No Animals We Could Name
by Ted Sanders
It may not be clear how to classify the characters in the short stories of No Animals We Could Name, but they are certainly animalistic. Ted Sanders trusts his own primal instincts as he boldly plays with the conventions of form and point of view to create a vibrant and seductive short story collection.
Sanders isn’t afraid to play with readers’ assumptions and engage their curiosity. The opening of the first story, Obit, shows Sanders’ own curiosity of literary from, taking the story from a single column, akin to poetry, into a collage of overlapping blocks of text that must be read to be fully understood. Sanders shows his ability to control the reader’s experience in The Lion as he allows the reader to become attached to the protagonist, but seeps out details that reveal the instability of the character and after the reader has already given his/her sympathy.
What really adds life to the collection is the adept use of perspective. While the first stories keep the narrator in third person (whether human or halibut), Jane is told from a distance, calling out to a woman as she lies next to her husband, “You listen first to his breathing. Or if you do not listen, exactly, you espouse its rhythm.” The story’s luscious descriptions that are heartbreaking in the predicament they describe.
Putting the Lizard to Sleep is the most memorable in the collection with insight coming from the narrator’s thoughts and, subsequently, his full-fledged emotion or curiosity. The narrator describes watching his son’s pet lizard feed on crickets, “The act itself was eminently fast and bloodless, so pristine that it made me frown to think of the gory fuss raised by beasts like tigers, or wolves. Mammals in general. Nothing savage or even self-aware came into Rafael’s face when he murdered his meals.” Ideas flow rapidly to delve out the father’s thoughts. The curiosity is the lizard’s ironically peaceful killing. The character has come to respect the animal because of it, an animal naturally displaying an ambivalence to violence, captivating the reader with his own curiosity.
Sanders breaks down the boundaries of what we see as human. He displays more obvious examples, such as how Rafael the lizard becomes part of a family. Some characters who have tapped into something within themselves that pulls them away from the rest of humanity, such as a woman who creates a lion to comfort herself, but takes the breath and seed of her husband to give it life. Sometimes ideas carry over between stories as description of the lack of pain that an animal when it yields to an attacking lion in Opinion of Person that is echoed later in Momentary at the feelings present when he can’t keep himself from cutting off his own hand. Few people are fully human, certainly the circumstances around their sexual behavior is at times animalistic.
In all the ambition of the collection it should be noted that Sanders at times neglects to the average reader. The last story of the collection plays with form but in contrast to the insightful and experimentation that centers around a central idea of a “Bear Song” at the beginning; the story is cryptic with lines like, “Peter Lumley and Peter Lumley build a box with no outside.” However, it is this ambition that gives the collection its energy and curiosity. Most writers do not try to make a halibut seem human to a reader, “…his left eye migrates to his right side. This movement becomes a slow pain that he will always feel, a pull of displacement, a creeping injury. With it comes a realization that resembles pain, but which dwindles with time into discomfort: the discovery that from each eye he can see the other.” It’s rare that a physical development unknown to any person is broken down into a process that feels relatable.
Similar to the humanity of his characters, Sanders neither wants his writing to be able to be finitely categorized. But it is inventive, intriguing, and a fresh experience to be had; it is an animal of its very own.
By: JEFF HUBER