A dance encyclopedia reads, “The arabesque requires a great deal of strength and balance. This is one of the positions that shows just how seasoned a dancer really is.” Sam, the narrator of “Animals,” attempts the move during a rehearsal for Swan Lake. Hands reaching, leg outstretched, stomach tight, she wonders, “What had I seen out there behind the garage? My father is unfaithful, but is he a rapist?”
At fifteen, Sam is becoming wise to the ambiguities of the world. And at fifteen, she can’t yet accept them. She struggles to make clear-cut sense of the complexities of love and sex, but positions change more quickly than she can process, and she feels her own wounds—a father’s betrayal, a nonconsensual first sexual experience—profoundly. In Sam’s words we see a girl at the cusp of womanhood: she writes a sensitive piece of fiction imagining her English teacher’s married life, but she obediently calls his character Mr. Blackburn. She is trying to find the strength and balance to hold the arabesque, but she just isn’t seasoned enough yet.