Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: We The Animals, By Justin Torres

The Premise:
Three inseparable, half-white, half-Puerto Rican brothers—the animals—grow up and come of age within a household where the parents love and hate each other passionately.

The Good:
I chose this book based on a review I had read in Esquire Magazine and because it was only 128 pages long. The review lauded the language, and rightly so. The first chapter is a lean, taut, athletic exercise in language and many of the chapters sizzle and crackle off of the page. Mr. Torres has a distinctive voice that is both enjoyable and enviable.

The Bad:
Sometimes you want to go into a book knowing what it’s about and sometimes you want to be surprised. This was a book, much like Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, that surprised me in an unpleasant way. And like that book, I enjoyed most of it despite the unease. The main problem I have isn’t with the subject matter in the latter chapters, per se, but that the chapters feel rushed and tacked on. Throughout most of the book the boys seem to be of a certain age—or at least maintain a rate of grow at a certain pace—and then, all of a sudden, the story jumps forward several years without explanation. While I liked the brevity of the novel, I do feel that it could have been improved with a few more chapters that better lead up to the final act.

The Verdict:
If you love the written language, read the first five or so chapters. If you’re compelled to read on, just know that you’re in for some potentially abrupt and uneasy subject matter near the end.