In a stealthily affecting reportorial voice, debut novelist Falkner tells the story of tepidly successful 1960s movie actress Kitty Dawson via interviews, critiques, press coverage, and plot summaries of her movies (one involves packs of rampaging dogs, another giant mutant rabbits). Kitty’s intensifying affinity for animals inspires her and her husband to open a California sanctuary for abused and neglected “exotic big cats.” We’re also granted glimpses into the lives of Kitty’s body double, a college student searching for a missing friend while on location in Africa; director Albert Wickwood, a clever and cutting variation of Alfred Hitchcock; and Kitty’s son, Rory, a spiritually oriented performance artist. Other pieces in this brilliantly analytical, ironically funny, and tenderly empathic scrapbook novel illuminate curious parallels between hunting and filmmaking, the ethics of nature documentaries, the suffering of lab animals, discrimination against immigrants, the commercialization of art, and how movies “function in place of fairy tales and myths to shape what you fear and hope for.” Stylistically fresh, culturally lush, intellectually exciting, and elegantly emotional, Falkner’s provocative, surreptitiously beautiful novel dissolves the boundaries between animals and humankind, racial and ethnic groups, and men and women and reminds us that we can all “give and receive and be sanctuary.” — Donna Seaman
from Fiction Writers Review:
What exactly is innovative fiction? Sarah Falkner answers this question with a wickedly deft disregard of the rules of craft and narrative structure followed by most works of contemporary fiction. Animal Sanctuary… is a profound and meticulously constructed story about the lives of artists who are both nurtured and devoured by their art forms.
….In Animal Sanctuary, art demands blood sacrifice, and injustice comes dressed in the garb of good intentions. Success is relative, and art, like nature, is both a mother and a killer. The titular animals in their sanctuary are also unemployed artists, refugees, victims of rape and violence; proud, even elegant, but nonetheless, displaced tigers and lions.
But to reduce the book to these dichotomies would be a disservice. Animal Sanctuary doesn’t raise a political platform. Rather, it resonates with moral questions about the role of art in social change through fragments in various narrative forms…
…Falkner, by discarding plot and structure conventions, highlights the ambivalent systems which both nourish and threaten art. The book contains no climax, no resolution, no punchy dialogue, no riveting main scenes. Nor does it contain any real protagonists or antagonists. The characters, like their art forms, are submerged within murky, subconscious waters, and only the lights of the camera reveal their true natures…the pages keep turning because of Falkner’s incisive prose, her accurate and fluid discussion of the aesthetic values of film, and the moral complexity of her characters. The reader is left, at the end, with the singular effect of a well-executed work of art full of dark undercurrents, sometimes destructive, sometimes spiritually uplifting…Falkner breaks the modes of craft to show us that the idea of control over art is an illusion. The creation of art can be controlled no more than its interpretation, and no more than the change, violent or passive, it may excite among generations of its audience.
— Laura Valeri
Publishers’ Weekly review:
In its first half, Falkner’s unconventional, multi-layered, and well-crafted debut, winner of Starcherone’s Prize for Innovative Fiction, tells the story of Kitty Dawson, an aging actress in the 1970s who, after working with animals in many films, creates an animal sanctuary for endangered lions and tigers. The second half, set in the present, concerns Kitty’s son Rory Dawson, and his career as a conceptual artist…”