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Name All the Animals: A Memoir Hardcover – January 27, 2004
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Alison Smiths close-knit Catholic family is the very picture of contentment--right up until the day her 18-year-old brother is killed in a car accident. In Name All the Animals, Smith walks readers through the breakdown and breakthroughs of her family in the days and years that follow.
Cleanly written and only occasionally maudlin, this memoir reads like a gritty coming of age novel. Included are all of the pieces one would expect in a book that starts with a death--bereft parents, good samaritan neighbors, even a somewhat rote post-funeral scene back at the house--but Smith manages to throw in a few unexpected curveballs. A sweetly scandalous lesbian experience, a pair of skinny-dipping nuns, and a suspiciously undetected bout of anorexia come together with a quiet but ever-present insurance investigation to create a truly original story.
Written in the same vein as The Lovely Bones or The Dogs of Babel, Smiths story manages to convey the beauty that can be found in coming to terms with grief. Ultimately triumphant, this is a great read for anyone searching for meaning after the loss of a loved one. --Vicky Griffith
From Publishers Weekly
In her first book, Smith, an alumna of the Yaddo and MacDowell writers' colonies, confidently weaves together aspects of a traditional coming-of-age memoir with a story of unimaginable loss. In lucid, controlled prose, she meticulously reconstructs her family's journey through the three years following her 18-year-old brother Roy's death in a car accident, just weeks before he was to start college, in 1984. Despite their overwhelming grief, Smith's devout Catholic parents' faith does not waver, but the 15-year-old Smith grapples with her beliefs. "I thought perhaps it was my fault that Roy had left us," she writes. "I thought I was being punished for some unknown sin." A student at a Rochester, N.Y., Catholic high school, Smith can't express her doubts, nor can she reveal her romantic feelings for one of her schoolmates, a less sheltered girl who introduces her to Colette and van Gogh. And even though Smith becomes exceedingly thin, her mother and father fail to notice she's anorexic. Name All the Animals (the title refers to Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden) includes many vivid images, although some of the language can seem too pretty and composed. The book closes with the third anniversary of Roy's death. "If I lived past the summer of my eighteenth year," Smith resolves, "I would have to face that Roy died and that I the little sister, the tagalong... would surpass him." It's a brave ending to an impressive debut.
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As the memoir progresses, Alison's story will touch every emotion a reader feels. While reading, the reader feels as if it is her diary, and she is letting the reader about the both the troubles and the happiness in her life. She will take her life into her own hands after Roy's death, but she will also tempt fate. The reader becomes connected to Alison while reading her incredible story, and even after the book is put down, there is always more left out. If the reader is a teenager, Alison understands. She recounts many things a teenager looks forward to or has experienced. If the reader is an adult, it will be a reminder of just how much drama is in a teenager's life, especially in that of a teenage girl.
Alison gives insight into her everyday emotions: the grief and sadness from the loss of her brother, the joy of a first love, the stress of having to keep it a secret, and the feeling of being trapped as every teenager does at one point or another. As Alison brings the reader along for the ride of her teenage years, the reader feels everything she does, and is are frustrated when circumstances don't go her way.
She is a person many people can connect to, and her story is touching with every word. Even if some people believe the story is not interesting enough at first, PLEASE KEEP READING because it is worth it.
Some memoirs seem extemporaneous, as though someone else has written the story. However, while reading this memoir, I could see the events unfolding right in front of my eyes, as though I was there. In addition, her descriptions of people, places, and even simple actions, such as eating an apple, are so descriptive that the reader can shut their eyes and picture the exact circumstance.
Alison also touches upon her relationship with her parents. Growing up in a devoutly religious family, she is severely scolded for endorsing gay and lesbian rights. Alison describes the familial conflict this decision creates, and also relates it to her own relationships. However, I would have liked for the book to explain how her parents came to terms with the situation.
Although the story does not completely resolve itself, Alison Smith has created a captivating memoir that successfully portrays the challenges of growing up amid tragedy.
"Name All The Animals" is a memoir that reads like well-rounded fiction. The characters are vividly described and now that I've finished the book, I miss them.
There were scenes written so well, I could have been a fly on the wall secretly watching it all play out before me. There were some instances when, knowing it was a memoir, I was still afraid for Alison's life. That's how well written it was; it drew me so completely in that it was easy to forget that the author was the one you were reading about.
I was lucky enough to purchase a copy that had the interview in the back that tells about how she is doing now, that she has since spoken to Terry, Roy is still in her daily thoughts, her father got to read the book right before publication and she had eighteen different versions of the book before she finally got it to where it is now.
This book, I highly recommend to readers that want something to carry them away.
Quiet, lucid prose indelibly engraves each character and scene. I was transported and greatly rewarded.