By Alexa Logush
A blend of fragmented sentences, complicated imagery and delicate narration, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres is as familiar as it is far removed.
The short novel follows the story of three brothers as they grow into their teenage years. A curious band of crude imps, they describe themselves as the Three Musketeers, Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Holy Spirit.
The narrator, an empathetic observer, watches as his family is torn apart and pieced together again. The youngest brother, who possesses no name, comes to separate himself from his older brothers when he grows older.
“We the Animals” offers a rhythmic style, crowing and calling as the brothers do. The novel’s events are artfully described through the eyes of a child. The hunger is real and the passion tangible. As readers, we can feel their empty stomachs and taste their dry tongues, when we read about their mother’s neglect as they’re sitting in front of empty plates at the kitchen table.
The novel’s heartbreaking dialogue and poignant moments explore love, what it means to be a part of a family and the instantaneous tumble from life’s childhood ease.
Three-fourths of the novel focuses on the brothers’ youth. It captures their playfulness, naiveté and devotion to each other. Each chapter is a vignette, reflecting on the neglect and pain of their childhood memories, hollow and echoing lonely, empty sounds.
The narrator does not paint an idealistic image of childish wonder and hopeful reverie, which is part of the reason why this is such an engaging and thoughtful read.
Instead of sugarcoating his life and his family, the narrator exposes the dark, gray areas of his past and present in order to come to terms with who he is.
This is a novel of discovery. Though it ends too abruptly and the last 15 pages or so lack the rawness a good portion of the book boasts, it’s a novel that is brutally self-aware.
A relatively quick read, it will leave you contemplating your own family and yourself as a member.