Animal Crackers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The gimmick of Hannah Tinti’s Animal Crackers is animals: elephants, snakes, rabbits, giraffes, and bears. In the title story, the central character works at a zoo and sometimes puts his head under an elephant’s foot. However, the story is really about a man struggling with his wife’s infidelity and his brutal reaction to it. In “Slim’s Last Ride,” a pet rabbit is cruelly beaten and dismembered. But the story is really about a young boy’s trying to cope with his parents’ divorce. In “How to Revitalize the Snake in Your Life,” a pet boa constrictor is secretly served for dinner. The story, however, is really about a woman’s revenge for being dumped by a cheating man. There are quite a few animals in Tinti’s stories, but they are not the whole story; they simply serve as a clever and sardonic spin on a number of age-old themes.

In fact, the most interesting story—“Home Sweet Home”—hardly features animals at all; it’s a coldly comic tale of infidelity and murder with a number of grotesque images—dead bodies sprinkled with cornflakes, a papier-mâché head of a child’s dead mother. Whereas the silliest story, “Reasonable Terms”—about a bunch of giraffes who go on strike to demand better living conditions—is almost exclusively about animals.

Also interesting and less dependent on animals are “Hit Man of the Year,” about the rise and fall of a professional killer; and “Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus,” about a globe-trotting young woman whose wealthy father has her followed by a couple of ineffective detectives.

It is Tinti’s slightly tilted slant at reality and her deadpan tongue-in-cheek tone that makes the stories hard to resist—that and all those fascinating animals, of course.