If you think an author cannot successfully manage a book in less than 200 pages, then think again. Or better yet, read, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres. It is the kind of book that you will read once in a lifetime and with assurance I can say that you will be blown by it. We the Animals is a not a happy book (though it is infused with moments of happiness). It is neither a tragic tale. It is a slice-of-life so to say, of a ride through a childhood of three “animals” and their dysfunctional parents.
“We the Animals” is not something like I have read before. It can be called a grouping of stories or just a plan simple novel. It is about three boys and their growing up years in up-state New York by their Irish-Italian-American Mother and Puerto Rican father. The story is told from the viewpoint of the youngest son (who throughout the book is nameless), who loves and cherishes his older brothers and is also not quite like them. There are vignettes that build the story, just like “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros.
One obviously would expect some amount of latent madness and dysfunctionality running throughout the book, which is there; however, there are also moments of happiness and light, which balance the plot and structure. For instance, in one story, Ma refuses to answer the phone. She knows it is her husband and she doesn’t answer the phone. The entire piece is told through the events that occur while the phone is ringing in the background. The feeling of reading this is surreal and magical.
By far, my favourite piece in the entire book is the opening story, “We Wanted More” which sets the context and tone of the entire book. The sparse language used in almost every chapter is commendable, as it also happens to be intense in most places and touches the right chord. It therefore becomes very hard to believe that this is a debut work.
Justin Torres knows how to put up the book, exactly the way he saw it – intense, raw and rough. There are no smooth edges and shouldn’t be when writing a book of this nature. Torres makes you feel that you are going through a family album while reading the book. Each picture and each snapshot is telling a tale of its own. It is a complex study of family dynamics and written with a lot of substance.
While reading, “We the Animals”, there were a lot of moments I was choked up, however I had to let that pass and focus on reading the book. The reason I mention is to make the reader understand the power of a well-written book. We the Animals is one of the most beautiful books I have read this year and I am not hesitant to say this right at the beginning of the year, also because the book was published in 2011. It will break your heart and mend it right back. It will also make you see life differently. I highly recommend it to one and all.