Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: No Animals We Could Name

Read 6/27/12 - 7/5/12
3.5 Stars - Recommended to fans of the short story and those who don't mind the deaths of animals
Pgs:  234
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Released: July 3, 2012

So, my good friend Tara over at BookSexyReview  has a theory. And in my experience, it's a pretty accurate one. If an animal is introduced into a story, that animal will surely die.

If the story is about an animal, you can bet the farm the poor thing will be dead by the end of the book. Look at books like Old Yeller, Cujo, and Marley and Me - the classic "dog as man's best friend" pull-at-your-heart-strings-because-you-have-to-put-them-down tear jerkers or the scare-the-shit-out-of-you-because-it-wanted-to-eat-your-face-off-so-you-had-to-kill-it variety. Even beyond the usual, there are authors out there who find death for stuffed animals, as S.D. Foster does in his collection A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Place.

I know, I know, there are plenty of books to argue the other side, where the animals never meet their maker - such as Seabiscuit and Boleto - but we're going to ignore those so I can continue writing this review... I need you to work with me here. 

The animals found in Ted Sanders' short story collection  No Animals We Could Name - a motley grouping of dog, lizard, octopus, and deer - simply never see it coming. Well, hang on, that's not actually true, because the lizard wasn't exactly alive anymore at the start of his story, and we never really know what happened to the deer though we do get full treatment to the aftermath of the driver of the car that was headed towards the deer... (though if the driver of that car had the same kind of luck I do, he smashed the shit out of that thing before veering off the road)...

Now, the dog and octopus... their stories are bit more certain. I can pretty much guarantee they didn't see their ends coming. And what ends they get! 

No, no, don't worry. I'm not about to spoil the entire book for you. But I do want to warn you away if you're anything like Tara and me, and hate to read books that involve unfair and sometimes messy endings to our furry (and in one case, slimy) friends.

That's not to say that all of Sanders' stories involve animals. Because they don't. Quite a few of them are about humans. And the strange, animal-like, and irreversible things they do to themselves and those around them.

There's a growing sense of sadness in some of Sander's stories. It's dark and festering. It puckers at the seams. Sometimes it smells of disease and not nice things.  As you read them, you begin to experience this strange, slow growing hesitancy with each turning page - something akin to that crazy music that starts to creep up in the background of a film, as the main character reaches for the doorknob with a shaking hand -   but you read on, knowing something is coming. Not something outwardly horrific, nothing scary. This is not a hack-em-up-and-hide-em-in-the-basement kind of book. You know it's going to be something much more subtle and strange, something that's just sitting there sadly, crouching, watching and waiting... something that will crawl out of the pages and sit with you much later on... when you would least like it to. 

It's a book that you experience emotionally. Some stories will make you smile slyly. Some will make you pout. Most will make you wonder....

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