Sunday, February 19, 2012

“Quiet was as close to happiness as we would ever get”

We the Animals
by Justin Torres

When I was younger, I had the very naive idea that most families were pretty much like mine.  I’m older now, and I no longer thing that.  Told from the perspective of the youngest son of three sons, We the Animals is the story of a profoundly dysfunctional family.  It’s not without joy and not without love, but these people are very messed up.  The interracial parents exhibit the kind of passion that is frequently explosive.  The sons are rowdy, affectionate, neglected, and perhaps caught in the same cycle of poverty as their parents.

Debut novelist Justin Torres writes beautifully and with affection for his characters.  The tale is told episodically, almost as a collection of linked stories.  At the beginning, the unnamed narrator is just turning seven, and at the very powerful and moving conclusion he is in his mid-teens.  Except, it isn’t really a conclusion; it’s just where the story happens to end.  (It would certainly be interesting to revisit these characters later in life.)  The book comes in a brief 144 pages, but they’re an intense 144 pages and the book didn’t need to be any longer. 

Were I to summarize the book in a single sentence, it would be the following quote: 
“Ma stood up from her chair, lifted the receiver, and placed it back down again in one quick movement—and for a moment nothing, maybe even a full minute, long enough for our ears and clenched muscles to relax, long enough to remember and realize fully something we had long suspected: that silence was absolution, that quiet was as close to happiness as we would ever get.” 
 This is a family drama worth reading.

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