Reader Response: Encouters with Unexpected Animals (Bret Anthony Johnston)

Despite being a mere four pages long, Encounters with Unexpected Animals by Bret Anthony Johnston provides a remarkable amount of action and emotion to process. I want to focus on the answer to the question “what does it mean to be a human in this particular story?” I think one of the most predominant human characteristics woven in this story is control/power or lack thereof. The reader does not have access into the mind of Lambright, but the story is filled with his decisions.

From the first sentence, Lambright is deciding to drive his son’s, Robbie’s, girlfriend home, an action that seems to have a particular motivation since it is said to be an abnormal choice for him to make. The girl, Lisa, is described as a rebel and a potential bad influence on Robbie, who is younger than she. When Lambright is the one driving Lisa in his own car, he holds a position of power and control over her. He literally gets to decide where they go, and he tries to assume the role of navigator within their conversation as well. His actions are entirely premeditated, regarding motivation.

Lambright recalls a wild dinner-table conversation, in which Lisa claimed to have seen many non-native animals in domestic spaces. At Lambright’s house, Lisa plays the role of the exotic, a fact not lost on Lambright who wonders not what Robbie sees in her, but what Lisa finds attractive in Robbie. He recalls Robbie’s average, childhood boy’s room and compares it to the brasher standard of living he has acquired since Lisa came along. Not only is Lambright losing his sense of control and security concerning his son, he mentions that two of his wife’s necklaces and a bottle of her pills have gone missing. The underage couple is also caught drinking whiskey in his own backyard. Not even his own house is under his control anymore.

Lambright tries to regain his pre-Lisa control by telling her to ditch Robbie and move along. When she provides resistance to this idea, positions of power intermingle and things get sexual, another form of power and control. Lisa questions if Lambright might try to rape her if she refuses to dump Robbie, to which Lambright only says, “Lisa,” in a tone that makes him feel superior and father-like. He revels in these feelings and then things become overtly sexual. From keywords like “stiff,” and “shiver,” Lisa begins taunting Lambright by scooting close to him and seeming to give him approval to dominate her in an act of sex. There is a major game of control and power playing out here, which Lisa seems to win. Lambright backs down from her seduction. The mouse ends up fleeing from the cat, as it were, when Lisa bolts from Lambright’s truck before he makes a move in any direction. Instead, he begins to make his next move, thinking about how “to see her as an animal he’d managed to avoid, a rare and dangerous creature he’d describe for Robbie when he got home.”

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