Granta, £12.99. £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
We the Animals, By Justin Torres
Tuesday 13 March 2012
What it is to be a boy! Adventures each and every day, with endless rough and tumble in the cause of rebellion. Our mixed-race narrator is growing up in New York state with an abusive father, unpredictable mother and two aggressive elder brothers. His parents started their family much too young – Ma was 14, Paps 16 – and they are not coping well. Yet, while Paps's violence is despicable, his musculature and vitality are mesmerising for his youngest son.
If fraternal relations are frequently savage, the brothers are often as selflessly united as three miniature Musketeers. Many escapades end in beatings from Paps. But behind the pain, the boys sense they are entering a realm that, while brutal, is somewhere they must travel. Burgeoning manhood steadily builds barriers against the sweet encroachments of their mother's love.
Justin Torres's lyrical treatment of transgression can be shocking. If occasionally it appears that he is toying with the surreal, that's because the story contains enough dysfunctionality to distort our sense of reality. Paps tries to teach his wife and youngest son to swim, for example, by towing them out into the middle of a lake and letting them go.
Torres's extended use of the first-person plural sets a defiant marker and at times his prose has the intensity of poetry. Here's the narrator describing his mother in a state of disarray: "Her mascara was all smudged and her hair was stiff and thick, curling black around her face and matted down in the back. She looked like a raccoon caught digging in the trash: surprised, dangerous."
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. There are surprising developments. Rather than disintegrating, this family is like dough: it can take repeated pummellings and stretchings.
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.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
- 2 Scottish independence: Five reasons Salmond is secretly hoping for a 'No' vote
- 3 Isis plan to 'behead random member of the public' in Sydney thwarted by Australian police
- 4 Scottish independence: Andy Murray backs Yes campaign in eleventh hour decision
- 5 Have you heard about the film Singapore has banned its people from watching? Well, you have now
Laurie Lee's Rosie: What is it like to inspire a writer's work and be immortalised forever on the page?
Metal detectors object to digs by Mackenzie Crook about ‘dysfunctional’ hobby in BBC4's 'Detectorists'
Doctor Who series 8: Time Heist pictures revealed ahead of episode 5
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Star Wars 7 leaked set photo of Adam Driver changes everything
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter