Diana Wagman’s The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets is a masterful performance from beginning to end. Wagman’s characters are brilliant complexities of struggle, inner demons, and the child within, and through their interaction we come to realize that all of us, no matter how sinister, have a positive trait.
The book centers around Winnie, a kidnapped middle-aged woman who is tired, worn down, and searching for connection, whether it is with her game show host, ex-husband Jonathan, who is struggling with a failing acting career, or her daughter Lacy, a teenager struggling with high school culture. Oren, the book’s antagonist, is masterfully rendered. Within the first few pages, we realize that this isn’t the normal, evil, kidnapper, but a well-thought out, breathing, living entity with flaws, qualities and a past of desperation.
One of Wagman’s most brilliant moves is in the way she transitions between scene, chapters, and character consciousness. Dreams parallel reality, thoughts themselves span across the words in wonderful fluid dynamism, but most importantly, the plot grows organically with its form in such a way that we are pulled toward the carrot-of-mystery at the end.
Of the end (spoilers aside), Wagman does not leave readers disappointed. This book builds and builds, until the final moments when we are left understanding. There is knowledge in this book. A knowledge of humanness, culture, and Los Angeles. The gritty undercurrents of LA’s streets, its rich and poor cultures, the surprisingly complex reptile smuggling industry, all of which Wagman orchestrates with a relational tone. It’s hard not to fall in love with these characters as we see their weakest moments and their triumphs. It’s hard not to fall in love with LA.
The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets is a fun and quick read. It is a book that doesn’t want to leave your hand, just as much as you will not want to let it go. I highly suggest it.
-Lawrence Eby, 2013