Brothers in Arms
By Katrina Denza
Special to The Pilot
At only 125 pages, "We the Animals," by Justin Torres, is slight in weight but not in substance. The narrator tells the story of growing up with two older brothers, a well-meaning but often ineffective -mother, and a mercurial father, mostly using the first person plural point of view.
"We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more."
So begins Torres' novel as it eloquently speaks of what it was like for the narrator to grow up in Brooklyn with parents of different cultures, with poverty a perpetual threat, and with a passion for words no one else in the family shared.
The narration is spare, precise and lyrical, and Torres' point of view choice aptly captures the swirling, joyous mess that is -brotherhood.
The brothers in this -family are often rolling, wrestling, hitting, a united front against all others, a tumbling trio of lion cubs.
Told in succinct and startling sections, our narrator invites us to witness this family's trials beginning on his 7th birthday and on into his early adulthood.
Though there's abuse, it lingers on the peripheral, slightly out of our focus, to allow for the real story: how a person can emerge an individual out of such an all-consuming entity that is family. Metaphorically, the consequence of the narrator finding and claiming his individuality works on both a large and small scale.
An Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate, Justin Torres spent five or six years working on his debut novel, and his patience has paid off. "We the Animals" is fierce in its ability to evoke potent emotion with poetic language and veracious insight.
Katrina Denza's stories have been published in -several literary journals, and are forthcoming in Gargoyle #57 and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters. Recently, she was -awarded a Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. She volunteers as a mentor for Dzanc's Creative Writing Sessions and keeps a literary blog, www.katdenza.blogspot .com.
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