Rowe’s use of siblings brings to mind experiments based on twins. What happens if one brother goes to war and one stays home? Or when one sister accepts the privilege of wealth, comforts the other sister has rejected? Rowe has constructed a glorious either/or equation that allows a reader to calculate outcomes ... This is a highly interior book, in which gorgeous, precise language encourages inner storms as the surface remains calm, and Rowe — introducing notions of airline flights, runaways, fast cars and motorcycles — asks whether we ever move fast enough to escape this deep damage. Like the best of Breece D’J Pancake or W. G. Sebald, Rowe plants small moments from history as a soldier might bury land mines. What lies dormant beneath us? A massacre, a dead pet, a crime unchallenged. Rowe then waits for her characters to stumble home drunk or tired one night, tripping that memory wire, while we as readers watch the world explode.
The sense of danger comes from the way Rowe weaves this family’s ecosystem into the wider southeast Australian wilderness, lending the story a feeling of urgency and rawness. Every time you settle into the familiar narrative of suburban linoleum depression, a spider the size of a hand crawls across the ceiling. In this book characters can’t go for a walk without crunching cicada husks beneath their shoes, pass a fence without seeing a strung-up fox (both a trophy and a warning), or hear gunshots without wondering if someone finally got the giant black cat that’s been stalking the area. Rowe doesn’t use quotation marks, so dialogue blends into characters’ thoughts and descriptions of the environment. This stylistic choice, rather than muting the dialogue, turns the ambient volume up: the crunches, crackles, and gunshots ... A Loving, Faithful Animal is the story of a family trying to rediscover their identity after the abusive presence they once molded themselves around has disappeared. Rowe depicts her characters searching in the wake of their former selves for the moments, objects, and places they can use to construct their new identities. Rowe’s way of emphasizing the landscape to express her characters’ inner worlds proves both contemplative and thrilling.
...[an] outstanding debut novel ... Rowe is, and this can’t be said enough, a remarkable writer. Her prose is a mixture of Denis Johnson’s tough guy prattle and the deft, character painting of Stephen King. These are seriously fucked up people, and Rowe has no problem putting that on the page, of scraping away at their sorest spots to slowly expose them to her readers. What Rowe is able to pack into such a short book (162 pages) is incredible—she builds a broken down world filled with living, breathing humans in what some authors would call an opening act. Her writing is somehow both visceral and dreamlike, alive but floating in a state of sustained shock ... Rowe has managed to take one of the great tropes of literature—the shattered family—and inject it with a blast of edgy, searing emotional fire. If it was only her writing that was as good as it is—and it is phenomenal—this would be a book to devour in a sitting, every word slowly savored. But her skill at description and setting is merely the gift-wrapping for a book that quietly, yet savagely, paints a picture of what it’s like to survive, and what it takes to continue doing so.
... poised and poetic ... feels robust and real but also highly cinematic: like watching old Super 8 home movie footage being replayed on a sepia-tinged projector screen ... Through it all though, Rowe ensures that each character remains clearly defined and distinguishable; evidence of her skills as a writer, and additional proof of the lack of connection in this family ... An intimate and nuanced portrait of a family flayed raw by PTSD, cycles of abuse and the weighty inheritance of intergenerational trauma, A Loving, Faithful Animal is also beautiful — more than delivering on the promise of Rowe’s much-praised previous short story collections, Tarcutta Wake (2012) and Here Until August (2019). 'Are all family scripts so interchangeable?' wonders Ruby. Perhaps, but few have been rendered with such a terrible, piercing clarity.
The chapters each follow a different character with a different sadness in his or her past. This roving narration provides hauntingly intimate accounts, and the poetic style throughout makes each voice compelling and distinct. And yet, the same current of tragedy courses through all of them, leading an adult Ru to wonder, 'Are all family scripts so interchangeable?' Ru’s two chapters, bookending the novel, are told in an urgent second person so that, in effect, she is absent from her own story. Eclipsed by those she cannot help but still love, Ru is also the novel’s true protagonist, a heartbreaking and memorable hero. The readers are made to empathize fully with her as, in the second person, she is also us: 'You wonder when your real life will start,' she tells us. 'You wonder what good all your being good has amounted to.' A rich, kaleidoscopic depiction of inherited trauma in stunning prose.
Rowe links the novel’s six sections through common characters and imagery—most notably the animal motifs woven throughout—rather than a single dramatic plotline. Balancing poetic language with unsentimental observation, she brings a fierce, inventive vision to her themes of family, legacy, and survival.