Fiction We The Animals Torres Omnivore Review

Published on April 1st, 2012


We The Animals by Justin Torres

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Blurb: Three brothers tear their way through childhood-smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from rubbish, hiding when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn-he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white-barely out of childhood themselves, and their love is a serious, dangerous thing. Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to forge his own way in the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and incredibly powerful. (And Other Stories)

Other books by the author

Helen Davies, The Sunday Times

This semi-autobiograpical rhapsody, almost pitch-perfect in its nerve-exposed ­vulnerability, makes all those misery memoirs with their whingey horrors seem bland by comparison

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Peter Carty, The Independent

This is a novel but every chapter could stand alone as a short story. Together they form a haphazard montage of events, each ending in understated epiphany … The autobiographical nature of Torres’s narrative is reminiscent of David Vann, another US newcomer, and prompts the same question: whether Torres will widen his purview to material less directly related to his life story. In the meantime, his debut holds out the promise of further virtuoso writing.

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David Evans, The Financial Times

The book is divided into sections headed with gnomic titles (“Heritage”; “Other Locusts”; “Us Proper”) that function not as chronological chapters but, rather, as prose-poems exploring aspects of a single idea. The idea is family, and it can rarely have been more beautifully expressed.

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Jeff Turrentine, ~The Washington Post

From the first of its 128 pages — all of which can be read in one sitting, as they undoubtedly will be in many instances — readers, even those who don’t go on to love everything about the book, will have little choice but to conclude that they are hearing something new, something strong and something very self-assured.

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Alex Preston, The Observer

Torres’s prose style is unctuous, dense with metaphor and surprising imagery. The 19 chapters, individually titled, initially feel like a collection of short stories focused on the three boys and the tempestuous relationship of their parents. At the start, there is little plot, and no clear attempt to situate the reader in time or space … The novel loses some of its edge as the story coalesces into a more traditional narrative and a rather predictable ending. 

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Jacques Testard, The Times Literary Supplement

While these vignettes are often vividly constructed using extremely concise prose, Torres sometimes slips into showy clausal constructions. But when he dispenses with excessive semicolons and dashes, Torres writes with an impressive control of language. A few episodes stand out: dancing the mambo with Paps; hiding in the bath-tub and spying on the parents; dancing away the hours in a cinema near Niagara Falls. The lack of narrative linearity, however, obscures Torres’s achievement, with a climax that is perhaps too subtly hinted at and comes as a shock.

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Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

From the patchwork emerges a narrative of emotional maturing and sexual awakening that is in many ways familiar (no prizes for guessing the nature of the sexual awakening in question) but is freshened by the ethnicity of the characters and their background, and the blunt economy of Mr. Torres’s writing, lit up by sudden flashes of pained insight … He does not always avoid the kind of overly cultivated eloquence that announces a writer staking his claim for literary achievement.

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