Thursday, September 8, 2016

We the Animals by Justin Torres

We the Animals  We the Animals centers around three half-Puerto Rican, half-white brothers growing up in upstate New York. They are the Three Musketeers, the Three Bears, the Three Stooges, Frankenstein, the bride of Frankenstein and the baby of Frankenstein. Narrated by the youngest brother, they are always three, always a "we." They grow up in poverty with parents who work long hours in an effort to put food on the table, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Together they watch their parents fight and love, in both cases violently and passionately. They struggle to make sense of what they witness. What is obvious to the reader - the violence of the father in particular, is not at all obvious to the three brothers. As the three brothers grow older "we" shifts to "I." His good grades and sexuality begin to set the youngest brother apart, with painful consequences. 

The word that kept popping up in my mind as I read We the Animals was lyrical. The writing was so alive. It felt like someone was speaking directly to me, telling me his story with the eloquence of a poet. I recently read this great post on Book Riot about what one sees when one reads. The author of the post has a condition which prevents him from seeing images as he reads. When he reads all he sees are words on a page. I do see, or rather imagine, as I read. With Torres's writing I could see everything. I saw the boys smashing tomatoes. I saw them hiding in the bathtub. I saw them staring at her mother when she asked them what they should do - return home or runaway. Every scene Torres wrote painted a picture.

My only complaint, and really it is less of a complaint and more of a question, was the ending. It confused me. I don't want to say what the ending is lest someone hasn't read the book yet, but to me it came out of nowhere. There were steps missing. It either seemed like it didn't fit, or that it should be a transition to another story about the narrator as a grownup or teenager. The story can't simply be over.

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