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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Life in Men: A Novel

The weather here has been so horrible lately that I desperately wanted to read something that looked warm. The cover of A Life in Men by Gina Frangello hit the spot. 

Mary and Nix are the best of friends, but their trip to Greece is the beginning of the end for them. Mary, recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, heads back to college in the States and Nix heads to a semester abroad in London. The story picks of three years later with Nix gone and Mary a wandering soul, trying to find herself and her place in the world. She finds herself defined by the men in her life, yet she still turns to the dead Nix for guidance. A chance encounter years later leads Mary to understand the truth of that Greece trip, and how she can ultimately learn to accept who she is, what happened, and what life is about.

I really loved Mary as a character. I thought her will to live and push forward even as the most important people in her life are chastising her for not taking "better care of herself" (whatever that is) was strong-willed and made her a force of nature. What I mean by "whatever that is" is that sometimes that can really be a fundamental difference between what the overprotectives in our lives call "taking care of yourself" and what we feel is truly "taking care of ourselves." Mary doesn't want to spend her life living in a bubble, unable to see the world and discover who she is because she is so concerned about dying. She has CF for crying out loud--her life span will already be cut short. Why not get out there, do what she feels pulled to do, and live the short life she has been given? I loved this about her, and it made me feel drawn to her as a character.

What I didn't like about Mary, though, was her desperate seeking of acceptance of men through sex. I felt it took away from the power she gained by putting her foot down and refusing to cave into her disease. I know that humans, and women in particular, as fickle creatures--we stand up in one area and easily cower in another, those who seem so strong and independent find themselves kowtowing to those more forceful in their lives--but I wanted someone a bit stronger in my lead female character. It's the feminist in me. That being said, I stand by my previous appreciation of Mary. 

I was saddened and moved by the discussion of Nix, from the discovery of the circumstances of her death to the realization of what actually happened on that trip to Greece. I found myself wishing that I could have known her before she died--and then I had to remind myself that she wasn't a real character. She is the one that I wanted to see five, ten, twenty years in the future. She was the definition of feisty yet she was still so human--I was thankful that Mary felt the need to live for her. It made the story more emotional and heightened the stakes for the reader. I enjoyed this relationship in the novel and was happy to follow it.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right:

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