The book's Orwell-inspired title story appeared earlier this year in Grist 7. A depressed narrator engages in a power struggle with a strong-willed fashion design student who he platonically shares a bed with. The narrator watches Lena try on different animal identities as she sews clothes inspired by farm animals, adopts and discards—then rediscovers—a Pomeranian, and incongruously dresses as Jessica Rabbit for Halloween. At night, they re-equalize:
We slept in a Murphy bed that never went up. There were hooks mounted on the wall above it, with hats piled thick enough to keep the bed from lifting. The mattress was too short—if we extended our legs, our feet made contact with an icy iron bar at the foot of the bed. I imagined us as batteries recharging, the cold shock pushing exhaustion up through our bodies and sparking dreams.
Sometimes Lena made animal sounds in her sleep. I would break the iron current then, and cuddle. We’d be warm together, my knees locked into the back of hers. Of course this place is haunted, she’d say, with all those hats falling on the bed all the time. She’d say it like it was my fault, but most of the hats were hers.Things become tense as the narrator grows jealous of Lena’s other relationships. He finds himself mirroring her tyrannical personality, the thing that drew him to her in the first place:
Lena was eight days older than me, and shared her birthday with Hitler. I shared mine with Saddam Hussein. We had a joint birthday party where we spent the day in bed. We read to each other, played cards, and gossiped. We took turns going to the store for more champagne. When it got dark, we took a nap, then got up and went out dancing. She brought home an NPR reporter who said he couldn’t take her home because his house was being painted.
That means he has a girlfriend, I told her.
Whatever, she said. It’s my birthday.
It’s my birthday, too, I said, and refused to yield the bed.As the narrator’s depression deepens, the rainy season sets in, and Lena obsessively listens to Prince’s ’17 Days’, a song that tonally syncs with the story’s up-tempo sadness. Because the Artist is such a freak about copyright issues, I can’t post the video here, but hopefully this link will stay up for awhile: http://www.wat.tv/video/prince-17-days-3oo43_3mbzf_.html
One time Lena said, Prince is such a man.
Prince wears mascara, I said.
I don’t mean a man like macho. I mean a man like human. Listen: there’s nothing animal in Prince’s world. It’s all artifice and emotion.
I moved a beret from the bed to the hat rack.
All you ever listen to is this one song, I said, and it’s the b-side to ‘When Doves Cry’. That’s maybe the most animal song ever.