Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: David James Poissant's The Heaven of Animals

David James Poissant’s collection of stories, The Heaven of Animals, stands out as a pleasant surprise in a summer of constant reading. As corny as it may sound, the collection is one of the best short story collections I have read in a long time. Poinssant takes a no holds barred approach where no topic is too mundane, strange, or off limits. His prose is crisp, clean, and easy to follow. The writing flows through the brain, but this is not to say it is poor or homogenized, but rather that he has a talent for using a literary scalpel. Every word counts, every word has a purpose.

The stories themselves focus on discomfort, on the mundane, on the realities of existence that many experience, but few detail. It is here we find the random alligator caged on a dead man’s porch, one engorged and weakened by human love, and in said experience we know that taking that animal away and releasing it into the wild is the only logical solution as found in “Lizard Man.” Later, Possiant confronts death head on in “How to Watch Your Husband Die,” and this tale avoids the morbidity of cancer in lieu of focusing on the spouse. Thus, we experience death from the other side, and in doing so the reader can see the selfish truths often ignored by popular media. Even as such emotions waste away, one cannot help but side with and understand her reactions to not just cancer, but the fact that her husband’s smoking brought the disease on in the first place. These emotions are real, and while often viewed as cowardice, they are far too common to be ignored.

As noted above, the collection proves that awkwardness is abound. What happens when a derelict man in his late twenties finds himself in a promiscuous and precarious situation with a teenage girl that resembles his ex-wife in every way sans her missing arm? How does one carry on an affair with your cousin, while married, while spending time with each other’s families, while sneaking around Middle America? Can a relationship perceiver after you run over your girlfriend’s dog, the dog you hate and hates you? What happens when teenage boys are forced to grow up by a prank that goes wrong? Can they still be friends despite the destructive secret that is now bound to separate them? Such questions are common in the world Possiant paints, the world in which we live. The world which you owe it to yourself to read about.

Favorite lines:

  • “Work was work. What Brig found fulfilling was a Whopper, a six-pack, and HBO, the well-acted shows that were almost-but-not-quite pornography. You couldn’t watch porn and still feel good about yourself, but HBO walked the tightrope, and, afterward, you felt sophisticated”
  • “We talk in our sleep, and so do the deaf. Nights I snuck into my father’s room, his hands worked over his chest, signing. It was the language of dreams, incomprehensible, but it was gorgeous. His hands rose and fell like birds with his breathing.”
  • “The stairwell smelled like paint and character education. Each wall was plastered with artwork, the deformed dogs and amputated cats childhood rendered in finger paints.”

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