Animal by Lisa Taddeo – Book review

I love it when you discover stories told from a perspective you haven’t read from before. Animal is told to us by Joan, a woman in her mid-30s who, among other things, moves from New York to LA to find her half sister. That’s not the perspective I mean though. I was referring to her uninhibited, raw, sexual and honest approach to her life. Animal felt quite fresh to me.

Opening sentence: I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me.

Meet Joan

Joan (a wildly underused name by the way – in fiction and life) is in a not-very-healthy relationship with an older married man, actually the poor sod of the opening sentence. This triggers her to relook at her life and try and find her half sister she has never met before (the product of her father’s affair).

Curiosity is something that has always driven me. I am depraved and curious.

Half sister Alice is 27 to Joan’s 37 and they become instant friends, despite Alice not knowing their true relationship:

Dear Alice, I have had a lifetime of suffering. From what I know, you have not. I have something to tell you, and you have something to tell me.

The tension and interest then builds as the story follows Joan. She interacts with her fellow tenants on the isolated commune-type place where she lives, her developing relationship with Alice and the unexpected arrival of Eleanor. She is the daughter of Joan’s dead lover, blames Joan for her family falling apart and is hell-bent on revenge…

The mother / daughter conundrum

To me, Animal was also an exploration of the complex mother/daughter relationship. Joan’s mother didn’t give her the love and security she needed as a child or as an adult, so Joan literally spends her life trying to placate that feeling within herself. Also, the narrative of Animal takes the form of Joan’s account of her life to pass onto her daughter.

So yes, Joan might be depraved but her depravity comes from circumstances out of her control. Joan gets into extreme situations but how she has been treated – from childhood to now – how she views herself and how women are sometimes forced to navigate their way through life, as portrayed here, isn’t extreme. It’s a bold mirror held up to the way society still continually fails women.

We never know how much worse it will be. That’s the greatest gift we have in life.

Raw and ready

I really enjoyed Lisa Taddeo’s turn of phrase, she delved deep into Joan – every nook and cranny – and gave us a character that felt so real:

The interior of my brain was a snake pit. I couldn’t survive in there alone.

The tone is raw and sexually explicit – often funny, often cutting – that makes it so refreshing to read:

The older the man, the more my specialty. I knew that when I met God one day it would go well.

I didn’t think I would end up feeling for Joan, but I did. The emotional ending certainly took me by surprise and days later, I still find myself thinking about Animal. An addictive summer read – not for the faint-hearted!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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