by Hannah Tinti
I don't quite know what to say about this book. I picked it up totally on a whim from a used bookstore, curious and intrigued by the descriptions inside the flap. Animal Crackers contains eleven short stories, which all feature animals, but not in ways I expected at all. I approached them at random, opening to whichever caught my attention when I had a moment to turn pages. The first story I read, about a boy who throws his pet rabbit out the window to see if it can fly, horrified me. The last one, about an italian boy who becomes a hit man, with some symbolic reference to buffalo- was totally uninteresting. The rest of the stories struck me as deeply ironic, mysterious and rooted firmly in a graphic, gritty reality.
In one, the animals take center stage- three giraffes in a zoo who pretend to be dead in attempt to force their demands on the zookeeper. In others the animals are minor figures that nevertheless loom large- a dog innocently walks through a murder scene, the son of a turkey farmer runs away from home with two classmates, a dead kitten is found in the closet of a disturbed boy. My favorite story was that of an artist who is repainting the background scenery of displays in a natural history museum- and through the glass sees the stuffed bear in the hall come terrifyingly to life. In many of the stories the animals are victimized or used; mirroring some aspect of the main character's inner nature or circumstances. It feels like they are the key to each story's puzzle but that I understood none of them; quietly in the background they are shouting out a mute message I fail to hear. So even though I find it all disturbing and downright creepy, I'm shelving this book to read again one day, and see if I can't figure out the elusive significance of the animals here- I want to crack the kernels of meaning to their core.
Strange that in this collection, I felt the author's intelligence shining through a carefully crafted story that I found perplexing, disconcerting and yet utterly fascinating, but with Capote the similar lack of understanding left me totally untouched and bored. Is it just the presence of the animals? Or something more?
Rating: 3/5 ........ 197 pages, 2004