Book Review: Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Witty, fierce, and unapoligetic. My favorite book of 2021!

Lisa Taddeo is the author of three books: Three Women, a compelling nonfiction account of women and sex, Animal, a fictional depiction of female rage and visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society, and her newest book, Ghost Lover, a collection of fearless and ferocious short stories (available June 14th, 2022 in the US).

“I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me.”

Joan

Joan leads us on a journey across the country filled with abrasive revelations as she searches for a woman called Alice, who is connected to the traumas of her past. Having left New York City for Los Angeles, she rents a small apartment on a shared compound located in Topanga Canyon. While there, she becomes romantically involved with two men. A handsome young man named River who lives in a yurt, and a senile landlord called Leonard. Both men have a profound effect on her future. Slipping in and out of traumatic flashbacks, Joan describes various atrocities committed against her in great detail. We know these are the catalysists driving her, even if the details are somewhat concealed in the beginning. What we do know, by her own words, is that Joan is “depraved.” Her trauma defines her and she moves through the world seeking just that.

What I love most about this book is Taddeo’s natural ability to tackle taboo subjects with such literary boldness and grit. The focus on the link between trauma and sexual violence both shocked and intrigued me, and the way Joan lived inside her pain felt relatable and reasurring. I couldn’t pull myself away as her twisted psyche led her down a dark path of exploration, where she describes being victimized while also using her beauty and sexuality as an exploitive tool. And as the story unfolded I found myself concerned and anxious as she walked the fine line between prey and predator.

Certain statements ring true in Taddeo’s novel, highlighting feelings of anxiety, shame, and deep-rooted fears women endure daily. Experiences we encounter but don’t always find the support or opportunity to voice: “I had the fear of angering a man. Of not being an amenable woman. I had the fear of being murdered.” Another scene: “He was picking a pimple on his chin and staring at me. There are a hundred small rapes every day.” Women relate to each other’s pain in a different way than men do, Taddeo mentioned in an interview, stating that it’s something we, as women, are drawn to in one another. Whereas, for men, it’s the sort of pain that makes them feel very uncomfortable. Taddeo explains, “‘Bad women’ aren’t allowed to tell their stories.”

A woman has to be a victim in the right kind of way.

Lisa Taddeo – 2021 – Salon Talks

The vivid and at times, dreamlike, descriptions Joan speaks of are particularly disturbing. A scene that sticks in my mind recounts a night she suffers a painful loss while living in the canyon, and the vivid portrayal of death as the howling coyotes circle outside, drawn by the smell of blood.

I didn’t know what to expect from the story going in, which is my favorite way to read. I’d read Taddeo’s nonfiction book, Three Women, right before this one and loved it, so I could see certain themes repeated in Animal. I’ve read a lot of conflicting reviews about this book and I’m here to say, read it and decide for yourself. I read Taddeo’s nonfiction book first and connected to it immediately. So much time and effort was put in, gathering those women’s stories, and in the end it definitely paid off. When I started reading Animal it felt very different, and I was able to separate the books from each other and enjoy the fact that the world of fiction is a place where one can write more freely with more control over the content.

5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to those who enjoy complex female anti-heroes, unreliable narrators, slow-burning suspense, and uncomfortable topics. Described as “American Psycho” for the #MeToo era. This is my favorite book of 2021!

published June 8th, 2021

Plot

Joan has spent a lifetime enduring the cruelties of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child—that has haunted her every waking moment—while forging the power to finally strike back.

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