The Feminist Texican [Reads] will be featuring a variety of fiction and nonfiction books by/about Latin@s throughout Latina/o Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15).
Back during Armchair BEA, I mentioned that Justin Torres’s We the Animals was one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year. It had a different cover back then; I kind of prefer that one, though this one reflects the narrative more. Anyway, when I finally got my hands on the book, I was surprised at how small it was: just 144 pages long.
The book isn’t a novel, really. A more apt description would be a collection of loosely tied together vignettes about a family living in upstate New York. Paps, the father, is a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn with a quick temper and a taste for alcohol. Ma is a white woman who had her first child at 14; she’s trying to keep the family afloat, working graveyard shifts that leave her in a daze during the day. Their three sons are inseparable, “animals” who get into mischief but who always unflinchingly support one another as they navigate their rocky family life. The book starts out with with a first-person plural point of view to reflect this, though it shifts later in the book when the youngest child takes the reins as narrator.
There were parts of this book that I absolutely loved. The writing is gorgeous, pulsing with an undercurrent of tension. The boys are never fully at ease with their dysfunctional parents–as the book progresses, it’s clear than they’re not completely at ease with each other either. Though there’s no unify narrative to thread the chapters together, Torres deftly presents broken portraits of the boys’ lives with surprising ease. And, of course, there’s the abrupt ending: a disquieting revelation that will redefine the foundation on which the family stands.
My only wish is that the book had been longer; I don’t mind short books, but this one took so much time to build that once it reached its climax, it just felt like a dead end. This is not to say that the climax was disappointing–on the contrary: Torres had my undivided attention. But by finishing at such a forceful peak in the narrative, I couldn’t help but wonder what he could have created had he spread his wings just a little further and fully developed the end of the book. Regardless, Torres is a writer I’ll be keeping my eye on in the future.
We the Animals was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on August 30, 2011.