fearsome girl-child with an outdated TEC-9 in her left hand and a worn shotgun in her right. They hold the girl captive, but she breaks loose overnight and heads south into the desert. With the dawning realization that the loss of cattle will mean the certain loss of the ranch, Wyatt feels he has no choice but to go after her and somehow find restitution for what's been lost.

Wyatt's decision sets him on an epic twelve-day odyssey through a nightmarish underworld he only half understands; a world that pitches him not only against the primordial ways of men and the beautiful yet brutally unforgiving landscape, but also against himself. As he winds his way down from the mountains of Box Elder to the mesas of Monument Valley and back, Wyatt is forced to look for the first time at who he is and what he’s capable of, and how those hard truths set him irrevocably apart from the one person he’s ever really known and loved. Gripping from the first gunshot to the last and steeped in a mythic, wildly alive language of its own, Rough Animals is a tour de force not to be missed.

Admittedly the lovely author, Rae DelBianco, is a friend that I have gotten to know in the wonderful world that is bookstagram. She personally sent me a copy of her debut novel to review and I am so overjoyed for all of her success and completely inspired because she put her work out into the world. Don't worry I promise to give you an honest review, but I really did enjoy it. 

I am actually surprised at how much I enjoyed it considering the Western genre isn't necessarily suited to my literary taste, although I loved No Country for Old Men (read & watch the film okay), but Rae's prose is so unique. Sometimes it was a bit difficult to identify scene changes because the writing was continuous without pause in some parts, but I feel as though I got a rich vision of Box Elder county and the Utah landscape that Wyatt and his sister, Lucy, know well.  

What I love most about this story is that Rae is fearless with her storytelling. She does not write the female characters in this book as the conventional damsels I'd expect is Western tales, but she writes strong and unabashed female antagonists and protagonists. The young girl who sets off the subsequent chaos, after killing a few of Wyatt and Lucy's steers and animals which in turn puts them in a financial bind, is actually my favorite character.  The animals are Wyatt and Lucy's livelihood. It's the difference between them keeping the ranch that used to be their late father's and losing it because they cannot financially maintain it. 

 photo cred: cici ford

photo cred: cici ford


The female adolescent renegade is the character that stood out to me the most because she stood her ground and never faltered. Wyatt and Lucy thought that kidnapping her was the best option, but she was a fighter and broke free from captivity leading them on a journey of self discovery; a bloody violent journey, but a journey nonetheless. 

Wyatt and Lucy share a secret that rests only between them and within the land on which their ranch is located. I won't spoil you in case you decide to give it a read, but this is what shapes the twins' perspectives on life as well as the poor, irrational decisions they make. The Utah landscape that they tread is as much of a living character as Wyatt and Lucy are. This is what makes Rae an exceptional writer. She painted such a evocative picture and as I kept turning the pages, the sunset, the dirt, the sand, the wind, the land, the grit and the rawness in the air, all become important characters. Wyatt and Lucy depend on their surroundings to survive, to provide them with some sort of revelation about all that has transpired. They were raised in it and so they understood it, almost on a spiritual level. 

"She stopped with the sand."
"Does that still matter out here?”
“It always does.”
“That sounds like fate.” ~ quote from goodreads

It was a tad bit slow for me in the middle and there were a few gaps I wondered about. Not necessarily plot holes, but just a lot of things that may be Rae wanted to leave for the readers interpretation like the details of their secret, for example. How could someone go missing for 18 years without investigation!? The title of this book is so much more than that which was stolen from them. Rough Animals is about multifaceted human dimensions; all of our layers when it comes to survival and self preservation. When your resources have run out and you have to make decisions for what YOU believe is your survival, are morals a question? Is being morally bankrupt forgivable when the circumstances are detrimental? Rae outdid herself with her first novel. Her writing is beautiful. Hope you can pick it up soon.

Rating: 4.0