The Last Animal

Riverhead. Apr. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9780593420522. $28. F
In this latest novel from the award-winning Ausubel (following the story collection Awayland), Jane, a widowed scientist, is traveling to Siberia on a research expedition with teenage daughters Eve and Vera in tow. The discovery by the girls of the remains of a baby woolly mammoth in the melting permafrost sets in motion a cascade of astonishing events. Grieving the loss of her husband and frustrated by the dismissive attitude of the male members of her research team, Jane steals genetic material from the mammoth and implants the embryos in an elephant owned by an eccentric British socialite who lives in a castle in Italy with her husband and their personal menagerie. Meanwhile, Eve and Vera work through adolescence and their own sense of loss, emotionally abandoned by Jane as she focuses on the new being she has created.
VERDICT Ausubel grounds the seemingly far-fetched plot by having the characters themselves express wonderment and skepticism as the events unfold. Worldly-wise and cynical, Eve and Vera navigate their unconventional lifestyle by alternately clinging to each other and setting their own boundaries. The family works toward healing in an emotionally authentic way, while the unique plot keeps the pages turning. Recommended for most collections.
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