Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Name All The Animals: A memoir of the child left behind, by Alison Smith

Resolution for Alison comes upon the third anniversary of Roy's death. By this point, she is sick to her soul of the rules which govern the family's inter-relationships. The title of the book derives in part from a blessing which Alison's father gave to her and Roy each morning, asking God to protect their hearts, minds, voices, throats. He named these parts like Adam naming the first animals. Now, this blessing crystallises Alison's desire to end the fundamental dishonesty of her family's communication:

'I wanted to stop playing Kremlin, to stop hiding and biting my tongue. I wanted to tell them everything. Someday, I thought, we will tell each other our secrets. Someday we will return to the beginning, to the Garden of Eden, where Adam first named every living thing… I wanted us to say it all, to name every thought, every word, every animal we had dreamed up in those three long years.'

At this stage, Alison has told her mother she no longer believes in God, which has the effect of sending her mother to her room for several days, effectively breaking her frozen grief. Alison goes out on the morning of her brother's anniversary to the location of the accident, and in an apparently mad few moments, finds acceptance of his absence. It has the paradoxical impact of restoring his presence to her heart, which results in the immediate return of her physical appetite.

For all the sadness and pain in Name All The Animals, there is no bitterness or recrimination in Smith's writing. She understands her mother as someone who had to reshape reality to cope with the hard life she had growing up. Smith is fully aware of the damage in her mother's troubled heart which strained relations so much throughout their life together:

'Even before Roy died, my mother was a mystery. Inside her, there lurked a fugitive sadness. The hidden, unrealized pieces of my mother were part of her allure. Every night in the yard, she would let my hand fall, hug her arms to her chest, and wander away from me on the cool lawn. I thought there was a reason she dropped my hand and that if I could figure out what that was, then I would never lose her.'

Alison's father, by contrast, comes across as a less complicated, more sympathetic figure. There is something very poignant about his grasp of faith, his blessing of his children, his wondering where Roy's guardian angel got to the morning of
the accident. He's a much less forceful or influential character than his wife in the story; more sensitive and gentle, always working around his wife's defences.

Name All The Animals is a haunting and harrowing depiction of grief and mourning, of a group of individuals struggling to pick up the pieces in the wake of a tragedy. It would probably make a compelling film, if anyone felt so inclined.

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