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BOOK REVIEW

‘Blessings of the Animals’ treats its creatures’ discomforts

By Diane White
August 7, 2010

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Is there an official fiction sub-genre devoted to veterinarians? Vet lit? Veterinarians seem forever to be turning up as major characters in mysteries and romance novels, and in literary fiction, too. Vet lit may not be as hot as paranormal romance or foodie mysteries, but these novels appeal to a huge potential audience: readers who love animals.

Katrina Kittle’s fourth novel, “The Blessings of the Animals,’’ is an unpretentious, well-written, emotionally authentic story about a veterinarian reclaiming her life after a marital split. She has the help and support of many friends, two-legged, four-legged, and even three-legged. Cami Anderson’s husband of 18 years, Bobby Binardi, tells her quite suddenly that he doesn’t want to be married anymore. He loves her, he says, but he needs to get away for a while to think things over. He gets as far as an apartment he shares with Zayna, a 22-year-old waitress who works in his restaurant in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Zayna also works part time in Cami’s veterinary practice, so Cami loses not only a philandering husband but a capable assistant.

The nicely detailed story unfolds in Cami’s voice, except for an occasional chapter from another character’s point of view. From Bobby, for example, we learn some of the things he has been unable to tell his wife. He’s fed up with taking a back seat to her work. He feels invisible. He dreams that he’s drowning and that she’s the one holding him down. He complains that Cami is closer to the animals than to him: “He knew he was a small, coldhearted jackass, for being jealous of a gimpy dog and a maimed cat, but there it was.’’

Their 16-year daughter, Gabriella, takes her father’s defection hard, first blaming her mother for driving her father away, then rejecting her devoted boyfriend, Tyler, then vowing never to marry. Cami suffers a recurrence of the anorexia that plagued her when she was young. Though she feels increasingly weak, she drives herself to meet her responsibilities. While helping her friend Helen with a harrowing humane society rescue of abused horses, she falls in love with a beautiful — and very angry — thoroughbred gelding. She decides to bring him to her farm to join her menagerie of an old gelding, a pony, a lame dog, a saucy goat, a three-legged cat, and another cat with no ears.

As Cami tries to come to grips with her feelings and fears, her friends and family struggle with their own relationships. Kittle neatly lays out several story lines. She keeps things moving at a brisk pace. Cami’s brother Davey and his partner Big Dave suffer setbacks trying to adopt a baby. Her best friend, Olive, Bobby’s sister, is engaged at last to her longtime boyfriend. Cami wonders if it’s love or if Olive is simply desperate to get married. Cami’s lifelong friend Vijay has recently divorced. Her parents are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their marriage, a relationship that Cami knows has had some serious problems. Helen has lived happily with Hank for years, refusing to make their union official because she fears marriage will jinx the relationship.

Gradually, Cami opens up to the possibility of love. Vijay, a glamorous TV physician who seems modeled on CNN star Sanjay Gupta, courts her, but he’s forever breaking dates and flying off somewhere to report on epidemics and disasters. In the course of dealing with a cat hoarder she meets the woman’s neighbor, a charming classical musician. They have a strong mutual attraction, but he can’t commit to a dinner date, much less anything longer term. And then there’s Bobby, although Cami clearly prefers the company of her animals to that of her ex, and who could blame her?

Diane White lives and works at Old Friends, a nonprofit retirement farm for thoroughbred horses in Georgetown, Ky. She can be reached at duxwhite@aol.com.

THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS By Katrina Kittle

Harper Perennial,

400 pp., $14.99