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.