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We the Animals

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 8:27pm by Nholtzman

We the Animals is the brilliant debut novel of Justin Torres, a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. The novel was the result of approximately six years of writing and editing for Torres. The author described his writing process in an interview with Electric Lit in 2011 as, "Word by word. Sentence by sentence...I revise, obsessively, as I'm moving forward." The result of Torres' painstaking writing process is a beautifully written and artfully structured piece of literature.

Torres' novel is split into nineteen stories that center around three brothers and their parents. The boys' parents work long hours and the children are often left to their own devices. We see the boys play, fight, and question. The brothers think about how they fit into the world. The father in the story, Paps, is Puerto Rican, and Ma, the mother, is white. Paps calls the boys, "mutts...you ain't white and you ain't Puerto Rican."

The boys also question what it means to be a man. We the Animals is a coming of age story, and many of the vignettes discuss boyhood and masculinity. The stories are written using the plural pronoun "we," but the reader follows an unnamed protagonist. The main character intensely questions his masculinity in relation to his sexuality. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2011, Torres explained that he, "paid a lot of attention to voice and the collective identity of young childhood, the ‘we’ of it all. When you're still kind of forming your identity, it's very porous and it blends with that of the people around you."

We the Animals is one of my favorite contemporary novels. There is so much to unpack in this novel, from the format of the book to the concise, toned writing, to the subject matter. It's worth a read, and then maybe a second. Enjoy!

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