Give Us Your Coyotes

From Aesop on, through Ovid, Chaucer, La Fontaine, and Dry­den, to George Orwell, the genre of the animal fable (whether in verse or prose) has been useful to moralists and critics of human behavior.  Paul Lake’s satire belongs to this lineage.  Identified as “A Political Fable,” it is, as the back cover asserts, a 21st-century Animal Farm.  Lake, who teaches at Arkansas Tech, is poetry editor for First Things.  He has published one previous work of fiction, Among the Immortals (1994), and two collections of verse, Another Kind of Travel (1988) and Walking Backward (1999).  He is also a fine critic of poetry.  The present book illustrates his excellent judgment in another field: politics.  In a style that is accessible both to adult and younger readers, it brings to life the value of order and tradition, the need for limits, the danger in great abstractions.  It suggests that politics and culture (including high culture) are closely, if often subtly, connected, and that the outrages in contemporary America threaten our state of mind as well as the body politic.

Lake’s story concerns a farm taken over, after the owner’s death, by the domestic animals.  Domestic is the important word: They are tame, trained, cooperative, orderly.  By working together and using hoof, mouth, and beak, they have managed to preserve...

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