Animal Bodies, On Death, Desire, and other Difficulties – a bravely written book for very brave readers.
Animal Bodies, on Death, Desire, and Other Difficulties is written by a very brave woman for a very brave reader, female or male. It’s a book about living, dying, and everything in between. The “Other Difficulties,” of the title is the everything in between and the grit of Suzanne Roberts’s latest book.
The uniqueness of Animal Bodies is the author presenting her essays as stories, not necessarily life musings, not journal gleanings, or memories vivid or not, although it is certainly all of those. When we say the word “story,” most think fiction. If the story is personal, it’s called autobiography or memoir. Roberts’s penning the life she lives and the way she lives it is not as personal as we might think. She leaves room for all of us. Her words give comfort as often as they move us into corners of discomfort for her, and if read honestly, sometimes for ourselves. Not all her experiences are singularly hers.
The first three pages of Animal Bodies have brief personal and philosophical definitions of the word essay. The last definition says it all: “A story is a papier-mȃché carnation; the essay is a spotted purple orchid on your table. The one whose name you don’t know. The one that looks fake but is real.” Did I forget to mention that Suzanne Roberts is a poet? Not so surprising either is that she is also an award-winning travel writer. After all, what is life but a journey?
Along life’s journey, the events we live through, the people we leave, the people who leave us, the dreams dashed or recovered, the acts of cowardice or bravery, the injuries forgiven or held fast are more than journal entries, they are stories; each one proof that we are among the living animals who inhabit the earth and our bodies. Roberts’s telling of her journey and our reading of it reminds us that animal life is a shared existence.
Roberts’s stories are told in no particular chronological order. A more current event will often lead back to a ground-braking experience that paved the way forward. Those past events can be painful, enlightening, or humbling, but the author does not flinch in her determination to know which, and that forward path can include backward steps.
Depending on the age of the reader, the author’s sexual exploits may bring an array of responses. For those of us whose early teen years included nothing more dangerous than spin-the-bottle or post office, Roberts’s youthful experiences may raise eyebrows or cause outright jealousy. The death of Ilyse Kusnetz, poet and dearest friend of the author, brought me to tears more than once. And how the author dealt with her mother’s dying and death should touch all of us, whether our mothers are living or not. Another difficult telling is the loss of a friend, not from death, but from a growing apart, one of life’s tougher experiences likely shared by many.
Often, when we read of lives lived, when describing the events experienced, we use phrases like “threads woven together.” Roberts’s book reminds me that those threads do not always weave well. Sometimes there are snags, tears, and restarts, sometimes the fabric is far from smooth, but if that is the case, Animal Bodies reminds me of the value of each and every thread.
Animal Bodies may not be an easy read but it is one I wholeheartedly recommend. In addition, it gives me another chance to endorse publications by university presses (like U. of Nebraska Press) who no longer limit their output to academic subjects written by academics. The next time you browse in a bookstore, do not pass up university presses. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Suzanne Roberts: Bad Tourist; Three Hours to Burn a Body; Almost Somewhere; Nothing to You; Shameless and Plotting Temporarily.
Bookin’ with Sunny strongly supports Independent Bookstores and Public Libraries.