A bold, riveting debut novel of desire, betrayal, and loss, centering on three teenage girls, a horse ranch, and the tragic accident that changes everything.
Rory Ramos works as a ranch hand at the stable her stepfather manages in Topanga Canyon, California, a dry, dusty place reliant on horses and hierarchies. There she rides for the rich clientele, including twins June and Wade Fisk. While Rory may have unwittingly drawn the interest of out-and-proud June, she’s more intrigued by Vivian Price, the beautiful teenager with the movie-star father who lives down the hill. Rory’s blue-collar upbringing keeps her largely separate from the likes of the Prices—but, perched on her bedroom windowsill, Rory steals glimpses of Vivian swimming in her pool nearly every night.
After Rory’s stepfather is involved in a tragic car accident, the lives of Rory, June, and Vivian become inextricably bound together. Rory discovers photography, begins riding more competitively alongside June, and grows closer and closer to gorgeous, mercurial Vivian, but despite her newfound sense of self, disaster lurks all around her: in the parched landscape, in her unruly desires, in her stepfather's wrecked body and guilty conscience. One night, as the relationships among these teenagers come to a head, a forest fire tears through Topanga Canyon, and Rory's life is changed forever.
Kept Animals is narrated by Rory’s daughter, Charlie, twenty years after that fateful 1993 fire. Realizing that the key to her own existence lies in the secret of what really happened that unseasonably warm fall, Charlie is finally ready to ask questions about her mother’s past. But with Rory away on assignment as a war photographer, Charlie knows she must unravel the truth for herself.
Kate Milliken’s stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Fiction, New Orleans Review, and Santa Monica Review, among others. A graduate of the Bennington College Writing Seminars, the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop, and several Pushcart Prize nominations, Kate has also written for television and commercial advertising. She is the author of the novel Kept Animals and a collection of stories, If I’d Known You Were Coming, chosen for the 2013 John Simmons/Iowa Short Fiction Award by author Julie Orringer. She lives in Northern California with her family.
“Kept Animals is a darkly beautiful book, tender yet powerful, an exquisite exploration of hurt and desire, the why of wanting, taking and giving. And Kate Milliken knows her stuff when it comes to horses.” —Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses
“With precise and sensuous prose, so gorgeous it's gasp-inducing, Kept Animals tells an epic story of loss, identity, and that which binds—and unravels—a community. Milliken's unforgettable characters face dangers of all kinds, be it familial, romantic, or of the natural world. To experience, as a reader, this mysterious, mesmerizing, and menacing pocket of Southern California is a true pleasure and thrill. Kate Milliken has talent to burn. I love this novel.” —Edan Lepucki, author of California