The world had set me up to believe that it was women who went mad. It was simply women’s pain that manifested as madness.
CW: rape, sexual assault, suicide
Joan has just witnessed a man shooting himself in a crowded restaurant, where she was eating dinner with her lover, a married man. After this traumatic event, she decides to drive from New York to California, looking for a woman named Alice, who she thinks can help her unravel her past.
One of the core issues that Animal explores is the way that men can ruin lives without a care, to get what they want. This comes up again and again and again. And again, until I find myself wondering whether maybe Taddeo had taken it a tad too far, exaggerated too much. I think she did take it too far, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it. The novel feels oppressive, a bit frenzied, evoking a feeling as if you’ve had a sunstroke and your mind is repeatedly going over the same five thoughts. I almost wish I had read it in one sitting, to really be immersed in that feeling.
While I always get some satisfaction from stories that take a critical look at how men systemically tread on women, I found the way Taddeo examined women’s complicated relationships with each other even more interesting. The things we sometimes do to each other to protect ourselves, to fend for ourselves, not just between friends or colleagues, but even between mothers and daughters. I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, especially not Joan and Alice, but despite that they felt immediately recognizable. I still haven’t made up my mind about whether that is because they were well-rendered, or because they are tropes. Maybe a bit of both?
If you enjoyed Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, I think you might enjoy this too. Neither of these novels are easy to read, with unlikable, privileged anti-heroines who wallow in misery, but I find them irresistible.