Shlomzion Kenan On:
At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
Mrs. Carlin festively celebrates each of her pets’ birthdays. Slowly but surely, cracks start to show through the flimsy film of an American life; a film that only barely conceals the horrors that enable it, and at edge of which Mrs. Carlin only barely subsists. Through these cracks, voices start speaking out to Mrs. Carlin, eloquently reporting of horrors committed by men against animals. Through the Gates of the Animal Kingdom is a story about unbearable subjugation and cruelty, about animal-rights being the last frontier of identity politics. But it is also a religious fable about a weak divinity and an absolute sacrifice. For who will help this new feeble-divinity that is, or could be Mrs. Carlin, if not a Dog-God? Only his self-sacrifice can stop awkward, lonely women from ever having to fend off all the evil of the world by themselves. Like all good fiction, the form and contents here are made of the same cloth. Each of Hempel’s sentences is of the substance of tightrope – simple and unwinding – yet only when you’re halfway through, are you compelled to look down and see that abyss is all around you. Hempel herself, to eliminate doubt, volunteers regularly at a dog shelter.