My Life as an Animal by Laurie Stone

my-life-as-an-animalLaurie Stone’s My Life as an Animal is a joy. It’s been described as a book of linked, comic stories, and it’s that, but not just that. It’s comic when it needs to be, which is often, and the comic effects are produced with an unerringly sure hand, an ear for the absurdity of what we say about ourselves, and of what we believe to be true about our lives, an extraordinary capacity for metaphor that is both startlingly unexpected and immediately right, a use of metaphor that uncovers ‘something familiar you have never seen before’, as the narrator remarks of a yard sale in the first story. But it’s also hard, and brutal, and honest, and bright as new paint, and painful with self-knowledge. It’s a book about the stories people keep ‘because it’s what they have’, about mothers and daughters, and lovers, and how stories are shared and not shared, a source of constant antagonism, about the ‘tender, excited regard’ that people seek, and that is one of the strongest qualities of these stories. They’re filled with an intelligence that no sooner possesses something than it’s distrusted, both the intelligence and the thing possessed. There are numerous references to space, as something that unites two things or people or holds them apart, and as something those people, despite everything, require to live. The space between bodies, the space in which someone is wanted. The space someone fills, or doesn’t fill. The space made by people who relate to your body as if it were ‘a surface to leave drinks on’. It’s about belonging – New York, Arizona, England – and wanting to belong in a world of tenancy agreements and tenure, but also about liking where you don’t belong, and maybe wanting that more. In a story called I Like Talking to You, the narrator remarks: ‘There is something about language that hurts the thing it describes’, and this book is full of that hurt, and the wry courage needed to deal with it, a book where the narrator’s mother can search ‘for a nectarine that won’t break her heart’.

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