Millennia ago, Ginny's family ranch was all grass and rock and wild horses. A thousand years hence, it'll all be peacefully underwater. In the matter-of-fact here and now, though, it's a hotbed of lust and resentment, and about to turn ugly, because Ginny's just cheated on her husband Dan with the man who lives next door.
... suspenseful, disorienting ... where Mr. McCarthy is grandiose and portentous, Ms. McLean is strikingly down-to-earth. Her characters may amuse themselves with flights of philosophizing, but mostly they bicker, wisecrack and daydream, their behavior—crude but engaging, and often even endearing—so grippingly at odds with their drift into savagery. It sounds impossible but for all its horrors, there is little that is lurid about the writing in Pity the Beast. I have never read a book that made evil seem so natural—which is both the most unsettling thing about this novel and its greatest accomplishment.
Stunning ... [A] revisionist western ... The stuff of westerns from time almost-immemorial...but as it develops, we take a sharp turn into experimental metafiction, as the author begins self-consciously parodying the genre itself ... The whole thing eventually devolves into Quentin Tarantino–style violence, but it’s those first hyperrealistic sixty pages that stay with you, an opening so arresting that it stands apart and unbalances the rest of the novel ... Pity the Beast, at its best, suggests that women have always been the half-dead horse men beat because they hate themselves for being animals.
The book is extraordinarily capacious, often casually ranging in one paragraph through the experiences of all the animals in the scene. It travels back in geological time to the formation of the land on which the story takes place ... It’s full of casually perfect writing, especially about animals and nature ... The crux of this review is that Pity the Beast is a work of crazy brilliance. It’s a worthy successor to William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, and the rare book that creates more space for later writers to work in. Everything McLean does is interesting. She writes dialogue in a way that’s truly ingenious, using it as a Greek chorus that often threatens to turn into music ... Convincingly mythic, and the many biblical references feel integral ... McLean explodes the idea of human society in the first scene, explicitly equating people with beasts, then spends the rest of the novel exploring what it is to be a beast, what it is to be a mind, what it is to be alive. In a literary environment dominated by safe, simple, realist prose, it’s thrilling to see a novel with this much intellectual heft and aesthetic fearlessness ... If I have any reservations, it’s that Pity the Beast is high gothic, and while it has the strengths of the form in spades, it also has its excesses ... The plot is a little incoherent, and the characters’ choices are motivated by metaphorical necessity, not by any recognisable psychology ... Sometimes, in the midst of an action scene, it becomes impossible to tell what’s happening as everything disappears behind a cloud of great writing. The grandest, most hyper-significant passages have one foot in meaninglessness ... I do tend, though, to find the gothic ridiculous – and for me, this book was a reminder that, when you make it work, it’s absolutely glorious. Pity the Beast is hallucinatory and ribald and unaccountable, with serious things to say about society and the nature of mind. It reminds you that stream-of-consciousness is fascinating in the right hands, that tastelessness is a power, and that plot is not the only thing fiction knows how to do. Every time you try to resist its charms, it knocks you down again with careless beauty. Even when it stumbles, it stumbles more gracefully than most books dance.