We the Animals/Justin Torres: Reflections

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I'm not quite sure what it was that made me decide (spur of the moment, really) to buy We the Animals, the slender debut novel by the widely acclaimed writer Justin Torres.  I'd heard some humming about the book.  I'd seen the ad.  I'd read what Marilynne Robinson had to say: "Brilliant, poised and pure." I'd read the words of Paul Harding:  "It is an indelible and essential work of art."  It was an impulse purchase, a little easy finger work, and there it was, on my iPad, waiting to be read.

From start to finish, without once leaving the couch, I just read.

We the Animals is the third book that I've encountered in the space of a little more than a week that builds through plurals. There was the rhythmic they, they, they of Colleen Mondor's remarkable debut memoir, The Map of My Dead Pilots.  There was the haunting, concentrating we of Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic.

And now here comes Torres with his story about brothers growing up within the chaotic fist of a poor, troubled family.  "We wanted more," this book begins.  "We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry.  We wanted more volume, more riots.  We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men."

Truly, I am tempted to just keep on quoting.  Because look at that.  Listen to it.  Justin Torres is carving out the sound of a song.

These boys are wild.  Their mom was a teen when all three were born.  Their father is a big, muscular, knotted man—a charmer and a rogue, a man who can purple up his wife with his fists and, just as powerfully, bathe a son. The kids are bound to each other and they're plastering each other—with hands, with words, with wants.  Each scene is a distillation, a moment.  Time moves warily forward.  The boys are in for hurt, and they do some hurting themselves, and sometimes it all grows so unbearably tense that I had to close my eyes and summon my psychic strength to keep on reading.

Readers can never change the fate of the characters they meet.  They can only hope for them.  They can only fear for them.  In reading We the Animals, I did both.  I succumbed to Torres's tale.  I honor his literary powers.   


bermudaonion said...

I was stunned by the ending of this book.

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