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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-06-27
- Reviewer: Staff
Three brothers and a dueling husband and wife are bound by poverty and love in this debut novel from Stegner Fellow Torres. Manny, Joel, and the unnamed youngest, who narrates, are rambunctious and casually violent. Their petite "white" mother, with her night-shift job and unstable marriage to the boys' impulsive Puerto Rican father, is left suspended in an abusive yet still often joyous home. Nothing seems to turn out right, whether it's Paps getting fired for bringing the boys to work or Ma loading them in the truck and fleeing into the woods. The short tales that make up this novel are intriguing and beautifully written, but take too long to reach the story's heart, the narrator's struggle to come of age and discover his sexuality in a hostile environment. When the narrator's father catches him dancing like a girl, he remarks: "Goddamn, I got me a pretty one." From this point the story picks up momentum, ending on a powerful note, as Torres ratchets up the consequences of being different. (Sept.)
Snapshots of brotherhood
Recent Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate (and current Stegner Fellow at Stanford) Justin Torres has received a considerable amount of pre-publication buzz for his quirky—and delightfully written—We the Animals. This work revolving around three brothers is a pitch-perfect book to read through in one sitting.
While classified as a novel, We the Animals could be viewed as linked short stories. Torres displays each chapter like a photograph for his readers to study. The three young brothers live with their hard-working white mother and loving—yet abusive—Puerto Rican father in upstate New York. Their lives are disrupted by violence, passion and the endless question of whether enough money is coming in to pay the bills.
In “Night Watch,” the boys accompany their father to the building where he works as a security guard, curling up in sleeping bags on the floor. In “Seven,” the youngest of the brothers (our main protagonist) reaches his seventh birthday, much to his mother’s dismay over his no longer being her baby. And in a personal favorite, “The Lake,” readers witness the youngest boy’s attempt to learn how to swim. These poignant glimpses of everyday life are fraught with emotion and heavy with rich, evocative language that taps into one’s primal side. Torres displays a sense of urgency and calamity with the language he uses so precisely.
Although the plot veers off into territory that is unexpected and most definitely rushed, Torres’ portrait of each boy is succinct and beautifully composed. The tension that hovers beneath the surface of these stories vibrates electrically, and readers cannot help but feel connected to the boys who careen around and off the page.