Give this sinewy prose poem a chance and you’ll fall under the spell of a forlorn voice trapped in the hellscape of modern America ... [It's] the purr of a classic perspective in American literature that stretches back to Huckleberry Finn, an outcast naif whose bewildered commentary plumbs our strange behavior, our extravagant passions, our senseless cruelty ... Hoke coughs up these little hairballs of comic misunderstanding throughout Open Throat, but it’s the pathos that sustains his novel ... Wisely, Hoke keeps this story short, but it’s more than just a series of doleful observations. There is an actual arc to this plot, though it’s so fragile I won’t say more than that it’s sparked by a horrendous crime against a group of people ... Untamed.
[A] slim jewel of a novel ... Propulsive ... This act of ravishing and outlandish imagination should be the norm, not the exception. At its best, fiction can make the familiar strange in order to bring readers and our world into scintillating focus. Open Throat is what fiction should be.
The big cat’s delivery is terse and prose-poem-like. That makes for a propulsive, one-sitting read, if also a somber on ... It’s easy to appreciate the playful-yet-serious dynamic of Hoke’s novel on its face, and he’s entering a rich talking-animal tradition ... But even as a one-sitting read, Open Throat can feel a little over-long. A cat, even a wily one, only has so much to say about the state of humanity. So the narrative sometimes drifts into simplistic, wry observations ... The lowercase, clipped narrative tone is meant to project urgency and a distinct style. At times, though, Hoke’s P-22 manqué feels less like a cat and more like a too-earnest Instapoet ... Nevertheless, an overall sense of peril — for the cat, and for us — comes blazing through.
Hoke’s syntax throughout is a marvel, capturing the effect of someone new to a language saying the darndest things, and yet summoning up that penetrating ideas often arrive in simple delivery. The book unfolds in a single sentence over approximately eighteen thousand words ... Hoke’s sentence takes pause in the form of line and chapter breaks and spare prose ... A particular word used only in jacket copy stands out: applying the word queer to the lion. Like a period at the end of a sentence, what use does a mountain lion have with this word? ... All these existential and formal queries aside, which are worthy of investigating through writing, and to which the imperatives belong to our apophatic Human Imaginations broadly, here is what I really want to say. Open Throat is a tight, funny book with an alarmingly unique tone, and with an ending that redeems itself from all the questions that pad along the way.
That these precious-seeming alternate spellings threw me out is perhaps testament to how otherwise persuasive Hoke’s emotionally immersive construction of this lion mind is—and that is the book’s great achievement. Even more so than with the character’s wry, befuddled observations about us, I was caught up in the wild world of feeling and desire that Hoke has conjured. Especially captivating is the lion’s recounting of their short-lived companionship with another lion they call the 'kill sharer' ... This slim, compulsively readable story doesn’t last long enough, either. But what options really exist for a mountain lion wandering LA? Though Hoke takes some bold swoops through fiction and fantasy, he doesn’t alter this unhappy reality ... In bringing P-22’s memory into literary fiction, Hoke has provided us with a space to mourn and connect, at least with an imagined version of this iconic cat. Hoke’s lion may be human-made and human-ish, but Open Throat holds and honors their forerunner’s wildness.
Set down in verse-like, relentless prose, the lion’s own voice is guileless, almost childlike, reflecting his own unfamiliarity with the world ... Shows how an animal’s fortunes can hinge on humanity and make creatures more like us. It’s just a shame that, constrained by his narrator, Hoke’s vast terrain isn’t fully explored.
The best book narrated by a genderqueer feline you’ll read this year. This is a one-sitting novelette, an instant classic of xenofiction, with copious line breaks, sketchy punctuation and plenty of leonine misunderstandings ... A sly parable ... This is a clever, witty conceit, cleverly, wittily executed. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking and nail-bitingly propulsive, with an exquisite Hitchcockian climax.
Succinctly dazzling ... The narrative is rendered fast and sharp in prose-poetry that slips trippily forward and backward in time ... The lion’s confusion and trauma seep into our own, nurturing a kind of interspecies empathy without sliding too far into anthropocentric fantasy ... The magic of this approach is fatefully strained, then, when the lion meets a human and the two worlds must actually interface. Love finally emerges, but it feels much closer to capture.
Hoke has a firm hand on the writing style and the voice. Yet, for all the excitement of being in the head of a cougar, he could have dived further still ... But it’s a vivid and exciting ride for the most part, and readers will surely remember the strange, sad cougar who got his revenge.
Fascinating ... Hoke does a fine job with his highly imaginative material, bringing the cougar to vivid life by giving him a fascinating take on the human world and his place in it. Open Throat is a treat for both animal lovers and anyone who appreciates innovative fiction.