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.