130 of 141 people found the following review helpful
This book was well on its way to one of my year's best. It is a stirring and touching memoir novella of a family not so uncommon. The parents entered parenthood as teenagers. She gave birth at ages 14, 15 and 17. The mother works the graveyard shift at a brewery and the father works when he can. This is a saga of kids (ages 7, 9 and 10) growing up in poverty with parents who were probably never ready to be parents. The story has all the manic swings of emotion that comes with such a family. Mr. Torres captures the love, the fear and the violence in all their permutations in a unique and terrific style. The accounts of the family can be breath-taking, for good and for bad.
But then suddenly in the last 15 pages the gears shift to the adulthood of the youngest child. The shift is incongruous and does not fit. It seemed self-indulgent on the part of the author after he had kept an interesting distance as an adult writing about a seven year old. The ending was terribly disappointing to me. I went from loving this book and rushing to the next page while wishing it to go on for much longer to tremendous disappointment.
The first 90% of the book is so great that it overcomes the ending, so I still recommend it. I am quite sure that there will be some who will love the ending. For me, though, it just did not fit and detracted.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2011
"We the Animals" tells the story of a family's tumultuous home, where emotions blend, swirl, crash and mix up, and swarm around a family as they struggle to find their way.
Three brothers, sons of a Puerto Rican dad and white mother, grow up in Upstate New York. Their family is poor, their home life unstable.
They suffer at the hands of their brutal and abusive father. From whom, their weary mother- who works the night shift at a local brewery- suffers hard to protect them. More than anything, she wants to prevent her boys from growing into the same man as their father, whom she loves deeply.
Through this filial journey, through the mystery, confusion, and innocence of youth- the brothers at least have each other. Three animals, three musketeers, a pack of wild wolves, a band of true brothers.
With prose that is sparse, clear, rhythmic, powerful, staccato, and visceral, "We the Animals" casts readers headlong into this coming of age story.
When the narrator writes of the time his Paps paddled him, the youngest brother, out into the middle of a deep lake to teach him to swim you feel the boy's fear and dread, "I watched the moon brake shards of light across the lake; I watched dark birds circle and caw, the wind lift the tree branches, the pine trees tip. I felt the lake get colder and smelled the dead leaves."
As time marches on, the brothers become aware of their differences. Years wedge gaps between the band of three. The reader can only watch painfully as this family realizes how different, and at the same time how inseparable, they truly are.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2012
We The Animals by Justin Torres
Reviewed by Leyla Sanai
Justin Torres's autobiographical debut consists of a series of scenes from his childhood. Growing up the youngest of three wild brothers,Torres was aware that his family was different from those of other neighbourhood tearaways, because although his parents hailed fromBrooklyn, his father was Puerto Rican while his mother was Italian-Irish.In their chaotic household, uncontrolled emotion featured high and consistency low: one minute they'd be tickling each other, the next,Paps would be beating someone. Or, Paps would get distracted from giving the boys a bath and start having sex with Ma in the same room.
Ma, who worked nightshifts in a brewery, tried to leave Paps on atleast one occasion, yet when he transiently disappeared with anotherwoman, Ma stopped eating and functioning. A psychologist could have written a dissertation on the mixed messages given to the kids.The boys wandered the streets vandalising, taking drugs and engaging inviolence, partly, one feels, to escape their parents' tempestuous exchanges, and partly because the only discipline they tasted was unrelated to anti-social behaviour.
Like David Vann, whose raw debut consisted of a number of inter-linked,semi-autobiographical stories from his traumatic childhood, Torres rejects conventional narrative, instead picking several key memories and recounting them with the laconic distance that time buys. These fragments of a dysfunctional childhood are shocking. The boys' delinquency is at times so gratuitously cruel that this reader almost lost sympathy for them - the torturing of baby robins is particularly unforgiveable (although it displays the paradox so often shown by the carelessly violent since the boys also fed a stray cat and her kittens.)
Well-meaning adults who tried to help them often gave up in frustration- the man whose vegetable garden they raided, for example, who not only tolerated their upheaval of his plots but also made them a salad( to show how humans eat vegetables), was prevented from serving the saladby a violent fight between two of the brothers. Likewise the woman who found the brothers wandering along a dangerous four-lane major road and offered help, who was thanked with the hurling of a paving stone and insults.
The tragic wisdom of W.H. Auden's line `Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return' is chillingly apparent in this family: the mercurial Paps was himself beaten by his father; the boys damage trees in addition to their vicarious wounding of animals and humans. And the cycle of abuse trundles on - when the boys purposefully break a neighbour's window, the neighbour's adult son cajoles themback to his basement to watch child porn while his father shows no surprise at three minors being brought into his basement late at night.
But there is also love in this memoir. Paps bathing his disturbed teenage son is a scene that suffuses tenderness and care. And the bond between the brothers is fiercely strong - `everyone in theneighbourhood knew: they'd bleed for me, my brothers, had bled for me.'
We The Animals is compelling, but frustratingly short - even with generous spacing, it stretches only to 125 pages. I craved more information - the picture presented was like a dot-to-dot with too fewdots. When a story is told exclusively through vignettes,a lot of them are needed to convey the picture, set the atmosphere.
The question of Torres coming out as gay (mentioned in the blurb, so not a spoiler) is only raised in the last few pages. Contrast this with Neel Mukherjee's A Life Apart, where the protagonist's physical abuse as a child and his subsequent dangerous sexual behaviour are devastatingly but beautifully recounted, so that the reader feels emotionally involved and wholly immersed. Torres's book lacks the consistent poetry and hypnotism of the latter, but there are many moments which are intensely moving.Torres can express, in a few succinct words, the concept of children forced into maturity before their time: when Ma packs their clothes declaring they're leaving Paps, she drives to a park and sleeps whilethe boys run amok. When she wakens, she asks them if they should leave Paps or stay. One can almost feel the tearing of childhood innocence athaving to make such decision. No wonder Torres's vulnerability seeps through every page - even as a delinquent, he sucks his thumb.
But for me, the most haunting passage follows Torres's eldest brotherManny's vicious beating by Paps after the three boys attempted to runaway: `After a while, Manny started up again, talking to himself,plotting, saying `What we gotta do is, we gotta figure out a way toreverse gravity, so that we all fall upward, through the clouds andsky, all the way to heaven', and as he said the words, the pictureformed in my mind: my brothers and me, flailing our arms, rising, theworld telescoping away, falling up past the stars, through space andblackness, floating upward, until we were safe as seed wrapped up inthe fist of God.' Tragically riveting. 1/2 OUT OF
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2011
Rough. Raw. We The Animals has left me in a bit of awe.... its hard to describe and as I try to write a synopsis of the book - I know I am not doing it justice. On audio, as I experienced it, it is a jumble of life stories from the one sons perspective. Each chapter tells a story... piecing together a life story.
The boys mimic what they see... they use the language of anger their parents use towards each other and the words of forgiveness they also have witnessed. They mimic, and they share, and they learn...
At first the audio feels chaotic, story to story.... rushing to and from one thing to the next. I find myself piecing it together... it felt crashing and rolling....
and then it changes, a change I did not see coming and as I listen to it on the audio I pull in my breath tensing against what I believe is being told... what I know... is being told.
Is it a love story? Yes
Is it a story of adolescence? Yes
And it's also about family, about poverty, about hardships, and family, and strength, and about growing into who you are... no matter what that may mean.
Overall... I am surprised I was unaware of what this book was coming too, but in a way - I am also impressed with the author's choice to take an already good book... to another level. I am sitting here after the audio has ended... processing what I had not seen...
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Justin Torres has written something the likes of which I have never seen before.
I could barely grasp this novel. At times the words flow like pure poetry. The author seems to be just able to describe, but little else. And this has the remarkable effect of allowing us readers to just barely skim the lives of this family. The words dance around and create this amazing portrait of a family. This effect gives me the feeling that this is how the author feels about the boy: just able to perceive, but never really able to understand. Even for all this surface skimming, Torres still crafts developed characters, in Ma, Paps, Manny, Joel, and the youngest.
And then there is a sudden shift. First person takes over for the last portion and with this shift in perspective also comes with it more depth and understanding. As a reader I still felt removed, though. Here it is not stolen scenes from this family. This is the realization of the youngest about his place in his family and in this world. This is about how he became who he is now.
Overall, I think this is an extremely interesting novel. I would read it again and recommend it, but I know this is not for everyone.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This little book is shockingly stark, and curiously sparse. I was moved by the story, but was left wanting more information. Justin Torres obviously has writing talent. It's too bad he didn't have an editor to encourage him to elaborate more in the telling of his story. I wish this powerful novelette would have been a powerful novel. With all that said, read it! It won't take much time to see for yourself!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2011
To quote the opening lines of Justin Torres' book:
"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..." (p. 1)
The writing is beautiful. The novel's short length allows the reader to slip in and out of Torres' world in one sitting. You may feel as if your skin's been peeled off in strips afterward.
But you still want more.
The prose poem chapters are tiny, deliciously cadent jewels that detail the grotesque and glorious life of a dysfunctional family. There is love within the walls of that house, but never enough and too often it devolves into brutality or push-brooms after it sweeping up the shrapnel of imploded dreams and souls.
Ma and Paps start having babies in their teens. They grind through the half-lit days in varying stages of grief, rage and despair. Ma slogs through the graveyard shift at the brewery and at home afterward, sleep-deprived and addled. Paps gets jobs but mostly loses them. He takes out his frustration with his fists or a shovel, digging a trench in the back yard, a symbolic grave for dead dreams and hope that will never come to fruition.
The unnamed narrator and his brothers carom off each other and smash into the world around them. They destroy property and abuse one another in fruitless pursuit of lasting love, shelter and stability. They exist in a state of unassuaged hungers.
The next to last chapter departs from the seventeen vignettes preceding it into a short story titled "I Am Made", "made" being urban slang for what? I was never sure. Half-way through that story, the POV changes from first to third person, amping up the pathos but distancing the reader. The introduction of a "journal" comes as a complete shoe from the blue considering its vital role in the novel's denouement.
We need to know more.
The final two paragraph chapter is abstract and truncated. I'd come to care about the narrator and found the sense of incompleteness unsatisfying.
We The Animals shouts, screams, and whimpers across its hundred and twenty-five pages. It pummels the reader to attention, bruises the sensibilities, scrapes at the soul and doesn't give a damn.
I just wish there'd been more of it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the slim volume of We the Animals by Justin Torres. How was it going to live up to the high praise; how forceful and convincing can a story be that ends when other similar books are just getting started on their storytelling journey? But, as the saying goes - good things come in small packages and I was enthralled by this amazing debut novel. Torres wastes no time getting the reader engaged and committed to his tale. We the Animals tells the story through a series of vignettes of three brothers growing up in upstate New York. The story is narrated by the youngest brother as an adult looking back on his childhood. It is through his eyes we experience the brothers' adventures, the turbulent marriage of his parents - a white mother and Puerto-Rican father, and the eventual coming-of-age of the narrator as an "I" instead of a "We."
Torres provides an intimate portrait of a family in crisis set against the restraints imposed by themselves and society. While reading I felt like I was looking through a family album with the narrator and at each picture he stopped and told me the story behind the snapshot. Each story portrays the pain and love in their lives, as they struggled to make sense of who they were in the world, how to they take what is dished out to them and what does survival look like. The most painful stories were those where a situation started out as a joyous event, but an ugly twist soon ends the happiness. The narrator patiently, in an aching yet lovely voice, takes you from how he was a full "we" with his brothers - all for one and one for all, to his budding realization that he just might not be the same as his brothers and informs us, "They smell my difference - my sharp, pansy scent." This keeps building until a single event at the end is in many ways the culmination of the trauma, hurt and love the family feels for each other, yet they each know their world will never be the same again.
We the Animals is a forceful debut that will invade your thoughts long after you have read the last word, as the author's storytelling is spellbinding. The portrayal of the household that is intense, chaotic, and loud is set by the controlled tone of narrative, and this provides grace to the dark lyrical prose.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy the structure of language to tell a story.
This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Reviewed by Beverly
APOOO Literary Book Review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2014
This is not a happy, uplifting story. It's dark and depressing at times. But Torres is clearly a talented writer and I look forward to reading more of his work.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2013
The subject of the book is extremely simple: it is the story of a poor family, where the father is latino, and the mother apparently Caucasian. We follow the younger son's narration of how the three brothers grow up. That's it.
Almost. The book is extremely well written (that's the author first book), and despite the lack of real action, it is a page turner,
You'll be taken by the story, the time to open the few first pages.
I only gave four stars because I disliked the end, and wouldn't have made so much fuss around this book.
The book is fine, but in no way captivating, because nothing really happens.
I still recommend the book.