We the Animals by Justin TorresWe the Animals by Justin Torres

We the Animals

byJustin Torres

Paperback | September 11, 2012

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We the Animals has met with extraordinary acclaim, from writers like Michael Cunningham, Paul Harding, Marilynne Robinson, Dorothy Allison, and Tayari Jones, and publications like Forbes, the New York Times, People, and more. A novel with reach as well as power, it landed on national and regional bestseller lists and is poised to find an even larger audience in paperback. This "fiery ode to boyhood" (Scott Simon, NPR) tracks three brothers as they tear their way through childhood, growing up in the shadow of Paps and Ma and learning a kind of love that is serious, dangerous, unshakeable, glorious. A stunning exploration of how we are formed by our earliest bonds, We the Animals bears witness to Justin Torres's serious talent and heralds him as a "brilliant, ferocious new voice" (Michael Cunningham).&nbsp

About The Author

JUSTIN TORRES is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, a recipient of a Rolón Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists, and a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford.
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Details & Specs

Title:We the AnimalsFormat:PaperbackDimensions:144 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.43 inPublished:September 11, 2012Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0547844190

ISBN - 13:9780547844190

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WE WANTED MORE We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.   When it was cold, we fought over blankets until the cloth tore down the middle. When it was really cold, when our breath came out in frosty clouds, Manny crawled into bed with Joel and me.   “Body heat,” he said.   “Body heat,” we agreed.   We wanted more flesh, more blood, more warmth.   When we fought, we fought with boots and garage tools, snapping pliers—we grabbed at whatever was nearest and we hurled it through the air; we wanted more broken dishes, more shattered glass. We wanted more crashes.   And when our Paps came home, we got spankings. Our little round butt cheeks were tore up: red, raw, leather-whipped. We knew there was something on the other side of pain, on the other side of the sting. Prickly heat radiated upward from our thighs and backsides, fire consumed our brains, but we knew that there was something more, someplace our Paps was taking us with all this. We knew, because he was meticulous, because he was precise, because he took his time. He was awakening us; he was leading us somewhere beyond burning and ripping, and you couldn’t get there in a hurry.   And when our father was gone, we wanted to be fathers. We hunted animals. We drudged through the muck of the crick, chasing down bullfrogs and water snakes. We plucked the baby robins from their nest. We liked to feel the beat of tiny hearts, the struggle of tiny wings. We brought their tiny animal faces close to ours.   “Who’s your daddy?” we said, then we laughed and tossed them into a shoebox.   Always more, always hungrily scratching for more. But there were times, quiet moments, when our mother was sleeping, when she hadn’t slept in two days, and any noise, any stair creak, 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. NEVER-NEVER TIME We all three sat at the kitchen table in our raincoats, and Joel smashed tomatoes with a small rubber mallet. We had seen it on TV: a man with an untamed mustache and a mallet slaughtering vegetables, and people in clear plastic ponchos soaking up the mess, having the time of their lives. We aimed to smile like that. We felt the pop and smack of tomato guts exploding; the guts dripped down the walls and landed on our cheeks and foreheads and congealed in our hair. When we ran out of tomatoes, we went into the bathroom and pulled out tubes of our mother’s lotions from under the sink. We took off our raincoats and positioned ourselves so that when the mallet slammed down and forced out the white cream, it would get everywhere, the creases of our shut-tight eyes and the folds of our ears.   Our mother came into the kitchen, pulling her robe shut and rubbing her eyes, saying, “Man oh man, what time is it?” We told her it was eight-fifteen, and she said fuck, still keeping her eyes closed, just rubbing them harder, and then she said fuck again, louder, and picked up the teakettle and slammed it down on the stove and screamed, “Why aren’t you in school?”   It was eight-fifteen at night, and besides, it was a Sunday, but no one told Ma that. She worked graveyard shifts at the brewery up the hill from our house, and sometimes she got confused. She would wake randomly, mixed up, mistaking one day for another, one hour for the next, order us to brush our teeth and get into PJs and lie in bed in the middle of the day; or when we came into the kitchen in the morning, half asleep, she’d be pulling a meat loaf out of the oven, saying, “What is wrong with you boys? I been calling and calling for dinner.”   We had learned not to correct her or try to pull her out of the confusion; it only made things worse. Once, before we’d known better, Joel refused to go to the neighbors and ask for a stick of butter. It was nearly midnight and she was baking a cake for Manny.   “Ma, you’re crazy,” Joel said. “Everyone’s sleeping, and it’s not even his birthday.”   She studied the clock for a good while, shook her head quickly back and forth, and then focused on Joel; she bored deep in his eyes as if she was looking past his eyeballs, into the lower part of his brain. Her mascara was all smudged and her hair was stiff and thick, curling black around her face and matted down in the back. She looked like a raccoon caught digging in the trash: surprised, dangerous.   “I hate my life,” she said.   That made Joel cry, and Manny punched him hard on the back of the head.   “Nice one, asswipe,” he hissed. “It was going to be my fucking birthday.”   After that, we went along with whatever she came up with; we lived in dreamtime. Some nights Ma piled us into the car and drove out to the grocery store, the laundromat, the bank. We stood behind her, giggling, when she pulled at the locked doors, or when she shook the heavy security grating and cursed.   She gasped now, finally noticing the tomato and lotion streaking down our faces. She opened her eyes wide and then squinted. She called us to her side and gently ran a finger across each of our cheeks, cutting through the grease and sludge. She gasped again.   “That’s what you looked like when you slid out of me,” she whispered. “Just like that.”   We all groaned, but she kept on talking about it, about how slimy we were coming out, about how Manny was born with a full head of hair and it shocked her. The first thing she did with each one of us was to count our fingers and toes. “I wanted to make sure they hadn’t left any in there,” she said and sent us into a fit of pretend barfing noises.   “Do it to me.”   “What?” we asked.   “Make me born.”   “We’re out of tomatoes,” Manny said.   “Use ketchup.”   We gave her my raincoat because it was the cleanest, and we warned her no matter what not to open her eyes until we said it was OK. She got down on her knees and rested her chin on the table. Joel raised the mallet above his head, and Manny squared the neck of the ketchup bottle between her eyes.   “On the count of three,” we said, and we each took a number—my number was last. We all took the deepest, longest breath we could, sucking the air through our teeth. Everyone had his face all clenched up, his hands squeezed into fists. We sucked in a little more air, and our chests swelled. The room felt like a balloon must, when you’re blowing and blowing and blowing, right before it pops.   “Three!”   And the mallet swung through the air. Our mother yelped and slid to the floor and stayed there, her eyes wide open and ketchup everywhere, looking like she had been shot in the back of the head.   “It’s a mom!” we screamed. “Congratulations!” We ran to the cupboards and pulled out the biggest pots and heaviest ladles and clanged them as loud as we could, dancing around our mother’s body, shouting, “Happy Birthday! . . . Happy New Year! . . . It’s zero o’clock! . . . It’s never-never time! . . . It’s the time of your life!”

Table of Contents

We Wanted More 1
Never-Never Time 4
Heritage 8
Seven 12
The Lake 18
Us Proper 24
Lina 30
Other Locusts 33
Talk to Me 39
You Better Come 44
Night Watch 52
Big-Dick Truck 61
Ducks 66
Trench 75
Trash Kites 82
Wasn’t No One to Stop This 86
Niagara 98
The Night I Am Made 103
Zookeeping 125
Acknowledgments 127

Editorial Reviews

We the Animals is a dark jewel of a book. It's heartbreaking. It's beautiful. It resembles no other book I've read. We should all be grateful for Justin Torres, a brilliant, ferocious new voice."-Michael Cunningham "The best book you'll read this fall? We the Animals, a slim novel-just 144 pages-about three brothers, half white, half Puerto Rican, scrambling their way through a dysfunctional childhood, is the kind of book that makes a career? .Torres's sentences are gymnastic, leaping and twirling, but never fancy for the sake of fancy, always justified by the ferocity and heartbreak and hunger and slap-happy euphoria of these three boys. It's a coming-of-age novel set in upstate New York that rumbles with lyric dynamite. It's a knock to the head thatwill leave your mouth agape. Torres is a savage new talent."- Esquire "First-time novelist Justin Torres unleashes We the Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a gorgeous, howling coming-of-age novel that will devour your heart."- Vanity Fair "A novel so honest, poetic, and tough that it makes you reexamine what it means to love and to hurt. Written in the voice of the youngest of three boys, this partly autobiographical tale evokes the cacophony of a messy childhood-flying trash-bag kites, ransacking vegetable gardens, and smashing tomatoes until pulp runs down the kitchen walls. But despite the din the brothers create, the novel belongs to their mother, who alternates between gruff and matter-of-fact-'loving big boys is different from loving little boys-you've got to meet tough with tough.' In stark prose, Torres shows us how one family grapples with a dangerous and chaotic love for each other, as well as what it means to become a man."- O, the Oprah Magazine "The imagistic power of Justin Torres' debut, We the Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), exists in inverse proportion to its slim 128 pages. Just try shaking off this novel about three upstate New York brothers whose knockabout childhoods with their Puerto Rican 'Paps' and white 'Ma' are the narrative equivalent of feral kitties being swung overhead in a burlap bag."- Elle Magazine "A kind of heart-stopping surge of emotion and language in this musical tornado of a novel."-Pam Houston in More Magazine "[ We the Animals ] packs an outsized wallop; it's the skinny kid who surprises you with his intense, frenzied strength and sheer nerve. You pick up the book expecting it to occupy a couple hours of your time and find that its images and tactile prose linger with you days after? what stays with me are the terrible beauty and life force in Torres' primal tale."- Newsday "A slim book can hold volumes. We the Animals, the first novel from Justin Torres, is such a book. Not an ounce of fat on its slight frame, but the story is sinewy. Stong? .We the Animals crafts beauty out of despair. From lives so fragmented they threaten to break off into oblivion at any moment, Torres builds a story that is burnished, complete. That takes talent, diligence and more than a little grace."- Houston Chronicle " We the Animals is a book so meant to break your heart that it should lose its power just on the grounds of being obvious. That it pierces-with an arrow dipped in ache-signals that Justin Torres is a writer to embrace from the start. This is his first novel."- Newark Star Ledger "Some books quicken your pulse. Some slow it. Some burn you inside and send you tearing off to find the author to see who made this thing that can so burn you and quicken you and slow you all at the same time. A miracle in concentrated pages, you are going to read it again and again, and know exactly what I mean."-Dorothy Allison "In language brilliant, poised and pure, We the Animals tells about family love as it is felt when it is frustrated or betrayed or made to stand in the place of too many other needed things, about how precious it becomes in these extremes, about the terrible sense of loss when it fails under duress, and the joy and dread of realizing that there really is no end to it."-Marilynne Robinson " We the Animals snatches the reader by the scruff of the heart, tight as teeth, and shakes back and forth-between the human and the animal, the housed and the feral, love and violence, mercy and wrath-and leaves him in the wilderness, ravished by its beauty. It is an indelible and essential work of art."-Paul Harding, Pulitzer PrizeaÇôwinning author of Tinkers " We the Animals marks the debut of an astonishing new voice in American Literature. In an intense coming-of-age story that brings to mind the early work of Jeffrey Eugenides and Sandra Cisneros, Torres's concentrated prose goes down hot like strong liquor. His beautifully flawed characters worked their way into my heart on the very first page and have been there ever since."-Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow " We the Animals is a gorgeous, deeply humane book. Every page sings, and every scene startles. I think we'll all be reading Justin Torres for years to come."-Daniel Alarcon, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight "Three brothers and a dueling husband and wife are bound by poverty and love in this debut novel from Stegner Fellow Torres? The short tales that make up this novel are intriguing and beautifully written"- Publishers Weekly "An exquisitely crafted debut novel-subtle, shimmering and emotionally devastating? the narrative voice is a marvel of control-one that reflects the perceptions and limitations of a 7-year-old in language that suggests someone older is channeling his younger perspective. In short chapters that stand alone yet ultimately achieve momentum, the narrator comes to terms with his brothers, his family and his sexuality, separating the 'I' from the 'we' and suffering the consequences. Ultimately,the novel has a redemptive resonance-for the narrator, for the rest of the fictional family and for the reader as well. Upon finishing, readers might be tempted to start again, not wanting to let it go."- Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW"