Four its fourth annual “Writers in the Attic” anthology, Boise’s literary nonprofit organization The Cabin, whose stated mission is to inspire and celebrate a love of reading, writing and discourse throughout Idaho, invited contributors to “tell us about an animal.”
What resulted is this eclectic collection, featuring poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction by Idaho writers, running with the “Animal” theme in literal and figurative directions. The anthology, edited by Jocelyn Robertson, is divided into five sections: “Being,” “Beast,” “Fauna,” “Feral” and “Creature.” Each section opens with a quote by a literary or philosophical luminary, indicative of that section’s tone.
There is quite a range on display here, from Bill Cope’s whimsical “What’s all the Ruckus?” narrated from a squirrel’s point of view, to Mike Ritthaler’s “Raven Courts a Star,” a tale of magical realism starring a honky-tonking bird-man.
Some authors chose to focus on the beastlier side of human nature, as in Marguerite Lawrence’s wrenching and well-executed “Jersey,” while others strike a more humorous note, such as Anthony McArthur’s “Aphids in Babylon.” Several of the pieces included here meditate on the solace of animal companionship, such as Allison Maier’s “The Pug House,” and the lengths people will go to for animals, as in Devra McComish-Mary’s “Huckleberry and the Big Chill.”
Two of the most powerful pieces in the anthology are the most difficult for an animal lover to read: Tiffany Hitesman’s “Gretel,” observed from the point of view of a dog whose people’s marriage is collapsing, and Laura M. Gibson’s “Dirts,” in which a 13-year-old boy misdirects his rage toward and disillusionment with his mother toward the family cat, with tragic results. That these two stories manage to inspire pathos for both the human and animal participants is no small feat and is testimony to their authors’ skill.
On the poetry front, more than one of the featured poets look to inspiration of the serpentine persuasion, as in Greg Heinzman’s bittersweet “My Hair Is a Snake at the Edge of the World” and Charles Frode’s extended conceit about gray matter, “The Writhing Snakes,” which turn out to be the twisting coils of the mind. Heidi Kraay’s “How Could You Ever Find Air” is a stirring meditation on human frailty in careless hands and the ways we can unwittingly prey on one another. Anita Tanner’s incendiary “Gauntlet” offers an alluring challenge to “Be pyrite or flint,/be the one who starts a fire,/the one who survives it.”
As Idaho Humanities Council Executive Director Rick Ardinger, who selected the pieces included in this anthology, notes in his introduction, “Obviously, some contributors are more seasoned than others.” The inclusion of some of the rougher pieces is representative of The Cabin’s goal to support and provide a forum for both emerging and established Idaho writers. “Animal” has something to resonate with a wide cross-section of readers, whether animal enthusiasts or simply appreciators of good local writing. The words on these pages bray, howl, hiss, growl, purr, cackle and keen, illuminating both the animal and human condition, and the inevitable overlap of the two.
Allison Floyd is a library assistant in the Serials Department of Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.