Vol. XXIX , #2 Herman Melville's ; or The Whale
Edited by Damion Searls
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Meat Eaters & Plant Eaters, by Jessica Treat
Reviewed by Robert Glick
BOA Editions, Ltd., 2009. 160 pp. Paper: $14.00.
Animals—domesticated, wild, and extinct—figure prominently in Jessica Treat's third collection of stories, Meat Eaters & Plant Eaters. Taking on familiar functions as sources of comfort, custodians of intuitive knowledge, and symbols of single-track simplicity, Treat's dogs, cats, and birds become the objects of human projection in a book filled with dissatisfied protagonists who long for and sometimes embark on lives not their own. In "Listing," a man who has lost a battle for emotional primacy with his now ex-girlfriend’s dog regrets that someone’s discarded shopping list does not convey a more portentous message. The excellent "Make a Nest" uses the bird’s nest not only as figure for the stable family but also, in the egg that falls from the nest, the violent wild in the longed-for life outside the nest’s confines. Treat’s mix of flash-sized and mid-length stories contain simple, meticulous sentences, and her characters don’t pontificate on big ideas. In a book that forces the reader to work between the lines and beyond the page, however, the extreme compression of plot and emotion can be both blessing and curse. While the hazy weight of meaning, evident in the finest pieces, balances delicately between abstruseness and melodrama, one telegraphed word can and sometimes does push the writing towards the banal or the sappy, and occasionally Treat’s final, diminishing note unnecessarily overloads the conclusion with a sense of indeterminacy. At best, as in “Waiting,” where a woman pretends to be a man’s absentee blind date, the closing detail—a twisted, shredded napkin—is powerful enough to hold the ambiguity and volatility of the chance encounter without waterlogging the story. Characters and reader come together to share the charged moment before setting off in search of fulfillment elsewhere.