'BPP' Book Club Talks to Aryn Kyle The Bryant Park Project book club just finished reading The God of Animals. Now the novel's author, Aryn Kyle, talks about how she came write the story and what she's doing next.

'BPP' Book Club Talks to Aryn Kyle

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It's payoff time. If you've been reading along with us as part of the BPP Book Club, you know that we give you about a month to read a selected work. You can write in your comments and your questions about the book, and submit them to our blog, and then we talk to the author, and pose your questions to her.

This month's selection was "The God of Animals" by Aryn Kyle. The first chapter of the book started out as a short story entitled "Foaling Season" that she published in the Atlantic Monthly, and she won a National Magazine Award for fiction for that. Kyle grew up in Colorado. Now she makes her home in Missoula, Montana, and that's where we find her today. Aryn Kyle, thanks for being part of the BPP Book Club. We appreciate it.

Ms. ARYN KYLE (Author, "The God of Animals"): Oh, thanks so much for having me. I'm glad to be here.

MARTIN: So, we want to start off by playing a little bit of a guessing game. Here we were having a debate among the BPP staff about where this book took place, and what time it took place in.

Ms. KYLE: Oh.

MARTIN: Mike, where did you think this book took place?


Right, Aryn, you could actually answer the question, but let's speculate first. My evidence hinged on the fact that they spoke of places like Texas and Nevada as other places. It was in the desert, but only got up to 103, so that rules out Phoenix. I thought place wise, I would go with northern Arizona, possibly New Mexico, and time-wise I didn't hear too many references, or any references to cell phones or the Internet. I thought it was maybe 1993. There was AIDS. She was born after John Wayne died. He died in 1979. So I'm going with northern Arizona, 1993.

MARTIN: So, Aryn Kyle, where and when did this book take place?

Ms. KYLE: Those are very good guesses based on good evidence. The book takes place, although it never says so, in Colorado. I based the town of Desert Valley on the town that I grew up in, which is Grand Junction, Colorado. They're not, you know, exact - it's not an exact replica, but sort of southwestern Colorado is the area that I was thinking. I was thinking time wise, again it never says, but late '80s. So, very close.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, the first chapter was a discreet short story. Did you always know that it was going to be the first chapter of a complete novel?

Ms. KYLE: I didn't. Not for a long time. I really thought I was done with it after I finished the story, and after it got published, and what happened was I ended up moving after graduate school back to my hometown of Grand Junction, got an apartment there, was teaching at the community college, and I was working on this other novel, this very sort of big sprawling novel that was set in Victorian England and, you know, spanned a hundred years, and it was not going well.

And being back in that area, it - I really began thinking of the short story again just because I had set it in that place, and in the time that I'd been gone, just sort of more and more money had moved into the area, you know, strip malls were going up, and Wal-Marts, and chain restaurants, and people who had been in the area, you know, for generations and generations really were kind of being pushed farther and farther to the outskirts of the valley.

And I just found myself thinking all the time about the characters from that short story, and wondering, you know, how would they sustain their business and their livelihood in the face of this, you know, encroaching suburbia? And finally I just, you know, set the Victorian novel aside.

MARTIN: I want to get right to some of the questions. Our readers, our listeners rather, post what I thought to be some really intuitive, interesting questions. I want to get right to them. Seth Bate in Kansas wrote in a question. He was asking about the event on which the story hangs is the death, the drowning death, of a classmate of Alice Winston's. Alice is the main character, and let's listen to Seth pose the question himself.

Mr. SETH BATE (Listener): When I was first reading the book, I was really captivated by what happened to Polly, and it's what kept me reading in the first few chapters, and as the book went on I sort of forgot about that. But now that I'm finished with the book it's popped into my head again. So, I'd like to know what Aryn Kyle thinks happened to Polly.

MARTIN: So, Aryn, what happened - what do you think happened to Polly?

Ms. KYLE: You know, when I was working on the book I made a really conscious decision to not know what happens to Polly, but now that I'm done, you know, people ask that a lot and, you know, personally I think she jumped, but that wasn't anything that I was terribly focused on while I was writing the book. You know, while I was writing the book it was - to me it wasn't so much about, you know, solving mysteries or answering that question, but rather, you know, how one makes sense of one's life in the absence of those kinds of answers.

MARTIN: I want to bring into the conversation now Kymm Kovenie (ph). She is a BPP listener who listens to us online from Barcelona. Thanks for being here. We appreciate it. Aryn's on the line. Why don't you pose your question for her?

Ms. KYMM KOVENIE (Caller): Great. Thank you. Hi, Aryn.

Ms. KYLE: Hi, Kim.

Ms. KOVENIE: Terrific, terrific book. I really enjoyed it.

Ms. KYLE: Oh. Thank you.

Ms. KOVENIE: What made you choose to leave the Mr. Delmar threat alone and never go down the road of pedophilia, which seems like something you would have had to dealt with at some point?

Ms. KYLE: Yeah. It's a really good question. That relationship, you know, between Alice and Delmar, I always knew that it was not going to go in that sort of pedophilia direction, but it still always felt very dangerous to me. I did really want, and believe that there was something genuine there between them, even though that relationship, you know, is really unacceptable from, you know, the community's standpoint.

MARTIN: We should just take a second - Aryn, sorry to interrupt you.

Ms. KYLE: Oh. Sure.

MARTIN: For those of us who haven't yet read the book, Mr. Delmar is a teacher. He teaches at the middle school, and he is one of Alice's teachers, and they develop a relationship, a friendship really.

Ms. KYLE: He really is the only character that she talks to, you know. He's the only character who listens to her. A lot of what she tells him is untrue, but still she's sort of working her world out, you know, using him as a sounding board.

MARTIN: I want to move now to LaVonda Degon (ph) from North Carolina. LaVonda, are you there?

Ms. LAVONDA DEGON (Caller): Yes. I am.

MARTIN: Thanks for joining us. I thought your comment on the blog was really interesting. Aryn, LaVonda was writing and reflecting about the power of place in this book. You want to pose your question, LaVonda?

Ms. DEGON: First, Aryn, I'd like to congratulate you on writing such a wonderful book. It's well written, and I called it a home run.

Ms. KYLE: Thank you.

Ms. DEGON: Second of all, I really connected with the intricacies of the family relationship, the secrets, the elephants in the room - I had a question specifically about marriage and love. Are you a married cynic? It seems that all marriages fail in this book and love ends, so is this just a theme in the book? Or do you have cynicism regarding marriage?

Ms. KYLE: You know, when I was kind of working on this book and getting to know this family, I mean, one of the things that I really started out knowing about the character of Alice is that she's grown up in an environment where she can't really make attachments.

You know, I mean, like for example with the horses, you know, these horses are going to be sold away, you know, so she and her sister have learned at a very young age that they can't really allow themselves to fall in love with these animals because they're just going to get their hearts, you know, broken again and again.

And I think that starting with that I then kind of let it become larger in the sense of the family, and I was really interested while I was writing this book, you know, as you mentioned the elephant in the room, secrets, the things that are there but that we don't talk about. So, a lot of this plays out, you know, I think in marriages falling apart.

Joe and Marian for instance, you know, Joe is a man who's so driven by obligation he just keeps going and everything falls apart around him, and he doesn't know how to fix it. All he knows how to do is keep going.

MARTIN: There were a lot of conversations on the blog and here in our office about whether Joe was a good guy or a bad guy. Is he - does he redeem himself, or what were his motivations and, you know, I think the answer as you put for it, he's a complex guy. He's a human with faults and...

Ms. KYLE: Right. Right and, you know, he's trying to keep this family and this business going, and doesn't really have all the tools to do it properly. I mean, I really always thought of him as someone who was trying to do the best he could with what he had to work with.

PESCA: Aryn, I would think that one of the tough things about writing this book was to imbue it with meaning and insight, yet at the same time to do that through the eyes of a 12 year old. Did you have to almost take a second pass in the edit, and cross things out where, you know, a 12 year old would never observe that, and a 12 year old probably wouldn't put it that way?

Ms. KYLE: You know, the voice of the character, that's where the story started. I mean, even in graduate school the voice of that particular character was so strong, and I never questioned it much. There were - I mean, there were other parts of the book, other areas that I had to edit for sort of authenticity, but as far as the voice of the character, I always really trusted that. It felt - it just felt like it existed, you know, kind of whole to me.

PESCA: Since the whole thing hangs on that, and all these people are calling up and saying they liked it, maybe something worked, I don't know.

Ms. KYLE: Well, fingers crossed.

MARTIN: And lastly, I want to ask you about this whole interactive process. This is not the first book club that you've participated in. You've done other kind of forums like this where you've gotten feedback. What do you think about this whole process of getting this feedback from readers or listeners in this case?

Ms. KYLE: It's very strange because the writing process is so private, and so isolating. You know, I mean, the two years that I spent working on this book I was in this tiny little apartment. I, you know, shut myself off from my friends and my family, and then to suddenly have it out in the world and have, you know, all these people interacting with it, and bringing their own ideas to it, it's, you know, it's a very sort of odd thing to get used to.

PESCA: Is there anything tangible that you've gleaned from reader interactions that made you change your mind and made you rethink something about your own book?

Ms. KYLE: The ending has been something that's come up, you know, sort of again and again with people. I've had to, I think, think about that in a way that I didn't when I was writing it. The ending to me was a very, very conscious very - I really knew how I wanted that book to end, and people have responded to it in all sorts of different ways, and it hasn't made me change what I think about it, but I guess maybe have to sort of stand by what I think of it.

MARTIN: Is there a point where you just say, listen, this is my book, people, step off?

Ms. KYLE: I mean I understand that, you know, like, you know, people want all sorts of different things from the books that they pick up and, you know, I've never - for me the books that have meant the most to me in my life are books that I feel that story continues in that world even though the book is done, and that was what I wanted from my own book.

MARTIN: So what's next for you, Aryn? Are you working on something?

Ms. KYLE: I'm finishing up a short story collection, and I haven't started a second novel yet. I've got a few ideas, but none that I'm, you know, deeply committed to at the moment, and it's been, you know, I've needed some time to kind of separate myself from this novel before diving into another one. I've really, you know, those characters were so alive in my head that I've really needed some space to sort of get them out. You know, I don't want to sit down and write "The God of Animals, Part Two."

MARTIN: Thank you so much. We appreciate you coming on the BPP and being part of the BPP Book Club. Aryn Kyle is the author of "The God of Animals." Thanks so much, Aryn.

Ms. KYLE: Thank you.

PESCA: And Rachel, whenever there's a shared media experience here at the offices of the BPP, it's usually Ian or something saying, look at this YouTube video, so it was kind of nice having a book that we all read.

MARTIN: It was fun. I really liked the book. I mean, it brought up some interesting themes. At first, I have to admit when I picked it up I thought this is like a coming of age book about a teenager. I don't know how much I'm going to resonate with this, but I really did. I liked it.

PESCA: One of the themes that we discussed a lot, Tricia brought it up, and we touched on it in the conversation, now, Tricia, you thought the dad was a very bad man, or you asked the question?

PATRICIA MCKINNEY: No. No. I just asked the question because as I read the book I went back and forth on when I liked him and when I disliked him, because I, you know, he did horrible things in the book. I don't think it's giving too much away to say he kills a horse, basically.

PESCA: Right. So, he does that very bad thing.

MARTIN: But not intentionally.


PESCA: But at the same time, how many horses did he take pity on and raise, who were going to be killed by someone else? The ratio of horses that he took pity on to the one he killed is like a hundred to one.

MCKINNEY: Yeah. That's true. That's true.

PESCA: I felt that I sympathized with the dad more than you and Rachel did. I just thought, and one of the interesting things was you guys both said he didn't even notice that his daughter was growing out of her clothes, right?

MARTIN: That's true.

MCKINNEY: Right. Yeah.

PESCA: You faulted him for that. I'm like, man, this is a guy who was raised on a farm, and doesn't know from girls and clothes. That never even crossed my mind.

MCKINNEY: It's not that he doesn't know from girls and clothes in terms of fashion. It's like this girl can't even - she can't even walk her jeans are so tight, and he doesn't notice. He's not taking care of her basic needs of clothing, so that's when I would have issues with him. But then I would remember, you know, he's dealing with this ranch all on his own. His wife is no help to him. I mean, she's suffering from horrible, crippling depression, so, you know, I went back and forth.

PESCA: See? That's why it's good to read a book in the office if you're supposed to talk about it.

MARTIN: True. You have a sounding board. It's good.

PESCA: But that is it for this hour of the Bryant Park Project. We've been in the studio for an hour. It smells in here already.

MARTIN: What? It's all you!

PESCA: Yeah. It's true. I can't imagine what it smells like in the car that's going across country, but we will be checking in on them later today, so go to our blog for updates at npr.org/thebryantpark, or just /bryantpark, how about that?

MARTIN: Yeah. That sounds good. The Bryant Park Project is directed by Jacob Ganz, edited by Trish McKinney. Technical director, Manoli Wetherell.

PESCA: Our staff includes Dan Pashman, Ian Chillag, Win Rosenfeld, Angela Ellis, Caitlin Kenney, Nathan Deuel, Zena Barakat and Jeanne Baron.

MARTIN: Laura Conaway edits the website and blog. Our newscaster is Mark Garrison.

PESCA: Our senior producer is Matt Martinez. Sharon Hoffman is our executive producer.

MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin.

PESCA: And I'm Mike Pesca. We're online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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