Thursday, May 14, 2015
Book Review: The Zoo, A Going
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly, not a good book to start with if you are unfamiliar with Dzanc as a publisher
Oh man. I was so torn while reading this book.
On the one hand, when compared to his 2011 release Girl With Oars & Man Dying, it's incredibly more readable. Girl With Oars was a shock to the system with its experimental language, which made reading The Zoo, a Going such a sweet pleasure.
On the other hand, The Zoo just seemed to go nowhere and was content to take its sweet ole time getting there. It's a contemplative day-long walk through the zoo. If you snoozed a bit on a bench in the shade, you weren't missing much, whereas with Girl With Oars, Tyler's style of story telling actually forced you to pay attention and keep up or it was going to outrun you and leave you choking on its dust.
Anyone who's experienced divorce as a child will immediately feel a tinge of nostalgia while cracking open The Zoo. Jonah, whose age is not disclosed, accompanies his parents to the zoo during a tumultuous time in their relationship. He is an anxious kid. He worries a lot, and not just about his parents and the signals they send out like fireworks in the night sky (he's hella observant and pays attention to how they interact with each other and with him). And he worries about other things, non parent-related things, things that most younger kids wouldn't necessarily find themselves worrying about. If he's not careful, he'll be gray and troubled by ulcers well before be needs to be.
And he certainly didn't hit the parent jackpot either. His dad is a prick. He bitches and complains and curses and ignores. His crankiness is wearing and tiring. Jonah's mom is the opposite. She laughs and shows patience. She dotes. Her behaviors and actions throughout the book scream "peace maker". She's unhappy but she's determined not to let Jonah see that. And she fails miserably at it. And it would appear that there was a baby brother somewhere in the mix - we aren't sure when or for how long or even what happened. Perhaps that was when all the troubles began? Having only an emotional, introspective little kid to rely on for this information, much is left unsaid, and we can only speculate.
Tyler has broken the book out into short chapters named for the animal Jonah and his parents are viewing at that moment. Jonah reflects on each animal, tries to engage his parents in some banal banter about them and then internalizes the animal and its current situation to a memory he has of time spent with his family. Some memories are tame and pleasant while others begin to show you how they ended up here, at the zoo, broken and faking it and fighting to hold it together.
It's one of those uncomfortable reads where nothing much is happening and the parade of animals appears endless and everyone (with the exception of the narrator) desperately wishes they were somewhere else. Yes. Everyone. Including us, the reader.