Review: The Zoo, a Going (The Tropic House)

Leah Angstman
Jun 28, 2016 · 4 min read

J. A Tyler
Short fiction
32 pages
5” x 7” hand-stitched chapbook with silkscreened cover
ISBN: 978–1–934513–26–2
Edition of 150
Sunnyoutside
Buffalo, New York
Available HERE
$12.00
Review originally published on 4/1/13

Let’s first say that I want to eat Sunnyoutside’s face off in a jealous rage at how beautiful their products are. I bought this book simply because I fell in love with the cover (by Anne Muntges of BirdFish Studio). It is hand-stitched binding on linen stock, professionally trimmed with two-color silkscreen over the top of spray paint. Eat. Face. Off. In. Jealous. Rage. Seriously, it is the most perfect thing you ever saw. No need even to read it; just hold it, touch it, rotate it in the light to catch the shimmery spraypaint.

But do definitely read it. Once your eyes have adjusted to the book’s awesomeness, open the thing and ogle some more. Layout, typesetting, linen paper, words, everything … perfect. Before you begin reading, repeat this mantra: I’ll never be as cool as Sunnyoutside, I’ll never be as cool as Sunnyoutside, and then when you close the final cover, your mantra will be: I’ll never be as cool as J. A. Tyler, I’ll never be as cool as J. A. Tyler. If it seems an uninspiring mantra for you, well, consider that you at least still got to read this book. You’ll find sincere comfort in that.

J. A. Tyler’s words are questions never answered, abstract vignettes, like flash fiction or prose poetry, only glimpses of the full picture in heightened language. This is not just a story of going through a zoo, however; it is a commentary on the narrator’s parallel life in a cage, behind bars, always outside looking in or inside looking out. It is a dissection of a family, from the viewpoint of a seemingly young child narrator, and how dysfunctional familial problems with impatient parents

relate to animals behind glass, trapped in camouflaged environments, just as this narrator remains invisible and trapped in his own:

Much of this writing breaks my heart. The reader bleeds for this child so robbed of an innocent childhood, and yet so normal in this dysfunction we’ve come to accept as normal — a child who endures harsh words and threats of power tools breaking through his bones and who observes everything through smudged glass as if the emotions, this life, all of this around him weren’t really his. And yet, through it all, he carefully refrains from judging or becoming too hard, even when there is distrust where none should be:

This voice, this young narration too-adult beyond his years, is fantastic. Sweet, scarred Jonah. I want to cradle him and punch his parents in the face, then show him that there is more to animals than cages — point out birds in the sky and show him their freedom. And then this voice, this perfect voice that J. A. Tyler has created here, surprises you by showing you he already knows freedom. And herein, Tyler’s excellent craft glows into an uplifting note, as we finally discover that beneath the dysfunction, like all dysfunction, there is still love, that humans cannot help but love, no matter how caged we become:

This book is beautiful from start to finish and handcrafted with such care that it would be a tragedy for you not to snag a copy before this limited edition is gone.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Leah Angstman

Written by

Historian, The Coil & Alternating Current editor-in-chief, book nerd, author of OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA (Regal House, Jan 2022). https://leahangstman.com.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.