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Excerpt from Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Unlikely Animals

A Novel

by Annie Hartnett

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett X
Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2022, 368 pages

    Feb 2023, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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Emma Starling didn't come into Everton the way that took her by Maple Street Cemetery, so she didn't hold her breath when she drove by us, like she used to on the school bus as a kid. She didn't drive by the town square either, so she missed the celebratory sight when the four men and two teenage boys finally caught the wild boar. Emma hadn't seen the way they whooped and slapped one another on the back.

Boars aren't native to New Hampshire, but here in Everton, they often dig out underneath the electric fence to escape the private hunting park that spans the Upper Valley. The park is enormous, 26,000 acres, fenced in about 135 years ago by the nineteenth-century robber baron Austin Corbin as his grand retirement project; he bought up the land from farmers and shipped in animals from all over the world. The Corbin family went bankrupt after the world wars, and today the park is owned by a small club of anonymous millionaires, each member with their own hunting cabin. These millionaires tend to keep to themselves, unless a boar gets out, when park headquarters puts out a call to catch the pig: $1,000 reward.

"Shit," Emma said, her anxiety mounting as she drove. "I can't believe I'm back here."

Even though Emma didn't drive by us in the cemetery, we could hear her muttering to herself; we could see that she had an enormous white dog in the backseat of her red rental car; we were beginning to hear some of her thoughts. We see and hear it all in Everton, one of the perks of being dead, omniscience within town limits. It's a little frustrating how the living come and go, but we always get the full story eventually.

Emma's story was trickling out of her now. We learned it wasn't a triumphant return for the twenty-two-year-old red-headed medical school student, who was wearing a nice enough gray sweater but had rips in the knees of her jeans that her mother would never approve of. It seemed things had gone all wrong back in California, but right now, she was mostly thinking about what she was driving into. Her father's new doctor said he couldn't be sure exactly what the disease was until an autopsy, which was definitely out of the question as long as Clive remained alive, but it was causing tremors, confusion, and extremely vivid hallucinations.

"Today he says he's seeing a ghost," Emma's mother had complained on the phone. She'd sighed. "Dr. Wheeler says a year, two at the best."

"How can this doctor say it'll be a year when he doesn't know what disease it is?" Emma asked.

"It's not the time to outsmart everyone, Emma. It can be a little tiring. Just come home. I know your brother would like to see you too."

Emma knew there was no way Auggie gave one single flying fart about whether she ever came home or not, but she knew it was time to come home anyway.

"And you need to forgive your father before he dies," her mother had reminded her. "Otherwise, that guilt will eat you from the inside out."

"Okay, Mom," Emma had said, and the phone call was pretty much over after that. Her mom had followed up with an email, had given it the subject line "THINGS TO TALK ABOUT WITH YOUR FATHER," but Emma hadn't bothered to read it. She was angry that her mother had let her dad back in the house after only two months of sleeping under his desk in the Meriden College English Department Building. Emma would have left him there at least a few months more, but her father got away with everything.

The man is dying, she reminded herself as she drove. Have some sympathy. The big white dog in the backseat sniffed at the top of the window, wondering if Emma could please crack it a little to let some smells in. We learned then that Emma had picked up the dog only a half hour before. When she turned onto the Route 10 exit toward Everton, the dog had been trotting along, no owner in sight, no collar, matted fur. Emma loved dogs, but she would have stopped the rental car for anyone if it meant she could delay her arrival. She would have stopped for a hitchhiker, a possible serial killer. When Emma pulled the car over, the dog had hopped right in the backseat. He was super-duper glad to see her, nothing close to a killer. She named the dog Moses, after that famous orphan and savior, because Emma felt like she needed a savior right then. Moses put his head between the seats and rested his chin on her bony shoulder. Emma had always been small. She was pale with freckles. A 7 out of 10, according to Jesse Peters (b. 1984–d. 2013), one of our graveyard residents who considered himself an armchair expert on the ladies.

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Excerpted from Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett. Copyright © 2022 by Annie Hartnett. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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