Animal
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Animal

Lisa Taddeo

I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me. He was a gluttonous man and when his blood came out it looked like the blood of a pig.

That’s a cruel thing to think, I know. He did it in a restaurant where I was having dinner with another man, another married man.

Do you see how this is going? But I wasn’t always that way.

I am depraved. I hope you like me.

At thirty-six, Joan knows more than most of the price of pleasure, the quotidian horror of being a woman at the mercy of a man. She knows men, too - their penchant for cruelty, the violence she has absorbed over decades that now threatens to burst from her own hands.

Reeling from the public suicide of a former lover, Joan abandons her apartment in New York and drives west for California, in search of the one person who might help her unravel the past. It’s here, consumed by a familial trauma that slips through the generations, that she finds herself part of a disparate LA community, while coyotes roam the sweltering hills above the city, poised for the scent of fresh blood.

In a haunting, visceral novel of women surviving men, Lisa Taddeo has produced one of the most compelling anti-heroines in fiction. Seductive and relentless, Animal draws readers closer to Joan and the brutal mystery of her past, holding them captive until the very last page.

Review

Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women caused a sensation when it was released in 2019 and became something of an instant classic. Her exhaustive research project gave readers access to the intimate details of her subjects’ lives, and used a distinctive narrative nonfiction style to draw back the curtain on female sexuality, desire and disappointment in a way that was somehow both specific to the three women of the book, but also spoke widely to female experience. What, then, could Taddeo do when unburdened by the shackles of nonfiction? Animal is her answer, a novel of female revenge that promises to be just as sensational as her debut.

Joan is the novel’s protagonist and narrator, who addresses her story to the reader. Who ‘you’ are is uncovered slowly, and is one of a number of mysteries that unfolds across the book’s length. Joan is damaged. She makes terrible decisions, is amoral, and has a deep-seated self-hatred. She is a flawed but brilliant anti-heroine. Much of her damage has been caused by loss and grief, but is also recreated daily during her perpetually disappointing and banally violent interactions with men. But Joan is on a mission, and is about to take matters into her own hands. She has headed out of NYC after one of her lovers kills himself dramatically in front of her; she has business in LA.

If anger and rage simmered quietly under the sentences of Three Women, Animal allows them to boil over. There is something incredibly compelling about Taddeo’s writing style, and I found myself unable to resist its flow. There are so many brilliant one-liners in this book; Taddeo is particularly skilled in distilling a whole gamut of historical iniquities against women into one pithy sentence. Animal is full of emotion and you’ll find it infuriating, disgusting, outrageous, depressing and triumphant. This is the kind of blockbusting novel that requires immediate discussion, debate and dissection, so make sure you have someone ready to debrief with when you’re through. If there’s one book you need to form an opinion on this year, this is it.


Alison Huber is Readings' head book buyer.

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