Houghton Mifflin Harcourt This is how our memories of childhood operate: a series of images and sensations that our older minds retrospectively link.
The unnamed narrator tells the story through a inquisitive seven-year old's lens. A few pages later, this becomes "let us look at me kneeling on the living-room floor". The animals of the title are the three brothers, whose mixed-race origins (their father is Puerto Rican) make them feel like a different breed in poor, white upstate New York. And then, without any apparent development in internal thought process, suddenly this kid is yelling at his brothers, taking their behaviors apart, declaring: "You are so fucking ignorant.
The rambunctious carnival of the boys' life, where even their parents' fighting takes on the appearance of a game, is a challenge to their daily drudgery. The novel loses some of its edge as the story coalesces into a more traditional narrative and a rather predictable ending. Each chapter is a tiny, carefully crafted vignette, a story both elegant and raw, vibrant and incomplete. When the father leaves his wife and children to fend for themselves, and the mother becomes so distraught that she can't go to work, Lena, the mother's supervisor, shows up at the door with groceries, demanding to know what happened. This is the big shift in the book, and at first it's manifested seamlessly, from three brothers together to one brother apart: They smelled my difference -- my sharp, sad, pansy scent. When the mother comes home one day with two black eyes, the father "told us the dentist had been punching on her after she went under; he said that's how they loosen up the teeth before they rip them out." Torres captures the isolation of a mother trying, and failing, to do what's right for her kids; the day after a rape by her husband, she drives the kids away and tells them: "We can go home, but we don't have to. When the kids become angry, it's displaced -- they're angry at a woman who offers them help while their mother is taking a nap in the car and they're playing on the side of the road: "'We should have killed that fucking woman... Taken her keys and driven off,'" says Manny, the oldest. Justin Torres's debut novel centers around three brothers who grow up in a world of imagination, neglect, and pain in an undisclosed upstate New York town. Prickly heat radiated upward from our thighs and backsides, fire consumed our brains, but we knew that there was something more, some place our Paps was taking us with all this. Take this passage about the regular beatings all three kids suffer at the hands of their father, from the first chapter: We knew there was something on the other side of pain, on the other side of the sting.
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