Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Man V Nature

It's no secret that I have a hard time with short story collections (too short! I want every single one to be book length!), but I relish the chance to read and review them all the same. It's taken me a while, but I've come to appreciate short story collections as much as other fiction, although for some reason I still don't read them as often. I'm trying to rectify this situation one book at a time, most recently with Man V. Nature by Diane Cook.

Told with perfect rhythm and unyielding brutality, these stories expose unsuspecting men and women to the realities of nature, the primal instincts of man, and the dark humor and heartbreak of our struggle to not only thrive, but survive. In “Girl on Girl,” a high school freshman goes to disturbing lengths to help an old friend. An insatiable temptress pursues the one man she can’t have in “Meteorologist Dave Santana.” And in the title story, a long-fraught friendship comes undone when three buddies get impossibly lost on a lake it is impossible to get lost on. Below the quotidian surface of Diane Cook’s worlds lurks an unexpected surreality that reveals our most curious, troubling, and bewildering behavior.

Other stories explore situations pulled directly from the wild, imposing on human lives the danger, tension, and precariousness of the natural world: a pack of “not-needed” boys takes refuge in a murky forest where they compete against one another for their next meal; an alpha male is pursued through city streets by murderous rivals and desirous women; helpless newborns are snatched from their suburban yards by a man who stalks them. Through these characters Cook asks: What is at the root of our most heartless, selfish impulses? Why are people drawn together in such messy, needful ways? When the unexpected intrudes upon the routine, what do we discover about ourselves?

As entertaining as it is dangerous, this accomplished collection explores the boundary between the wild and the civilized, where nature acts as a catalyst for human drama and lays bare our vulnerabilities, fears, and desires.

First of all, this description does not do the stories justice. The titles and blurbs make you think you're getting a run of the mill story about, for example, high school bullying (Girl on Girl). Then as you read the story you realize much, much more is going on, and how twisted and multi-layered the story is. I won't spoil it for you except to say there's a twist. It would be hard for me to choose a favorite short story in the collection, but if I had to it would definitely be "Moving On." In the first couple lines you think it's just a story about a woman whose husband has recently passed away, and then you quickly realize that she does not live in the same society that we do, but rather some futuristic, dystopian society in which women are assigned to men without any say in the relationship. It reminded me a lot of the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Many of the stories had a post apocalyptic quality to them, and contained a few key details that made you realize that although the characters and their settings seemed at first glance like normal 21st century stuff, they were actually different in crucial small ways. The fun part was that you then got to spend the rest of the story wondering what the background was, and why the characters and the world they lived in were the way they were. It was like reading a book about the future written in the past (think 1984 or Slaughterhouse Five).  Each story also definitely leave you wanting to read more, which would probably be my only gripe about the book. Other than that, it's a definite must-read.
Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions and views are all mine.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Six Years Since

On this date six years ago, D and I went on our first date. We've been together ever since.

We've traveled the world together, from a long weekend in Paris to a 3-week honeymoon in Morocco. We've been to France, Spain, Italy, Nicaragua, Canada, and Puerto Rico together, and a couple dozen domestic cities as well.

We've lived in two cities in the past six years, and three different apartments over the four years since we moved in together. We have shared three addresses, five leases, and two bank accounts so far.

I finished graduate school, and he started it. We've both changed employers, quit jobs, and begun new careers.

We've scrimped, saved, and paid off an enormous amount of undergraduate and graduate student loan debt. We've sold the car he had when I met him and now together own a newer one. We've gotten new drivers licences twice and voter registration cards four times. We've voted in two presidential elections and two midterm elections since we met.

We have bought a staggering number of airline tickets, for trips together and separate, for work, play, and journeys that encompassed both. We've taken trips by car, bus, and train.

We have run two half marathons, one full marathon, and an incomprehensible number of training run miles together over the last six years. We've bought two bicycles and cycled in three different countries.

 And sometimes, somehow, it feels like we've only just begun.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Book Review: The Vineyard

I love reading books about longstanding college friendships and reunion weekends and getting together after too much time apart. Stories like these are usually so relatable, to a wide variety of readers, because everyone has a friend or group of friends they’ve known forever. The family friends who’ve known you since you were still using training wheels. The high school buddy who has seen you through ill-fated hair and fashion choices. The core college group who knew you before you’d met tequila, and took care of you the first time you made its acquaintance. You get the idea. So when I saw the description for The Vineyard, I was excited for the chance to read and review it.

Ten years after college, three very different women reunite for a summer on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As they come to grips with various challenges in their lives, their encounter with a reclusive fisherman threatens to change everything they believe about their world—and each other.

However, I found that the description doesn’t really fit the book. There’s a lot more going on than it leads you to believe, that’s for sure. For one thing, the book opens with one of the three women, Charlotte, narrating to herself how she’s going to commit suicide. That’s not something I was looking for, and definitely not something I was prepared for, when picking up this book. The second character introduced is Dory, who has family money and all the scrutiny that comes with it. The third character, who doesn’t show up until chapter five, is Turner, who is famous through her blog and doesn’t do much else with her life. The mysterious fisherman referenced in the description and who shows up in the story is yet another character I found myself unable to relate to or even understand.

Honestly, I think the book was just not a match for me. There were some interesting parts, but overall it just wasn’t my favorite read, and it really wasn’t the story I thought it was going to be. Perhaps this is more my fault than the author’s--I can get pretty attached to an idea and then not like it when things don’t play out as I think they’re going to--so take that part of my criticism with a grain of salt. What can I say, you win some, you lose some.

You can find more information about the book and the author at the TLC Book Tours website, including a link to the trailer for the book. Did you know that books have trailers now? And here I thought they were only for movies...
Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions and views are all mine.