The whole round world will funnel into nothingness, and you will see the truth in his eyes: that life, that living, is more than what's come before. That all you have is this moment, this sun and this sand, these seagulls overhead and white clouds and blue sky, and don't look away or he'll disappear. The world is here only as long as you look for it, only as long as you keep your eyes open. Keep your eyes on him and he'll never leave you, will stay if you can just keep from blinking.
And your eyes will ache, they'll burn from holding them open for so long, and when you blink, like that, he'll be gone.
~p. 156, "How to Help Your Husband Die"
First things first: The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant is one of the best short story collections I've read in a long time - one worth buying to read over and over, again - and I'm a big short story fan so I don't say that lightly. I wanted to mention how excellent it is up front, just in case my review is too boring to get through.
The Heaven of Animals begins with a slightly quirky story about fathers and sons called "Lizard Man", in which two men go to the home of Cam's deceased father. Cam refused to see his father for years and he just wants to check out his dad's house, maybe take something as a memento. But, the two men discover a sickly alligator caged on the property and Cam decides he'd rather help the animal than steal the TV. His friend wraps his snout with electrical tape and as they take the alligator somewhere to let him loose, a storm breaks out.
There's so much depth to "Lizard Man". It's not just about compassion for an animal; it's about fathers and sons, how they hurt each other, why it's important to keep a connection. Cam's friend is putting his life back together after time in prison for throwing his gay son through a window, while Cam had a rocky relationship with his now-deceased father. Through their conversation about the relationships and the storm that terrifies Cam's young son, left home alone, Cam's buddy comes to a realization about himself and his own estranged son. It's deeply touching.
It wasn't till I was writing this review that I realized the storm may well be a metaphor for stormy relationships and the damage they can do.
The rest of the collection is equally touching, shattering, meaningful and incredibly resonant. There's an emotional truth to David Poissant's stories that is so stunning it makes you wonder how on earth such a young-looking author can possibly understand emotion so well. There's a lot of pain in his stories but there's also hope and beauty (although some of them certainly leave you feeling gut-punched).
From the publicity material sent by Simon and Schuster:
In each of the stories in this remarkable debut collection, David James Poissant delivers a moving portrayal of a relationship in turmoil. His strikingly true-to-life characters have reached a precipice, chased there by troubles of their own making. Some stand frightened, some ready to fight. Some seek atonement, others the atonement that is owed them. But, brought to the brink, each must make a choice: Leap, or look away? Lee Martin writes that Poissant forces us “to face the people we are when we’re alone in the dark,” and, from the two men racing to save the life of a sick alligator in “Lizard Man” to the girl helping her boyfriend face his greatest fears in “The End of Aaron,” from a son grieving his father in “100% Cotton” as he stalks death on an Atlanta street corner to a brother’s surprise at the surreal, improbable beauty of a late night encounter with a wolf, Poissant’s invented worlds shine with honesty and dark complexity, but also with a profound compassion. These stories are hell-bent on hope. As bestselling author Kevin Wilson puts it, “Poissant is a writer who knows us with such clarity that we wonder how he found his way so easily into our hearts and souls.”
Highly, highly recommended - Stellar writing; the characters are so true to life that you can't help but care about them.
I received a copy of The Heaven of Animals from Simon & Schuster in return for an honest review. I'm so grateful I got the opportunity to review this book. If you're a short story fan, this is one for the good shelves.
It's Fiona Friday! Have a comfy cat on a scratcher:
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