Open Throat: A Novel (Hardcover)
Finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize. One of the Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Fiction in 2023. One of The New York Times' 10 Best California Books of 2023.
“Open Throat is what fiction should be.” —The New York Times Book Review
A lonely, lovable, queer mountain lion narrates this star-making fever dream of a novel.
A queer and dangerously hungry mountain lion lives in the drought-devastated land under the Hollywood sign. Lonely and fascinated by humanity’s foibles, the lion spends their days protecting a nearby homeless encampment, observing hikers complain about their trauma, and, in quiet moments, grappling with the complexities of their gender identity, memories of a vicious father, and the indignities of sentience.
When a man-made fire engulfs the encampment, the lion is forced from the hills down into the city the hikers call “ellay.” As the lion confronts a carousel of temptations and threats, they take us on a tour that spans the cruel inequalities of Los Angeles and the toll of climate grief. But even when salvation finally seems within reach, they are forced to face down the ultimate question: Do they want to eat a person, or become one?
Henry Hoke’s Open Throat is a marvel of storytelling, a universal journey through a wondrous and menacing world recounted by a lovable mountain lion. Feral and vulnerable, profound and playful, Open Throat is a star-making novel that brings the mythic to life.
About the Author
Henry Hoke is an editor at The Offing and a writer whose work has appeared in No Tokens, Triangle House, Electric Literature, and the flash noir anthology Tiny Crimes. He co-created the performance series Enter>text in Los Angeles, and has taught at CalArts and the UVA Young Writers Workshop. He lives in New York City.
"[A] slim jewel of a novel . . . It is not in spite of its brevity — or its surrealism, or its nonhuman narrator — that Open Throat leaves you with such a lingering impression, but because of these elements . . . Though many readers will label Open Throat unconventional, this act of ravishing and outlandish imagination should be the norm, not the exception. At its best, fiction can make the familiar strange in order to bring readers and our world into scintillating focus. Open Throat is what fiction should be." —Marie-Helene Bertino, The New York Times Book Review
"Give this sinewy prose poem a chance and you'll fall under the spell of a forlorn voice trapped in the hellscape of modern America . . . it's the combination of attention and naiveté that charges his observations with unconscious profundity . . . Hoke coughs up little hairballs of comic misunderstanding throughout Open Throat, but it's the pathos that sustains his novel. The mountain lion speaks for a lonely, alienated generation. " —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"A propulsive, one-sitting read, if also a somber one . . .. Without spoiling the story, it’s perhaps enough to say that the climax of Open Throat is a very L.A. one, with spotlights and drama. But it’s also a universal one." —Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times
"A wide-ranging portrait of technology-fueled, lucre-gorged loneliness in an uncaring, self-congratulatory liberal city obsessed with fame and ignorant of its own ecological and social breakdown. The writing is so sinuous, so wry and muscular, yet with a padding, pawing playfulness, that you’re ready to go anywhere Hoke wants to take you . . . This is a clever, witty conceit, cleverly, wittily executed. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking and nail-bitingly propulsive, with an exquisite Hitchcockian climax." —Rahul Raina, The Guardian
"The premise alone makes Henry Hoke's startling achievement worth the purchase . . . Philosophical and heartfelt, Open Throat is the ultimate immersion into the mind of an unlikely protagonist." —Lauren Puckett-Pope, ELLE
"Stunning . . . [an] unflinching tale of gender identity, climate change, alienation and what it means to be a sentient being in today’s world. It’s a journey into strange new territory through the eyes of a hungry lion — yet also filled with unnerving familiarity." —Bernadette Fay, San Francisco Chronicle
"One of the most unique novels I've read in years . . . I didn't know I would feel such attachment to a mountain lion when I started reading, but in Henry Hoke's talented hands, they become an instantly memorable and endearing protagonist." —David Vogel, Buzzfeed
"This lyrical story of loneliness and kinship in Los Angeles is, by turns, delightful and melancholy—and inventive throughout." —Vanity Fair
“Strange, unique, and mesmerizing.” —Gabino Iglesias, Boston Globe
"Succinctly dazzling . . . Through the prismatic POV of its grieving, raging and love-hungry lion, Open Throat claws at the productive and painful possibilities of interspecies relationships and ecological grief . . . Open Throat never yields to the pause of a full stop, its wildfire of feeling burning relentlessly until the story’s end." —Alice Bucknell, frieze
"Hoke’s syntax throughout is a marvel . . . Open Throat is a tight, funny book with an alarmingly unique tone, and with an ending that redeems itself from all the questions that pad along the way." —Meg Whiteford, The Brooklyn Rail
“Compulsively readable . . . Hoke’s emotionally immersive construction of this lion mind is [persuasive]—and that is the book’s great achievement. Even more so than with the character’s wry, befuddled observations about us, I was caught up in the wild world of feeling and desire that Hoke has conjured." —Megan Milks, 4Columns
“Open Throat reads as if the narrator of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation had become a mountain lion and moved to Griffith Park. Its mosaic prose form makes observations feel like profound wisdom—pronouncements that seem even more powerful coming from a lion living above Los Angeles. When he muses on human behavior and the future of the city, it seems like nothing less than prophecy.” —Chris Daley, Alta
"Open Throat’s unusual narrative flows like the best poetry. It’s a concept that could go awry in the wrong hands but under Hoke’s witty, empathetic control it is a remarkable feat of fiction, elegantly weaving together ideas of queerness and transness, of the climate crisis, of the corrosivity of mankind, with an uncommon subtlety." —Patrick Sproull, AnOther
"Wryly comic . . . a stealth novel of circa-now Los Angeles." —Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“Open Throat strikes the perfect balance of humor and trauma, creating an encapsulating read that interrogates the complexities of gender identity and a world marked by climate change.” —Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books
"Singular, stunning . . . [the mountain lion] finds indelible place in readers’ hearts. Hoke’s prose is a joy, as it alternatingly charms with malapropisms and stuns with poetic simplicity. Compassionate, fierce, and bittersweet, this is an unforgettable love letter to the wild." —Kirkus (starred review)
"The economical prose reads like poetry, with enjambment in place of punctuation and frequent paragraph breaks. By turns funny and melancholy, this is a thrilling portrait of alienation." —Publishers Weekly
"Hoke does a fine job with his highly imaginative material, bringing the cougar to vivid life by giving him a fascinating take on the human world and his place in it. Open Throat is a treat for both animal lovers and anyone who appreciates innovative fiction." —Booklist
"I defy you to hear the premise of this sophomore novel from the always-interesting Henry Hoke and not immediately smash that preorder button . . . a playful, poignant, tragicomic delight." —Lit Hub
"[A] quiet yet forceful roar of a novel . . . A book full of humanity that you can sink your teeth into." —Michelle Hart, Electric Literature
"Open Throat is a blinding spotlight beam of a book that I was completely unable and unwilling to put down. I am not convinced Henry Hoke isn’t a mountain lion." —Catherine Lacey, author of Biography of X
"My favorite book of this century so far! I keep putting off writing this blurb because every time I pick up Open Throat I re-read it and fall back in love with this gay-ass big cat and then I have to spend the whole rest of the day thinking about mountain lions and humans and sex and bodies and death and climate change and bad dads and NY v. LA and what is even possible in this world. Henry Hoke is a magician." —Andrea Lawlor, author of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
"Open Throat feels like a comic book and a really good one; it feels the inside of animals, specifically one animal, a mountain lion, and with them we desire blood and I can’t tell you how it ends but I love knowing a mountain lion so much. The beauty and tragedy of all of nature is in this character. Open Throat is a fierce writing act. Henry Hoke makes it true." —Eileen Myles, author of For Now
"Open Throat is an instant cult classic and a bloody masterpiece: rhythmically brilliant, heart-wounding, and scathingly funny. I’m in love with a mountain lion and in awe of this book." —Melissa Broder, author of Milk Fed
"In this fantastical, deeply moving, and original adventure--also an unforgettable reckoning with contemporary Los Angeles--Henry Hoke introduces an animal whose life is more than just survival: they are full of longing, regret, memory, sadness, and astute observation. At the core of Open Throat sits a very precious and perishable lesson: survival is not our only job in life." —Brontez Purnell, author of 100 Boyfriends
"Henry Hoke’s narrator is the most credible animal witness to human behavior since Robert Bresson’s Balthazar. Original, fun and completely awakening, Open Throat is a devastating portrait of LA today." —Chris Kraus, author of Social Practices
"Wholly original, inventive, and surprising on every level. Open Throat affirms the capaciousness of the novel as a form. I wish more books took the kinds of chances Open Throat does." —Diane Cook, author of The New Wilderness