four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
Alison Smith
user_rating: 
0

A Memoir

A-NameAllAnimalsAlison Smith was only 15 years old when her 18-year-old brother, Roy, died in a car accident. The siblings were so close that their parents called them "Alroy." This memoir reconstructs the three years after Roy's death, when Smith's mother set new goals, her father turned to God, and Smith broke down completely. "I thought perhaps it was my fault that Roy had left us," she writes. "I thought I was being punished for some unknown sin." Smith, who came from a devout Catholic family, dealt with unimaginable loss by becoming anorexic and experimenting sexually. Yet by the third anniversary of Roy's death, Alison finally confronted the reality that "I the little sister ... would surpass him" in life.
Scribner. 319 pages. $24.

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"As rites of passage go, Smith's was violent and punishing, yet it is described with cool clarity by a writer of formidable control. ... It is a survivor's story written by the girl next door." Elsbeth Lindner

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"A chronicle of grief, the book is not depressing, nor is it a 'coping with loss' book. It's the sweet, sad, often oddly funny story of three years in the life of an adolescent girl and a loving family that's lost a large part of itself." Judith Long

Minneapolis Star Trib 4 of 5 Stars
"Writing about grief is a cumbersome thing, but in Name All the Animals Smith proves she can handle her subject with great delicacy. ... [It] leaves readers hoping that the courageous author triumphs over the heartaches of her past--and returns to tell us all about it." Andrea Hoag

NY Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Roy remains real throughout the book, invoked at well-chosen intervals through memory and through his sister's acts of devotion. ... And the idea of punishment for her transgressions is equally substantial, giving the reader a sense of how much was at stake for her as she tried to regain her bearings." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

The title refers to Adam in the Garden of Eden, an apt metaphor for Smith's imperfect, even devastating, coming of age. Critics loved this first memoir, heavy in themes but subtle in presentation. Although Smith focuses primarily on herself, her relationship with Roy, and, through vivid memories, Roy himself, form the narrative's backdrop. Some passages verge on the maudlin. Smith saves food for Roy, cherishes his old sneakers, and communes with him at night. Yet she describes her life without Roy in a calm, clear prose that suggests her painful search for meaning in life. Name All the Animals is a touching portrait of adolescence, when hell, particularly an insular Catholic one, can be "as real as the next neighborhood."