Her Body Among Animals by Paola Ferrante

Sometimes you read something so profound, so strange, and so moving that it shakes you to your core. Sometimes you have to set the book down between each story, in order to let the one you just read sink into your brain, needing to hold space for its sheer brilliance before you move on to the next story. That is Her Body Among Animals, by Paola Ferrante. A collection of wild and wonderful stories, so adept at pulling big emotions from me that I had to take a few minutes to breathe between each story. These stories are electric. Ferrante approaches the short story as a full and beautiful form in itself; while her subject matter is quite dissimilar to the great Alice Munro, her stories are similar in that they contain whole worlds. Each of Ferrante’s stories in this collection is weighty with information, and I was impressed with the depth.

“These stories are electric.”

But make no mistake, this collection of short stories is grappling with the strange and the deadly: artificial intelligence, climate change, living on Mars, haunted dolls, an albatross hanging around a girl’s neck. Even the most obvious of metaphors – Ferrante does not deal in the terribly subtle in this collection – is told with care, and very strong writing. What could be silly is instead serious and heartbreaking, from a wife turning into a spider to deal with her unhappiness in “Cobwebs,” or a mother trying to manage her post-partum depression which manifests as a weeping woman, trailing her wherever she goes in “Everyday Horror Show.” Ferrante makes use of similar metaphors and images throughout this collection, which feels repetitive at points, though did not actively detract from each story.

Ferrante plays on the growing societal anxiety about climate change and a world we may no longer be able to inhabit in a number of these stories, and she is successful in creating a spooky, anxious atmosphere. She also excels at writing youth narrators: my favourite stories in the collection were “The Silent Grave of Birds,” and “Mermaid Girls,” the first told by a teenage boy and the second told by a tween girl. Both stories so perfectly captured the anxieties of youth, even in their spooky, unsettling worlds, with a boy being haunted by dolls after witnessing an assault his brother commits against his girlfriend, and the tween girl trying to keep her sister from transforming into a mermaid like their now-absent mother.

Her Body Among Animals is a fantastic fiction debut for Ferrante, proving her skills in creation and writing. I loved this collection, but what was most impressive to me was the way I had to set the book down and take a moment before diving into the next story. Each one was so sharp and resonant that I needed to give it time in my brain before moving on. And that, no doubt, is the mark of a writer to watch.

Paola Ferrante is a writer living with depression. Her debut poetry collection, What to Wear When Surviving a Lion Attack (2019), was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Prize. She has won Grain Magazine’s Short Grain Contest for Poetry, The New Quarterly’s Peter Hinchcliffe Short Fiction Award, Room Magazine’s Fiction Contest, and was longlisted for the 2020 Journey Prize for the story “When Foxes Die Electric.” Her work appears in After Realism: 24 Stories for the 21st Century (2022), Best Canadian Poetry 2021 (2021), North American ReviewPRISM International, and elsewhere. She was born, and still resides in, Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Book*hug Press (Sept. 12 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771668385
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771668385

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.