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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Heaven of Animals: Stories

I have become more enamored of short stories as the years have passed, so I picked up David James Poissant's The Heaven of Animals early this week to make my train ride pass faster. Can you spell W-O-W?

In this collection, David James Poissant explores what we do for those whom we love, be it a friend, a lover, or a family. The collection opens with "Lizard Man," where the narrator agrees to take a loyal friend on a short road trip to see where his estranged father died only to discover whom he, the narrator, doesn't want to become. In "100% Cotton," a man is seeking out death-by-holdup only to find that sometimes you can't get what you want no matter how hard you try. Throughout this book there runs themes of family, of care, of inner psychological torment, of death (both figurative and literal), and of an attempt to right wrongs that may or may not be your fault. How do we seek out redemption when we are not always sure that it's what we want, let alone need?

My absolute favorite story in this collection was "The End of Aaron." A young woman is in love with her high school sweetheart who happens to be on anti-psychotics. When he stops taking his medicine they end up in bed for days with Aaron on a rampage about the world ending. The young woman justifies her love and devotion, even to us in the audience. Mostly, I guess, to us in the audience. In this latest fit, she falls asleep against her better judgement and she may just lose everything for which she lives.

At first I was put off by the young woman and her justification for her choices (which is in itself a sign of great writing), but then I fell intrigued by her situation and the choices she was making. It wasn't just about the justification; she truly loves this boy whom is losing his mind yet depends on her greatly. It's easy to sit back and want to slap her over the head; it takes great pathos on the part of the writer to create a character that has such a deep and desperate want that she is willing to put her own life on the line to achieve it. There was something even beyond desperation in this woman--it was almost as if she was finding a way to forgive herself more than Aaron for his own sickness. Her devotion was pure, but be cautious in loving too much--the cut will ultimately be deep.

I was intrigued by these stories, but I was also strangely moved. Who is this man, who can tug at my heartstrings without my understanding why? This collection points out our need for forgiveness not just from others, but ultimately from ourselves--often the hardest to find and to accept.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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