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OPEN THROAT by Henry Hoke
Had you told me back in January that one of the breakout debuts of 2023 would be narrated by an emaciated, queer mountain lion stalking the Hollywood Hills, I’d probably have just laughed at you. And yet that is the unlikely premise of Henry Hoke’s very strange surprise hit. There’s certainly no questioning the unhinged originality of it all. The unnamed lion bears witness to the decay of the city below, and Hoke uses his perspective to great effect as a means of scathing social, political and environemental commentary. The prose is sharp and breathless - every paragraph, a single, short sentence - like the panting of a big cat on the prowl.
The lion works splendidly as a narrative device until the plot itself gets in the way. About two thirds through, the lion shacks up with a disaffected teenager. They go on an adventure driven by shitty circumstance. Sort of. Whether it’s a dream or real, it bends the artifice to the point of breaking and effectively undoes what had been, to that point, a masterful exercise in critical anthropomorphism. Very good, but could have been (sorry) purrrfect.
Open Throat by Henry Hoke