The Zoo, A Going: (The Tropic House) by J.A. Tyler

The Zoo, A Going: (The Tropic House) by J.A. Tyler

Reviews, Vol. 4.3, Sept. 2010
Sunnyoutside, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-934513-26-2
Saddle-stitched, 24 pp., $12
Review by Cynthia Reeser

At its most essential, The Zoo, A Going : (The Tropic House), is a flash fiction collection that is a telling from a young boy’s perspective of his family going on a trip to the zoo, each story titled with a different animal exhibit (“The Turtle,” “The Butterflies,” et cetera). But what is at work in each narrative is something deeper, something that speaks to transference. The boy on the zoo trip is accompanied by a mother and father entrenched in an emotionally disturbed relationship, and the stories are mostly not about the animals.

There is, for example, the issue of the heart vs. the heart (the physical vs. the beyond physical). From “The Crocodile or the Alligator”:

I don’t know which one it is we are looking at, but its eyes hang above the water and look like they are looking at me, my chest, the middle where my mom says my heart is.

Through here she says and taps her fingers and her pink nails on my T-shirt and the solid skin underneath. Through your sternum, the bones my dad says and goes on about a saw and pry-bars. Takes a lot of powertools to get in there.

The titles, it soon becomes evident, are multipartite. “The Butterflies” takes place in a tropical house, filled with butterflies that are, like the heart, enclosed but free to fulfill their purpose. By the time the reader reaches this final narrative, the book’s title begins to come into focus. The house is both tropic (climatic) and it is tropic (thematic), being the place where the young narrator also gains perspective:

I love butterflies, she says, and I feel good. I am a monarch I guess, a butterfly.


And the way her hand is on my head it is a feeling I can’t lose, even if it tries to go when other things happen, when the lies happen or the world is cold and seems like it is gone, her hand I need to keep a hold on.

The thread of metaphor Tyler creates is likewise a thing that opens up and lends itself to multiplication: zoo family; animal human; wild civilized, et al. The zoo is a bastion of wilderness in miniature, a pocket, like the house of butterflies, within the civilized world.

Tyler, in this chapbook, finds a voice and renders it authentic. His stories do what good writing should do, and operate from a solidly rooted perspective that is carried through consistently. The Zoo, A Going : (The Tropic House) is ultimately about the heart, something every reader can connect with.

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