Biography

Robin McLean worked as lawyer and then a potter in the woods of Alaska before turning to writing. Her story collection Reptile House won the 2013 BOA Editions Fiction Prize and was twice a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Story Prize. She teaches writing across the U.S. and internationally, and currently lives in the high desert West.

Reviews

Sandra Newman
The Guardian (Book of the Day)

‘[Pity the Beast is] full of casually perfect writing, especially about animals and nature . . . The crux of this review is that Pity the Beast is a work of crazy brilliance. It’s a worthy successor to William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, and the rare book that creates more space for later writers to work in.’

Fanny Blake
Daily Mail

‘[Pity the Beast's] ambitious and innovative narrative moves through time, space and myth in order to explore a larger philosophical canvas beyond the immediate drama.’

Sam Sacks
Wall Street Journal

‘Promotional material has likened Pity the Beast to Cormac McCarthy and there is a resemblance, particularly with the Judge’s insane pursuit of the Kid in Blood Meridian. But where Mr. McCarthy is grandiose and portentous, Ms. McLean is strikingly down-to-earth. Her characters may amuse themselves with flights of philosophizing, but mostly they bicker, wisecrack and daydream, their behavior—crude but engaging, and often even endearing—so grippingly at odds with their drift into savagery. It sounds impossible but for all its horrors, there is little that is lurid about the writing in Pity the Beast. I have never read a book that made evil seem so natural—which is both the most unsettling thing about this novel and its greatest accomplishment.’


Publishers Weekly

‘A category-defying novel of revenge, survival, and transcendence . . . Raw and elemental, searing yet wry, this has much to say on law and lawlessness, sexual politics, and humans’ animal nature.’


Kirkus Review

‘Ambitious, inventive.’

J M Coetzee

‘Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity.’

Jim Shepard

‘Pity is in short supply in Pity the Beast, but compassion is not: set in the kind of country in which ploughs break against hidden rocks and running water is a girl sprinting with a bucket, it’s a revenge narrative that never loses sight of the power of empathy, a love song to all of those animals domesticated for our support, a startlingly open-minded meditation on good and evil, a how-to manual on survival in the wilderness, a primer on how to negotiate all of the blind and ruthless violence we’re forced to face in a world formed by trauma, and a passionate celebration of those small comforts that can and do get us through.’

Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Swamplandia!

‘Robin McLean writes scenes that feel as vibrant, terrifying, and wondrous as your most adrenalized memories. Her country is never merely the backdrop for human dramas but a living, breathing entity, alive with the poetry of mules and skittering stone. Pity the Beast is a thrilling ride and McLean's world feels so real that every cloud and creature in it casts a shadow.’

Chris Bachelder

‘Mythic in scope and vision, ingenious in form and style, Pity the Beast is a magnificent work of art by a fearless and utterly original writer. I read it with wonder and terror, exhilaration and admiration.’

Noy Holland, author of Spectacle of the Body and I Was Trying to Discover What It Feels Like

‘Robin McLean’s gonna get you. She will take you out into deep, and then deeper, water.’

Karen Shepard, author of An Empire of Women and Kiss Me Someone: Stories

‘Robin McLean sees the world like no one I’ve ever read before.  In Pity the Beast, her exacting eye gives us human behavior in all of its beastliness while simultaneously reminding us that it’s not moral judgment that ugliness calls for, it’s even more careful attention.  McLean insists that if we face the worst of ourselves, and if we find some way to articulate what we see, we may emerge battered but filled with a compassion we didn’t know we had, and didn’t know we needed.’

Richard Wiley, author of Soldiers in Hiding

‘Not since I stood in a Washington D.C. bookstore back in 1992 to read the first few pages of All the Pretty Horses, have I known so quickly and surely that I was in the hands of a writer whose skills and sensibilities soared in a direction both thrilling and foreign to me at the same time. But where Cormac McCarthy uses his gifts to solidify the west we have always known – men on the edge, defining and redefining freedom – Robin McLean turns the tables on him (and us)  by putting a woman in charge.  Though Pity the Beast is, through and through, a feminist novel, however, there isn’t a sentence in it that preaches, not a word that calls attention to its political undercurrents. Robin McLean may be a literary newcomer, but in years to come we might be calling her a literary master.’

Sabina Murray, author of The Human Zoo and Valiant Gentlemen

‘Harrowing, gripping, the product of a deranged mind, Robin McLean’s Pity the Beast is a brutally gorgeous fever-dream of a novel. This metaphysical Western feels like something new.’

Praise from Booksellers

'Like any western worth its salt, Pity the Beast abounds in fiction’s elementals: muck and dirt and dust; flies and fire and shit; spirits both mythical and distilled; and, of course, fucking. McLean is a writer of the hard-scrabbled sacred and well-perfumed profane, and her grotesques cry out from their place there on the page. Behold, the heiress to Cormac McCarthy—her pen to the old man’s throat, her prose blood-speckled and sun-splattered and all her own.' Hal Hlavinka, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn


Kirkus Reviews

‘Sharp, noirish, thought-provoking stories of lives out of joint.’

Cynan Jones

‘Taking each story in was like watching a film, half drunk, just the events and images really sticking. Then some time later finding the sensations there, the emotional consequences, fully formed and ingrained somehow in my head . . . These stories hit you like life hits you.’

Deb Olin Unferth

‘I challenge you to point to another writer like McLean. Her vision is brutal, yet hilarious. We will see her everywhere. These tales are so surprisingly original, so strange and moving, so funny, so irreverent, I swallowed them, I ate them whole.’

Christian Kiefer

‘Not since Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son have I read a book of stories that so resonated in my soul. McLean’s prose sings with a fierceness that is ornate and sparse, spiritual and secular, peaceful and violent. These are stories that remind of Annie Proulx, Joy Williams, and Flannery O’Connor: surprising in the fundamental weirdness of mundane life pressed inextricably into the borderlands. The best collection of stories I have read in years.’

Joanna Kavenna 

‘I loved these brilliant, atmospheric and original stories - Robin McLean is such an exciting writer, and this is her best so far.’

John Larison

‘No writer casts a sharper light on the feral edges of the human condition than Robin McLean.’

Brian Evenson

‘Deeply engaged with the rural, with people on their way off the grid, Robin McLean's fiction is at once fantastical and intensely observed. These are stories about human frailty and darkness, shot through with small moments of glory.’

Kyle Beachy

‘Where so many American writers balk at genuine human darkness, Robin McLean steps inside with a poet’s eye and an ill-used gavel she swiped from the decaying desk of some corrupt, abusive judge. The results are gripping, chilling, and far too realistic for the term. These ten modern parables lay bare our species’ manifold predicaments here in the dimming light of imagined futures. An unforgettable book.’

Dani Shapiro

‘Robin McLean writes with a kind of tender violence, her sentences aimed like fire hoses at a burning world. I loved this collection, and its cast of extraordinary characters will haunt my dreams.’

Christian Kiefer

‘Not since Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son have I read a book of stories that so resonated in my soul. McLean’s prose sings with a fierceness that is ornate and sparse, spiritual and secular, peaceful and violent. These are stories that remind of Annie Proulx, Joy Williams, and Flannery O’Connor: surprising in the fundamental weirdness of mundane life pressed inextricably into the borderlands. The best collection of stories I have read in years.’

Joanna Kavenna 

‘I loved these brilliant, atmospheric and original stories - Robin McLean is such an exciting writer, and this is her best so far.’

Chris Bachelder

‘These stories, they churn and turn with ferocious pace and a brute subject-verb force. McLean is a writer of pure conviction, unafraid of risk, unconcerned with convention, objective but deeply humane, alive to wonder and strangeness. This collection, like her first, is beautiful and harrowing. I’ll say it again and again: Nobody writes like Robin McLean.’

Jim Shepard

‘Robin McLean has always excelled in narrators who communicate their own self-sufficiency even as they inadvertently reveal the extent to which they’re actually barely holding it together. They live in places where a bed frame and box spring are just a dream. They remind us that they’re still evolving . . . And yet somehow in the face of all of that, her protagonists summon lift, and generate that tenderness necessary to continue. The results are fictions that unite the personal and the political in ways that we need now more than ever.’

Josie Smith, Greenlight Bookstore

‘Get 'em Young, Treat 'em Tough, Tell 'em Nothing is a series of dispatches straight from the trenches of modern survival, where no one secures the life they were promised yet they fight, flail, and flounder on all the same. Fusing severe wit and our crudest desires into the gritty, tender heart of human tenacity, McLean writes about enduring hope and disillusionment like no one else.’

Sandra Newman
The Guardian (Book of the Day)

‘[Pity the Beast is] full of casually perfect writing, especially about animals and nature . . . The crux of this review is that Pity the Beast is a work of crazy brilliance. It’s a worthy successor to William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, and the rare book that creates more space for later writers to work in.’

Fanny Blake
Daily Mail

‘[Pity the Beast's] ambitious and innovative narrative moves through time, space and myth in order to explore a larger philosophical canvas beyond the immediate drama.’

Sam Sacks
Wall Street Journal

‘Promotional material has likened Pity the Beast to Cormac McCarthy and there is a resemblance, particularly with the Judge’s insane pursuit of the Kid in Blood Meridian. But where Mr. McCarthy is grandiose and portentous, Ms. McLean is strikingly down-to-earth. Her characters may amuse themselves with flights of philosophizing, but mostly they bicker, wisecrack and daydream, their behavior—crude but engaging, and often even endearing—so grippingly at odds with their drift into savagery. It sounds impossible but for all its horrors, there is little that is lurid about the writing in Pity the Beast. I have never read a book that made evil seem so natural—which is both the most unsettling thing about this novel and its greatest accomplishment.’


Publishers Weekly

‘A category-defying novel of revenge, survival, and transcendence . . . Raw and elemental, searing yet wry, this has much to say on law and lawlessness, sexual politics, and humans’ animal nature.’


Kirkus Review

‘Ambitious, inventive.’

J M Coetzee

‘Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity.’

Jim Shepard

‘Pity is in short supply in Pity the Beast, but compassion is not: set in the kind of country in which ploughs break against hidden rocks and running water is a girl sprinting with a bucket, it’s a revenge narrative that never loses sight of the power of empathy, a love song to all of those animals domesticated for our support, a startlingly open-minded meditation on good and evil, a how-to manual on survival in the wilderness, a primer on how to negotiate all of the blind and ruthless violence we’re forced to face in a world formed by trauma, and a passionate celebration of those small comforts that can and do get us through.’

Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Swamplandia!

‘Robin McLean writes scenes that feel as vibrant, terrifying, and wondrous as your most adrenalized memories. Her country is never merely the backdrop for human dramas but a living, breathing entity, alive with the poetry of mules and skittering stone. Pity the Beast is a thrilling ride and McLean's world feels so real that every cloud and creature in it casts a shadow.’

Chris Bachelder

‘Mythic in scope and vision, ingenious in form and style, Pity the Beast is a magnificent work of art by a fearless and utterly original writer. I read it with wonder and terror, exhilaration and admiration.’

Noy Holland, author of Spectacle of the Body and I Was Trying to Discover What It Feels Like

‘Robin McLean’s gonna get you. She will take you out into deep, and then deeper, water.’

Karen Shepard, author of An Empire of Women and Kiss Me Someone: Stories

‘Robin McLean sees the world like no one I’ve ever read before.  In Pity the Beast, her exacting eye gives us human behavior in all of its beastliness while simultaneously reminding us that it’s not moral judgment that ugliness calls for, it’s even more careful attention.  McLean insists that if we face the worst of ourselves, and if we find some way to articulate what we see, we may emerge battered but filled with a compassion we didn’t know we had, and didn’t know we needed.’

Richard Wiley, author of Soldiers in Hiding

‘Not since I stood in a Washington D.C. bookstore back in 1992 to read the first few pages of All the Pretty Horses, have I known so quickly and surely that I was in the hands of a writer whose skills and sensibilities soared in a direction both thrilling and foreign to me at the same time. But where Cormac McCarthy uses his gifts to solidify the west we have always known – men on the edge, defining and redefining freedom – Robin McLean turns the tables on him (and us)  by putting a woman in charge.  Though Pity the Beast is, through and through, a feminist novel, however, there isn’t a sentence in it that preaches, not a word that calls attention to its political undercurrents. Robin McLean may be a literary newcomer, but in years to come we might be calling her a literary master.’

Sabina Murray, author of The Human Zoo and Valiant Gentlemen

‘Harrowing, gripping, the product of a deranged mind, Robin McLean’s Pity the Beast is a brutally gorgeous fever-dream of a novel. This metaphysical Western feels like something new.’

Praise from Booksellers

'Like any western worth its salt, Pity the Beast abounds in fiction’s elementals: muck and dirt and dust; flies and fire and shit; spirits both mythical and distilled; and, of course, fucking. McLean is a writer of the hard-scrabbled sacred and well-perfumed profane, and her grotesques cry out from their place there on the page. Behold, the heiress to Cormac McCarthy—her pen to the old man’s throat, her prose blood-speckled and sun-splattered and all her own.' Hal Hlavinka, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn

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