Large Animals by Jess Arndt

Large AnimalsLarge Animals is Arndt’s first book of short stories, fresh off the presses for this summer (published May 2017). There are 12 stories, all narrated in the first person (which is, objectively, the best voice for short stories). As with any collection of short fiction, it’s hard to make sweeping characterizations about all of them together— there’s a lot of variation. But overall, I found Arndt’s narrators meditative, sad, acerbic, and intelligent. The titular “Large Animals” is a good example, of a writer self-secluded in the desert of the Southwest, drowning in alcohol and confronted by bizarre, sexually-charged dreams of walruses. As that description implies, the stories often blend the character’s imagined or hallucinated visions with the materiality of bodies in the 21st century.

There’s a lot of plant and animals interacting with human bodies– from weeds and parasites to impenetrable, concealing hedges, to jelly fish and walruses. Like the narrators, these more-than-human participants in the stories are not your “charismatic megafauna”– the cute, cuddly, poster-children of a sleek marketing campaign. Everyone– human or non-human– speaks from a position outside the mainstream, outside of clear and accepted labeling and identity. There is a indeterminacy that hangs over the prose that makes one focus on the exact words of the narrators. And this is where I think Arndt excels– the narrators’ voices are each unique but exquisitely crafted. I wouldn’t mistake any of the narrators from each other, each is so well developed in short order through their particular voices.

Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017 by a small press.

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