We The Animals

Justin Torres

First Sentence:    We wanted more.

This book tells the story of three brothers trying to grow up in America with a Puerto Rican father and a white mother. It is a fierce, animalistic life in this poor household with each brother trying to outdo the next and it is their parent’s love for each other which both unites them and tears them apart. It is at times bleak, but always poetic and is surely the first of many books from Torres. For me, the plot is somewhat lacking, but the writing is a joy and I’m intrigued to see what he brings out next. Take the first chapter for example. It begins with the sentence above (‘We wanted more’) and explains how the three brothers were forever battling each other for bigger things, better things, more. It ends, rather splendidly, like this:

But there were times, quiet moments, when our mother was sleeping, when she hadn’t slept in two days, and any noise, any stair creek, any shut door, any stifled laugh, any voice at all, might wake her, those still, crystal mornings, when we wanted to protect her, this confused goose of a woman, this stumbler, this gusher, with her backaches and headaches and her tired, tired ways, this uprooted Brooklyn creature, this tough talker, always with tears when she told us she loved us, her mixed-up love, her needy love, her warmth, those mornings when sunlight found the cracks in our blinds and laid itself down in crisp strips on our carpet, those quiet mornings when we’d fix ourselves oatmeal and sprawl onto our stomachs with crayons and paper, with glass marbles that we were careful not to rattle, when our mother was sleeping, when the air did not smell like sweat or breath or mold, when the air was still and light, those mornings when silence was our secret game and our gift and our sole accomplishment – we wanted less: less weight, less work, less noise, less father, less muscles and skin and hair. We wanted nothing, just this, just this.

* * *

Last Sentence:     “Upright, upright,” I say, I slur, I vow.

Last Sentence explained:            In the book, the narrator is unnamed but is the youngest of the three brothers. Each chapter is almost like a short story and it is sometimes difficult to know where one chapter fits in relation to another, however this is not a real problem. This gives the book a disjointed feel and gives us the sense that this is a collection of almost random anecdotes about an intriguing childhood. No bad thing, but it does make it difficult to bring the book to any sort of meaningful resolution. By the end, we learn that the youngest brother is gay, and as a result has lost the protection of his brothers and parents  who, presumably, would be very homophobic. It explains why the narrator always felt a little different from his brothers…

Quote from the book:

 “God’s scattered all the clean among the dirty[…]we’re nothing more than a fistful of seed that God tossed into the mud and horseshit. We’re on our own.”

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