Review: We the Animals

We the Animals

We the Animals
By Justin Torres
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780547576725, August 2011, 144pp.)

The Short of It:

Torres manages to inject beauty into what would otherwise be, a dark, depressing little book about love and neglect and growing-up male.

The Rest of It:

Three brothers tear their way through childhood— smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn—he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white—and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times.

I had mixed feelings with this one. I was impressed by its fierceness. It’s brutal and honest and the images that Torres creates are unforgettable. He definitely has a way with words and it’s obvious to me, that he poured a lot of himself into these boys when creating these characters. But, the format of the novel is not like traditional novels. It’s really a collection of vignettes and one of the things that I noticed right off, is that as soon as I found myself fully absorbed, Torres moves on to the next scene which left me sitting there, wanting more.

This is a debut novel for Torres and it was beautifully written and parts of it literally made my heart ache, but I feel as if he experimented a bit with what to include and what not to include and perhaps it was too lean. At just 144 pages, I think he had room to not only scratch the surface, but really give us a feel for his narrator as the story is told from the youngest brother’s point of view.

This is one of those instances where the writing won me over. Although the structure of it didn’t work for me, I was taken with the prose and I had no trouble appreciating the amount of work that went into constructing each, and every sentence. Broken apart, each sentence could stand on its own, which made it almost like reading a poem, if that makes any sense at all.

In the end, I would absolutely read another novel by Torres and I’m glad that I had a chance to experience his writing.

Source: Borrowed

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25 thoughts on “Review: We the Animals”

    1. There is a lyrical quality to the writing. Michael Silverblatt from Bookworm called it Poetic. You would probably like it for that reason.

      1. I did pick this up at the library and enjoyed it…but felt distant from the characters…more like an observer. I can see why it is praised though. Thanks for the book recommendation. 🙂 The review will post next week.

  1. I have been hearing a lot about this book, and while there seemed to be some issues with the construction, it also sounds like the writing was just about perfect. I have also heard that this is a rather somber and serious tale, and those types of stories always interest me as well. Great review on this one, Ti. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

  2. I had the chance to pick this up at SIBA but I didn’t. I guess maybe I wasn’t in the mood for that much dark at the time, but now I think I could handle it for some great prose. (And I am a little lazy…I’m liking the short books these days.)

    1. I listened to an interview on NPR and the author said it was somewhat autobiographical. That surprised me and didn’t surprise me at the same time. Growing up around violence, your memories are more like snapshots of horrible times…or really good times. You tend to not remember the in-between stuff.

  3. There is much chatter about this one. It is even on our Discover New Writer’s fixture at work, but I have to pass on it.

  4. I’m not sure this would be for me. I’m not fond of books with a structure like this. It’s good that the writing won you over and you’d still read more by the author though.

  5. I’ve been so out of the loop I hadn’t heard of this one. It doesn’t sound like a fun read or even one you can say you enjoyed reading but it does sound worth it. I love when writing is so good it overcomes an unpleasant subject matter. Gosh, I really did miss your reviews.

  6. Your succinct one-sentence synopsis is excellent, Ti, makes me think of Flannery O’Connor’s notion of “Intrusions of grace.” Further, the fact that the author doesn’t delve into details might just make the vignettes sound even more intriguing…. no?

  7. I don’t read enough short books! All of my books are really long these days 🙂 However, this sounds like a solid debut. I’ll have to keep my eye out for this author.

  8. Yes that does make total sense and that’s a great compliment to the author. Sometimes the writing can make a book wonderful. Im totally intrigued by this book based on your review!

  9. My friend is now living that final chapter. There is nothing ambiguous about it at all. The suddenness is real. The parent’s confusion and misunderstand is real. Their crime is real.

  10. This is one that I’ve been meaning to try. I think I can handle 144 pages right about now:) I like the sound of it.

  11. When I first finished this book I had the same thoughts as you about the format because I was frankly upset through this book by all the press it got because I didn’t think it was that good and then I got to those final chapters and it all came together and I was shocked. It definitely is a complete book and you need the whole thing to understand and really grasp what he is saying.

    1. I saw a video interview with the author and he stated that most of it is autobiographical in nature. I swear. When I heard that, I just wanted to give him a hug!

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