Cover Image: Animal


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Don't get me wrong, I like dark stories.  I just couldn't get myself into this one.  There seemed to be little reason for it other than to write these increasingly disturbing scenes of a woman with no redeeming qualities who writes in a voice that implies that she has no real interest in her own story either.  It just was not for me.
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2.5 stars 

My reaction to this novel was visceral through every moment of the read, and while I disliked it strongly - content and form - I also know that this kind of reaction is exactly the point. 

The main character, Joan, experiences intense traumas in her childhood, and rather than approaching these instances with healing and processing in mind, she instead turns these feelings into terrorizing others and herself. I'll keep this vague to avoid spoilers, but she is truly awful. 

It's not surprising that Joan is unlikeable, but I did find it fascinating that she seems unapologetically unredeemable. Her sinister nature - well encapsulated in the title - only becomes more intense as the novel progresses, and I frankly felt a little ill the whole time. 

Taddeo pulls off a fascinating inclusion that I did really enjoy: the Rowlandson-esque connection between Joan's relationship to food and her generally predatory nature. These were fun markers to chart, but for me, they did not come close to outweighing how disgusted I was by Joan in general and the scope of the book overall. 

Trauma survivors experience such diverse processes as they engage with and work through their experiences, and this is basically a worst case scenario. I will look forward to Taddeo's alternatively focused efforts in future works. 

TW: rape, sexual assault, child abuse, miscarriage
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I included this in "12 new books to look out for this June" for Pittsburgh City Paper, a monthly new book release roundup that I curate. You can check it out here:
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Look, you are going to have profound feelings (of X emotions), one way or the other, when you read this book. Animal has manifested itself into a cold glass of water straight to the face for so many readers. Some hate it, some love it. Not much in between. I think that is the book’s greatest gift.

First, you get a thoughtful and well-written novel. Some reviewers have mentioned the ending was a bit hasty. They may be right. But that was desirable for me. You are hurtling 10,000 mph towards the reveal, the thing that twisty ties this story together, and I personally do not want that dragged out. 

The second thing is the power of the stories in this novel. I encourage you to sit with those stories, even if they make you uncomfortable. The thing I love about Joan is how different she is from me; I end up learning a lot about myself based on my reactions to the protagonist. 

The third thing is how this book will impact your daily life while reading it and in the few weeks or months after. This book starts as a slow burn. I had a hard time making sense of things through the first few chapters. I was ready to give up. But there was a line where Joan addressed her audience, and I instantly knew she was addressing her child. That kept me hanging on. 

Anyway, the book created an emotional stew that marinated in my mind the entire time I read it. I think this is a book that will stay with you (whether you like it or not) for a very long time. It may even be one of those books you wish you could read again for the very first time. That is a great book in my mind. While you may not jive well with some spiky storylines, I encourage you to absorb the book and the powerful reactions it evokes.  

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if you are losing faith in your book choices, if all the plot lines seem to blur together, let this book be your restart button. 

My sincerest gratitude to NetGalley, Avid Reader Press, and Simon & Schuster for providing an eARC copy to read and review. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This has been one of the better ones!
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Thank you so much to Avid Reader Press, Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.
I LOVED it!  It is such a compulsive read.  I read in two sittings and was totally immersed in Joan and her world.  The suspense was real, the violence was palpable and I was kept on the edge of my seat throughout.  I loved the style of writing; some say it’s choppy but I found the short sentences and blunt language to be totally in line with the plot and the character.  Others have said Joan is an unlikeable character but I think that’s what makes her so real and relatable. The daughter’s desire to gain her mother’s love and attention was painful to read.  Also, I  can totally relate to believing dad loves you more than  mom only to realize and empathize with the woman’s side of the story later in life.  Motherhood, sisterhood, relationships, sex, power, suicide, murder, rape, miscarriage..…it’s all in here.  Highly recommend and hope my book club takes this on as there is SO much to discuss.
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Animal focuses on Joan who decides to move to Los Angeles in order to find a woman who can help her put together the last missing pieces in the intricate puzzle that is her life. By moving to another city, she’s also running away from her past failed relationships—most of them with married men—which only taught her that she’s dispensable and that most men are pretty much awful. After witnessing Vic, her boss-turned-lover committing suicide right in front of her while she was on a date with another man, she feels completely lost and in desperate need of a change of scenery. This event also motivates her to dig deeper into her past as she wants to have a much clearer image of what made her end up on the wrong trajectory.

She is an unlikeable female character and even early on, the narrative seems to suggest that her behaviour and her past mistakes are caused by traumatic past events. This obsessive pursuit of hers that entails finding and pinpointing the exact incident in her past that made her the way she is becomes quite evident from the very beginning because she reminisces on every interaction she had with men, beginning with her father. Her journey of finding herself and putting the missing pieces together is further complicated by Eleanor, Vic’s daughter, who’s determined to get revenge for her father’s dead, and Lenny, her neighbour who only seems to exacerbate her hatred for men. While I was very intrigued at first and really interested in finding out what happened to her, things were unfolding so slowly that I eventually became quite detached halfway through.

The plot didn’t seem to go anywhere for more than half of the book even though there are numerous shocking and violent events—some of which seem to have the sole purpose of highlighting the brutal world in which Joan lives since there aren’t actual discussions on them or what they mean to Joan. A big part of the story is dedicated to Joan’s obsession with Alice, a woman that we don’t really know much about aside from the fact that she’s younger and very attractive. Even though they are complete strangers, Joan trusts Alice from the very start with her turmoil—something that seems quite atypical for her as she doesn’t really open up to others. She entrusts Alice with details about her affair with Vic, with the story of the only time she actually felt something for a man, and how each time it all ended up badly for her. These confessions make them grow closer, but like every other connection of Joan, it’s more complicated than a meeting of like-minded women. The book promises an explosive woman who is ready to take back everything that has been stolen from her, right every wrong, and not let another man get away with using and abusing her ever again. But the execution fell short especially because of the drawn-out mystery around Joan’s past, but also because her rage never seems quite palpable. It seems very dormant even when she exerts this revenge in a scene that is definitely the highpoint of the book.

The book’s strengths are the representation of abuse and the discussion regarding how normalised it tends to be in our society along with the masterful craft of complicated female characters. However, this is by no means superior to Taddeo’s Three Women where she tackled similar themes and did it much more naturally than here. In Animal, the approach feels way clumsier and more inauthentic, and that’s probably because while Three Women had a confessional feeling around it that could help you empathise with the characters very easily, this one lost it due to the drawn-out mystery.

Taddeo’s Animal is an intriguing, at times bizarre, story about female rage, violence, and revenge. While it failed to hit the mark, for me at least, the writing was really beautiful and haunting which definitely attest to Taddeo’s talent and potential.
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Wow. Having read Lisa Tadeo's debut non-fiction, Three Women, I knew I was in for a treat. I was not prepared for the tour-de-force this novel is! Taddeo's writing is raw & in-your-face and with this story, I don't think it could be written any other way.
Joan is on a mission. She heads to California after her boss (& sometime lover) kills himself in front of her. She is haunted by past trauma and trying to make sense of it by heading out west to meet the only person who may be able to help. You won't always like Joan and you definitely won't like most of her actions but you can definitely sympathize with her. Either way, she and this book will stay with you for a long time after reading it. 

*Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the early e-arc of this novel.*
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Holy. Shit. Literally the feminist manifesto. Talk about a thriller. This book was all over the place and though unrealistic, still wildly entertaining.
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I loved Lisa Taddeo's first book Three Women, so I was looking forward to her fiction debut. Unfortunately, the characters didn't seem real to me and the writing felt choppy.
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I absolutely loved Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, but unfortunately Animal was just not for me. Taddeo is certainly talented and I could definitely see the appeal for other readers however. The writing seemed a bit disjointed, and I'm not sure if the lack of quotation marks is just in the ARCs or will also be in the final copy, but that always makes reading a little more confusing.
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I am so grateful to live in a time where it's almost guarnteed that readers of general fiction or nonfiction or like, even the newspaper, are aware of the apocryphal attributed Matwood Maxim "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
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What does a lifetime of trauma and abuse at the hand of men do to a woman? How does a woman who's been abused and taken advantage of, and traumatized survive? At the heart of it, I think these are the questions that Lisa Taddeo is attempting to answer with Animal. A novel that unravels slowly as Joan, our main character, tells her story to an unknown listener, one whom she speaks to directly throughout, as if explaining herself and imparting her wisdom.  

I was enthralled. Joan is a complicated character, obsessed with sex, but also perhaps a victim of believing she needed to become the woman that everyone believed her to be or wants her to be. She vacillates between relishing the role she plays, and despising it and herself throughout. And to be honest, as a reader, I was right there with her. Is she someone to be pitied or feared? Is she the victim of society? A victim of the men who have abused her and used her or is she using them for her own needs? While she wasn't entirely a likable person, it certainly made me think twice about the molds we place on children, especially young girls, long before they even know who they are, and the repercussions it can have through their lives.  

Did you love Three Women? This one's for you. I'm still processing this one and I think I will be for a long time to come.
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I'm still trying to wrap my head around what exactly it is I have just read.

I also can't really explain anything that happens in the book because I feel like it's something you need to experience for yourself. This isn't really a book you read, it's a book you feel. I couldn't even rate this if you asked me to.

Joan, a thirty-seven year old living in NYC witnesses a shocking event one night while out to dinner. It unleashes in her about 27 years worth of trauma - at the hands of many men that have come into her life. She packs up and heads to LA to search for a woman named Alice who might be able to help her sort through it all. It's dark. It's heavy. The tension builds very, very slowly until all of a sudden you're flying down in the rollercoaster, stomach dipping, everything a blur, and you're not really sure what is up, down, and around.

I'm conflicted. Because on the one hand, I understand what Taddeo is trying to accomplish here, but on the other, there were some scenes that were just...A LOT for me. And ya'll know me, I don't easily get squeamish and I can handle pretty much anything, BUT there were a couple of things that crossed the line for me. (I will share the CW's at the end). They came off as trying to be "edgy" and "shocking" but really just seemed gratuitous and unnecessary for me. One scene truly horrified me.

It's a book that some will either love or hate, but it is definitely a book that will start a lot of conversations. Did I love it or hate it? Gang...I truly don't know, and I honestly don't know if I ever will.

Thank you Avid Reader Press & NetGalley for the eARC.

This is out June 8th!

Rape, including very detailed Child Rape. Miscarriage (VERY detailed).
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Definitely some cringe worthy moments in this sexually candid story of a woman and the men in her life. The main character is not completely likable because of her choices but I found myself turning pages quickly to see how she would relate to the wife and daughter of a former lover or a female customer with whom she connects. This comparison of relating to different sexes make the novel highly readable. Well written but the content can be stark.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley
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Listen up. Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable?

Because if you are, this one will take you right to the precipice of sitting in uncomfortableness. And it’ll leave you up there for a long time.

This was my first Lisa Taddeo book, and after all the rave reviews about Three Women, I knew I wanted to read it. Animal is one of those books you’re going to want to read alongside others. And I do not mean a ‘let’s all read this and chat about it on the 12th July’ type discussion. If you decide to read this, find people to read it with, agree on a few chapters to read every few days and discuss it bit by bit. Because there is so much to digest, you’re going to pause and gasp/shout out, ‘WHAT?’ every so often.

And trust me when I say that you’re going to need someone to respond immediately to that.

We’re all animals. But how often do we forget that? We have rules, morals, ethics. They stop most of us from acting on our pure, unfiltered instincts. Let me ask you something. How often have you given in to your instincts? What would happen if you acted out on those thoughts you have? The fleeting ones or the ones that you squash down because they are not ‘nice’?
Lisa explores the notion of these instincts and what can happen when our instincts take over logic, societal rules and morality. 
It WILL make you feel dirty and gross but you won’t be able to stop.
It WILL make you question ideas and notions but you won’t be able to stop.
It WILL shock you but you won’t be able to stop.

And if you’re ok with all that, pick this book up and get comfortable with being uncomfortable for a few days.
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Holy hell, this book. After reading THREE WOMEN, Lisa Taddeo's non-fiction book from 2019, I had an idea about what I was getting into with this novel, but I was not fully prepared. I did have some issues with THREE WOMEN (its hard to write a book about *womanhood* using only three white female perspectives) but it made me really appreciate Taddeo as a fantastic writer, and excited for what a novel could bring out in her. Well, strap in because ANIMAL is raw, uncomfortable, traumatic, and addictive. 

Every once in a while I like to describe books as an experience, and this is 100% one of those times. You just have to let yourself go and take the ride, trusting the author will guide you through and it becomes somewhat of a transformative experience. In these cases, I hate to describe the plot too much because that deadends the journey. However here, we have Joan our narrator who has gone through trauma after trauma in her life and has packed up and moved from NYC to LA to both run away from her past, and start fresh. But we know that is impossible, and as we follow her making her way in LA with some unseemly characters, while also going back into the past to get more of a perspective on what she is running from. All questions are answered and the ending is almost cinematically climactic. This is a tough book, not for everyone, but if you like being tested and reading books about women taking revenge for themselves and the patriarchy, this is a must-read. 

CW: parent loss, child loss, sexual assault, rape, murder, blood, suicide
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Well, I can honestly say this harsh, stunning, stimulating work of the author is an intense punch to the gut and not for everyone’s cup of tea! It’s bold, it’s direct, it’s complex, it’s thought provoking and it’s truly disturbing!

  It is about boiling anger restrained by the anti heroine for years of mental, physical abuse, neglect that drag her to form so much dysfunctional relationship patterns. At the end she makes so many worst choices which result with more self destructive, hurt and fury! 

She slowly destroys her human self and let the animal takes the driver seat: because she’s sick of being a victim and she chooses to become hunter to let the despicable souls pay for what they’d done to the women. 

  It’s unique attempt empowered with feminism, a struggling and incredibly angry woman’s rising up and fighting back story! 

  I can give more than three stars after the effective opening freezes your blood: Joan : self destructive heroine, having hard time to adjust her new life in NY, trapped in a forbidden relationship with her sugar daddy/ married boss and as her relationship becomes more toxic, things get more out of control, resulting with the man’s suicide before her eyes.

  She decides to make a clean slate by moving to L. A. : the real reason behind her moving decision is finding Alice she has known from her childhood and she’s fixated on her as her life is depending on reconnecting with her again. 

  But changing her location brings out buried ugly feelings from her and slowly she lets her inner animal walk out free and inner change turns her into vicious avenger who is targeting the men to compensate years of neglect and abuse she’s been suffering!

  The idea is great but Joan was one of the most unlikable heroine who is not easily to resonate with. I tried so hard to empathize with her problems but she’s so hard to get invested. 

Writing style was direct but the emotional depth and after effects of the mind blowing incidents were missing. The dark sarcastic tone of narration makes you question if the heroine told you the truth that she wasn’t a sociopath. 

  Lack of connection with the main character prevented me to get more invested in this story. But it was still fresh fiction start from Three Women’s author. I’m still looking forward to read more of her future works!

  Special thanks to NetGalley and Avid Reader/ Simon& Schuster for sharing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest opinions.
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Joan is not an easy character to like but as a woman her rage is understandable. Sick of a world that is male dominated where women are treated badly Joan unleashes her rage. Joan had not had an easy life, plagued by death and heartbreak and now it seems like murder is her only option. Much like her first book, which was nonfiction, “Three Women”, Taddeo seems determined to make the world look at the feminine experience and really analyze the world we live in. An excellent fiction debut!
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Whew. Powerful. Predator vs Prey is the main theme in this incredible novel.  I found this book disturbing and complex and rich in the author’s description of sexual violence and how it alters a woman’s life. I don’t want to give away the plot or the techniques the author uses in switching from 1st to 2nd person - know that it’s rich and thoughtful and violent and will leave you thinking / this one will stay with me. You should read it. 

Thank you to Avid Reader Press and Simon and Schuster for this magnificent novel. I’m grateful.
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This book was not for me. I detested the main character Joan. I really didn't connect to her and just found her kinda awful. I found many of the scenes disgusting and difficult to read. I know that this was really the author's intent but, I believe books should also provide some sort of pleasure and enjoyment. This book gave none of that to me. I really just couldn't wait for it to be over. The book dragged in many places only to be somewhat thrown together at the end. 

Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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