Treating a Sick Animal – Review by Lavinia Ludlow

I’ve been looking forward to diving deep into Timothy Gager’s title Treating a Sick Animal for a while now, and I curse myself for the time I’ve lagged on doing so. I started the book thinking I’d swallow bits and pieces in between layovers and during road trips. On the contrary, I started and couldn’t stop. One of his opening shorts “In and Out” sucked me into a vortex, and I couldn’t escape until I finished the book from cover to cover.

“In and Out” left me understanding many things, among them, passive-aggressiveness and yet, a conveyed need for distance:

“My bones are on the inside…Don’t fall in love with me,” he said…

“It’s been a week and I’m not,” she said.

My favorite piece of the book, “mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiare,” a short story with prose that read smooth and even, then morphed into a voice such that of a ranting blog:

“In the past few months, I’ve been more depressed than the people I have to deal with. It’s not like I can’t get out of bed, because I can. It’s not like I’m weeping in public, because I don’t…”

Flash to:

“I recently wrote a novel I didn’t finish. It was called, ‘After my Funeral, I Wanted to Kill Myself.”

This piece was like a gourmet steak served with a side of fast food fries (which I adore), ending with a platter of tacks for dessert.

Then there are the pieces in the book that knock you out from the start with titles like “Your Vasectomy Journal,” its opening line striking again, “Do it because neither of you wants children ever again.”

Each flash fiction piece within Treating a Sick Animal left me with a heart-heavy opinion of lust, abandonment, sadness, fear. Keep in mind, Gager doesn’t write the gushy love ridden stories of the warm and fuzzy type, but more from the point of view of a dismally jaded suburbanite on the verge of a nervous breakdown induced by loss of all types: an unborn child, a lover, a wife.

My takeaways from this book: Gager is a tortured yet talented writer who’s produced a great book of flash fictions delivered through natural humor and an unparalleled contemporary voice. His writing is honest and richly detailed that I wonder how much of this compilation is actually “fiction” and how much if it has come from some deeply forgotten place in Gager’s subconscious. In his piece, “The Short Marriage of a Bride and Groom,” Gager talks about wedding cake and certain doom of newlyweds with such precision that, like the movie “Unfaithful,” it makes me shiver at the thought marriage. No, he doesn’t talk about murder, but he does deglamorize the “happily ever after” fable, unveiling all the pain and ugliness behind fairy tales society has marketed as “perfect love.”

After reading Treating a Sick Animal, I consider Gager one of our most talented indie contemporary fiction writers, and it would truly be my loss had I put off this book for any longer.

-Review by Lavinia Ludlow

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