The Dominant Animal: Stories by Kathryn Scanlan


His tolerance for looking at the unattainable was so much lower than mine, which felt boundless, untested. It was the only thing I wanted to see.

Scanlan’s collection casts an errie fog over the ordinary. There are people remembering cold parents who have died and a dog who abandoned love and home for another family. Men with groping, rough hands and a girl whose ‘curiosity often led her into troublesome situations’, and doesn’t seem too worry much over the danger, though she should. A couple who lives in cramped quarters slobbering over the abundance of wealth the affluent take for granted, people trying to sink themselves into death and a mother who watches a family friend with a hawks eye around her daughters.

Threats always lurk, either from within or without, beasts not entirely animal. Human beings are at their worst or alerted to predators in these tales. Some are liars, like the Master Framer and some men will never be rescued, because how can you save someone from what goes on in their own head, as in The Rescued Man.

The Poker was an interesting title, because what do females do but dodge poking and prodding from birth? The mother isn’t allowed to feel her pain, she is ‘greedy’ with her baby girl when protecting her from the arms of a ‘family friend holding her child wrong’, and nothing in the world, not even pills can keep her little girls safe from the violence beyond the door and the world’s flippant response to a woman’s reaction to insults and injury. In Mother’s Teeth a woman cares for her needy, sick mother, though really after her childhood owes her nothing.

As in The Candidate, a person is an animal among the domesticated of our species. Sometimes even a family dog can have more pedigree, ‘expensive heritage’ than us, and we are the sticky, messy animal never to be as sleek and refined as others.

The stories are both ordinary and strange, and the people in the tales are just trying to ‘live’. Oh, it hurt, something I did nearly cost you your life, well just like the woman in The Poker was told, ‘You survived didn’t you?’ As if that’s enough. My favorites were The Poker and The Rescued Man, in fact I the latter would make an interesting novel. I didn’t love all of them, but Kathryn Scanlan excels is in digging through the hum of the average, ordinary days and it’s people; sometimes finding things to abhor about them or admire.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

MCD x FSG Originals


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