A Thoughtful New Work From Local Author Katrina Kittle
By Lara Donnelly
Oakwood author Katrina Kittle’s latest novel, The Blessings of the Animals ($14.99, 464 pages, Harper Peren-nial), is a thoughtful look at marriage in all its various forms. Inspired by two back-to-back radio stories on National Public
Radio, one emphasizing whether marriage was necessary and the other regarding
then-President Bush’s proposed Defense of Marriage Act, Kittle wrote Blessings to “raise a lot of questions, but not give answers.”
Kittle added, “There was an interesting contrast between the two radio stories. Why was one group fighting so hard for the right to marry, when those who already had that right weren’t even sure they needed or wanted to any more?”
Blessings tackles this issue and many others, and does so gracefully and compassionately. In an essay at the back of the book, Kittle acknowledges that “marriage (is) certainly not as ‘edgy’ as AIDS, alcoholism and child sexual abuse,” which have been themes in her other novels, “but marriage is a social issue, and one that touches many, many more people than my previous topics.” Working with an issue so ingrained into our culture that most people don’t even consider it worthy of in-depth discussion, Kittle masterfully presents a story that is not only interesting to read, but thought-provoking too.
The main character in Blessings, veterinarian Camden Anderson, suddenly finds herself a single mom after her husband leaves her one stormy morning, driving away to the wail of a tornado siren. Though Camden is confused, hurt, and angry she has to pull herself together to support her daughter, who is going through her own relationship drama. In addition, Camden’s best friend Olive is about to get married, and Camden’s brother Davy is going through the trials of an open adoption with his partner, Big David.
These characters and many others are skillfully crafted personalities, each with something to say about their marriage, or their lack of a marriage, and what it means to them. There are marriages held together with spit and hope, marriages mended after infidelity, monogamous-but-unmarried couples raising each other’s children, single women and men – happy and unhappy, and rocky teenage relationships. None of the characters are totally defined by their marital status, but it is an undeniable part of who they are, even if no one really seems to agree on what it means.
The characters are one of the greatest strengths of Blessings. They are real people with convincing flaws and virtues. “Char-acter development is the same whether on a book or on stage,” says Kittle, who used to teach high school English and theater classes and appeared last season in the Dayton Theatre Guild productions of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Halle-lujah Girls. “Characters start to become more than you envisioned them, and it can lead to something much more interesting than you had planned.” Kittle’s characters are rich with realistic contradictions. Sometimes they make you cringe, but sometimes their actions warm your heart. Olive, Camden’s aforementioned best friend, brings Camden food and comfort while she is going through her first difficult weeks of separation from her husband, but ultimately turns into a grouchy, snappish bridezilla as the plans for her own wedding progress.
Kittle says her human characters are never fully based on anyone in her life. However, her animal characters are swiped from barns and backyards she has known and loved. In a book called The Blessings of the Animals, of course there is a large cast of creatures hoofed, horned, and pawed. Camden’s goat, the rambunctious Muriel, is the spitting image of a goat named Humphrey, who belongs to one of Kittle’s friends. Booker, a lovable Australian Cattle Dog belonging to one of the book’s romantic interests, in reality shares a home with Kittle’s massage therapist. Moonshot, a horse Camden rescues from an abusive situation, is based on a very similar real-life horse; one Kittle calls “the equine love of my life.”
Working with animals helps Camden to move through her difficulties, inspired by the way her animals cope with their own hardships. Her cat loses a leg and adapts with ease. A rescued donkey, taken from a home where she was kept chained to a pole in a muddy yard, starved by uncaring owners, gives birth to and cares for a healthy baby, unfazed by her changing circumstances.
Camden learns lessons from both people and animals throughout the story, taking
wisdom from any source that offers it and presenting her findings to the reader, sans judgment. Kittle succeeds in her goal to make her readers question everything, and true to her word, she doesn’t give any answers. Marriage is different for every character in the book, and certainly different for every reader. Besides, life – like a book – wouldn’t be interesting at all if we read
the ending first.
Reach DCP freelance writer Lara Donnelly at firstname.lastname@example.org