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“Open Throat” by Henry Hoke

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Open Throat

Henry Hoke
Published: 2023
Age Range: adult
Genre: literary fiction

Open Throat follows the adventures of a cougar in Los Angeles. Though they are elderly and prey on younger men, they are not the kind of cougar you might assume. The real P-22 puma lived in L.A.’s Griffith Park from 2012-2022, and author Henry Hoke has spun a colorful narrative based on sightings of the animal by wildlife biologists and L.A. residents.

Like P-22, the unnamed narrator, who does not particularly conform to human or even puma gender ideals, is born in the wild in the Santa Monica Mountains. When driven out of their territory by their father, they cross a deadly major freeway and flee into the city in their desperation. Unfortunately, L.A. is not an ideal habitat for a large carnivore, and like many of the humans they encounter in their new home, the protagonist struggles to survive in a world built to exclude them.  

Because the story is written from the point of view of the puma, whose grasp of human language and technology is incomplete, a lot of these details must be inferred. The narrator knows Los Angeles as “ellay”, freeways are called “the long death”, and so on. The text also forgoes the use of standard punctuation and capitalization, allowing for poetic structure and wordplay. While it’s fairly obvious from the beginning where the narrative is heading, the journey is satisfying.