Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht

/ posted in: Reading

When Flannery, a young scientist, is forced to return to Austin after five years of research in Nigeria, she becomes torn between her two homes. Having left behind her loving fiancé without knowing when she will return, Flannery learns that her sister, Molly, has begun to show signs of the genetic disease that slowly killed their mother. As their close-knit circle of friends struggles with Molly’s diagnosis, Flannery must grapple with what her future will hold: love and the pursuit of scientific discovery in West Africa, or the pull of a life surrounded by old friends, the comfort of an old flame, family obligations, and the home she’s always known. But she is not the only one wrestling with uncertainty. Since their college days, all of her friends have faced unexpected challenges that make them reevaluate the lives they’d always planned for themselves. A mesmerizing debut from an exciting young writer, Migratory Animals is a moving, thought-provoking novel, told from shifting viewpoints, about the meaning of home and what we owe each other—and ourselves.

I thought that the most interesting character in this book was Flannery.  She alone had made a life for herself outside of people who she had met in college.  When she has to come back to Texas, they automatically assume that she is back to stay and dismiss her life and fiancé as unimportant now that she is back with them.

Her younger sister Molly is in the beginning stages of Huntington’s Disease.  Their friend Alyce is tired of being a wife and mother just like she has tired of most of the rest of her life.  The men in the story all have failing businesses or marriages or both and no one seems willing or able to do anything about any of it.  I get easily fed up with characters who go all “Woe is me” through a whole novel and don’t try to improve their lot in life.

I was finishing this book while I was reading Roxanne Gay’s essay about unlikeable characters in Bad Feminist.  She asks why we feel that we have to like characters.  That comes into play for me here.  I was so exasperated with the characters for wallowing instead of doing something productive that I could have missed the overall story.

I think it goes back to Flannery wanting to go back to her life in Africa and her friends thinking that she couldn’t possibly prefer that to live in the U.S. even though that life isn’t working out so well for any of them.

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