Animal by Lisa Taddeo
First Line: I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me.
Joan, a single woman in her late thirties, is fleeing New York after witnessing a man who had become obsessed with her kill himself. She rents a small, unairconditioned house in the oppressively hot hills outside of Los Angeles. The house is in the middle of the desert, situated within a little community that includes three men: one young and attractive and living in a yurt, one the boundary-crossing landlord who lingers too long, and one a reclusive rap artist. As Joan gets to know her new neighbors, we get to know more about her past, bit by bit. We learn about her parents, who are both dead, and of Joan’s childhood traumas and delights. We find out about the man who killed himself, and of another man she truly loved referred to as “Big Sky,” and of other men before and after them. We also discover that Joan has chosen to move near L.A. to be closer to a woman named Alice. Alice is a yoga instructor, young and beautiful. Joan’s obsession with Alice intensifies, and slowly their connection is revealed. The two women become close, but the unexpected arrival of a guest at Joan’s house derails their plans. Things begin to spiral from there.
I thought Taddeo did a beautiful job of creating the world Joan inhabits. I could feel the relentless desert sun and the cling of the white slip dress Joan wears throughout the book, a treasured possession that belonged to her mother. Taddeo’s descriptions of people, place, food, and clothing are detailed and specific, easily transporting the reader wherever Joan goes. I wanted to be sitting at that picnic table with Joan and Alice, sipping an ice cold Tecate at sunset and listening to Joan dish about her past relationships. Though, this is no breezy summer read. It’s full of raw emotion, violence, rage, and unchecked desires. It’s a visceral read. Even though I could not always relate to the choices Joan made, I often related to her feelings and experiences, if to a much less extreme degree.
F.Y.I.: Contains descriptions of sex, abuse, and drugs.