Laurie Stone's My Life as an Animal is a particularly interesting "in-between" book in at least two ways: it straddles the line between novel and short story collection more adroitly than most such books, and it provocatively blurs distinctions between the fictional and the autobiographical, not allowing us simply to appeal to the latter as the final source of meaning, the book's interpretive authority.
The book's cover labels its contents as "stories," but while we reflexively identify such a marker with fiction, there of course is nothing that would necessarily prevent the term from applying to nonfiction, where stories, especially in "creative nonfiction," certainly serve as the coin of the literary realm. The stories as a whole provide a depiction of character, event, and milieu of sufficiently expanded scope that we could certainly regard it as a novel-in-stories, although again nothing would preclude a memoir from being structured as a series of self-contained episodes that contribute to an overarching narrative. If the book has a formal pattern or continuity, however, it is in its prevailing fragmentation--the individual stories are themselves highly fragmented, freely shifting in time and place, and the book overall provides a discontinuous portrayal of the narrator and her circumstances, although there are motifs and repeated images that serve to unite the stories both thematically and formally. In a book that at first glance might seem formless, this concern with the configuration of experience, its subordination to form, is the most telling affirmation of the book's status as a work of fiction, to be judged and interpreted accordingly.
The stories in My Life as an Animal are narrated by "Laurie," who, as far as can be determined, shares all the characteristics of her depicted life with the life--personal and professional-- of the author. Although the book mostly concentrates on the narrator's current status as a 60-something woman, she also frequently recalls episodes from her past--often prompted by events in the present--but they are presented not so much to give a fuller account of the narrator's life-story (although they do indeed have that secondary effect) but to illustrate and extend the narrator's contemporaneous preoccupations. This formal quality is no doubt an effect rising from Stone's method of composition: "In building stories, I work at the level of the sentence. The first sentence is a provocation setting in motion the next sentence, and so on. I layer the narrator’s reaction to an earlier moment with what the narrator makes of it now—at the time of the telling—whether the lookback is five minutes ago or twenty years in the past" (Necessary Fiction). Stone's stylistic approach, which implies that the finished story is indeed a product of artifice, that the writing itself largely determines the "content" rather than acting merely as the means of registering that content (documenting the writer's experiences), thus seems to further confirm we are to take her book as a work of the imagination, the realization of an aesthetically ordered language.
While My Life as an Animal ostensibly belongs to an increasingly familiar literary form that attempts to unite fruitful qualities of already existing forms of fiction, then, this book doesn't exactly unite the more compressed effects of the short story and the more expansive story "arc" of the novel but subtly questions prevailing notions of what is to expected of these forms--why can't a story seem to be a "jumble of impressions," as Laurie's partner puts it in the very first story, rather than a dramatically integrated narrative; must a novel have discernible "development," or might it instead be deceptively static, proceeding through a kind of amplification, gradually enlarged as if through concentric circles? Similarly, it is a book that doesn't so much leave us wondering whether the characters and actions portrayed are autobiographically "true" or they are invented, but should convince us that, in a work of fiction, this distinction doesn't matter. Considering as well that it presents us with a perspective--an unmarried woman in her 60s, sometimes torn between independence and attachment--that is generally underrepresented in American fiction, My Life as an Animal in its unostentatious way provides a consistently engaging and enlivening reading experience.