Animal Confidence


SHE’S A WORK OF ART | Kelly Lynn Thomas.

Animal Literary Magazine.

Animal is a literary magazine dedicated to animals, literally and figuratively. It’s a really effective premise that offers a lot of thematic leeway while also giving the journal an unusual cohesiveness. Since literature is a de facto exploration of what it is to be human (at least implicitly) and since humans-as-animals is such a major component of human existence, this exploration of animal life/identity is really–because literature is an unavoidably humanistic endeavor, being written in people-code–ultimately about what it is to be human.

But beyond any big-picture philosophizing with regard to a guy and an ape looking at each other and wondering what’s the deal here, this thematic approach gives authors license to use a lot of imagery from the animal world, a lot of earthbound language, which is a really great strategy for fiction writers in general because this primal, back-to-nature approach to language basically shatters more civilized tropes and gives the piece an extremely visceral feel. Heady metaphysical stuff is all good, but if you want writing you feel on a gut level, real sensory stuff, it’s good to get back to nature.

I’ve already written two big paragraphs and I haven’t even gotten to the story in question, “She’s a Work of Art” by Kelly Lynn Thomas, which is an absolutely fantastic piece and an example of that primal imagery I’ve just discussed.

You’ll notice I’ve categorized this piece as both mainstream/literary and magical realism. There’s a reason for this latter designation, even though there is nothing magical or fantastic that takes place within the story. The magic I’m talking about is purely stylistic: the author imbues this story with raw, natural-world imagery that makes it feel like a violent sexual interaction between a girl and a hyena, but it isn’t a hyena, it’s a guy, but the guy is rendered in terms that make him very hyena-like.

It’s better if I show you. Here’s the opening, a very powerful description of the girl’s doglike crush, Johnny:

It had been the dangerous slope of his back, the way it arched even when he stood straight, that compelled Nicolette to say yes when Johnny asked her to the junior prom. He smiled, exposing a sharp right canine.

That’s some undeniably canine language/visualization right there, and this vividness continues. We get the curve and texture of his body and musculature, we get musky colognes and animalistic behaviors (spoiler alert: it gets rapey), and at one point the dude even growls like a dog.
Johnny, we learn early on, has been informally voted Most Likely to Shoot Up the School, which I guess isn’t the most resume-worthy designation to have on your graduation yearbook, but it’s something.
Nicolette is totally intrigued by this guy, and we get the sense that this interest and willingness to go with him to the prom is a product of both an innocent high-school crush and a deeper sexual attraction having to do as much with her troubled upbringing (psychological scarring, we surmise) and a more innocent yearning that manifests as an unfamiliar warmth between her legs.
There is so much going on in this story, thematically, psychologically, that this review can only scratch the surface. Ultimately, per the  agenda of this literary journal, the story shows a great deal of ambivalence toward the nature of human identity, Nicolette’s identity; we have socialized behaviors, animal behaviors, learned and instinctual drives competing and confusing and leading poor Nicolette to more than a small amount of trouble by the end of the piece.
At the end, the author loops us back nicely to an image of a dress Nicolette would want to be murdered and buried in (troubled girl, yeah), which tells a lot about Nicolette’s own subject/object persona vis-a-vis her lofty aesthetic sense of self. So by the end of this story, we’re seeing a split between animal drives on the one hand and art (human ideals) on the other. Still, this story suggests, no matter how far we pursue human ideals, we are all, ultimately, animals.

Read the story @ Animal Literary Magazine

This entry was posted in Magic Realism, Mainstream/Literary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Animal Confidence

  1. Pingback: reviews "She's a Work of Art" | kelly lynn thomas

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