I was not sure what to expect going into Francesca Marciano’s new short story collection, “Animal Spirit.” The title led me to believe that animals would not be minor figures, and I was not disappointed. But this short story collection is so much more than what I expected, and it surprised me with its power. I am stunned that I had never heard of Francesca Marciano before, and I think it is time we put her name on the map.
First, it is worth mentioning that while animals play a key role in this collection and often help to develop the stories’ plots and characters, Marciano seems to be equally interested in power dynamics in sexual relationships. Though the plots of the stories are each very different from each other, she uses all of these constructs to show that our sexual relationships are not as balanced as we would like to think, and that which partner has more power depends on a variety of factors.
Each of her stories engage a nuanced discussion about how outer factors, such as the socio-economic class, mental health, or the family situations of one or both partners impact the relationship. And while these stories are not connected, certain common themes give this collection a more cohesive feel than most short story collections can achieve.
As our protagonists navigate their complex romantic dilemmas, encounters with animals often pivot the stories in different directions, impacting the characters’ feelings and decisions. And Marciano uses this device to make a poignant point about the interconnectedness of all things, showing that while we are often caught up in our own struggles, there is more to life than our individual joys and sorrows.
As with most short story collections, the quality is not consistent throughout, and while I would say that all of the stories are technically very sophisticated, I connected particularly well with three of the stories, and I am certain, that Marciano’s astute and heartrending exploration of madness in “Indian Land” will stay with me forever. She is such a clear-eyed writer, showing with particular skill and compassion what makes her characters tick, and though these stories can ostensibly be said to be “about animals,” they are, in truth, about us—about all of the lovely and terrible things that make us human.