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Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, Pank, and Gargoyle #57, among others. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. Currently, I'm an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. I'm also working on two novels and a short story collection. In 2011, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Read: "We the Animals" by Justin Torres


At only 125 pages, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres is slight in weight but not in substance. The narrator us tells the story of his growing up with two older brothers, a well-meaning but often ineffective mother, and a mercurial father, mostly using the first person plural point of view.

“We wanted more. 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. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.”

So begins Torres’ novel as it eloquently speaks of what it was like for the narrator to grow up in Brooklyn with parents of different cultures, with poverty a perpetual threat, and with a passion for words no one else in the family shared. The narration is spare, precise, lyrical, and Torres’ point of view choice aptly captures the swirling, joyous mess that is brotherhood. The brothers in this family are often rolling, wrestling, hitting, a united front against all others, a tumbling trio of lion cubs.

Told in succinct and startling sections, our narrator invites us to witness this family’s trials beginning on his seventh birthday and on into his early adulthood. Though there’s abuse, it lingers on the peripheral, slightly out of our focus, to allow for the real story: how a person can emerge an individual out of such an all-consuming entity that is family. Metaphorically, the consequence of the narrator finding and claiming his individuality works on both a large and small scale.

An Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, Justin Torres spent five or six years working on his debut novel and his patience has paid off. “We the Animals” is fierce in its ability to evoke potent emotion with poetic language and veracious insight.

* Review first published in the October 12th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines

1 comment:

Seattle Janitor website said...

I can't talk about this book without mention of the language - it's spare, economic and evocative, deeply poetic but without all the frills and ruffles. Each sentence is a construction, careful and exact. I was struck by how organic the writing feels - though (or because?) it is so stylized. I gave myself over entirely to these stories, or I guess I should say that the the stories got hold of me and wouldn't let go. I haven't read anything like it.