Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Fiction Summer Reading Recs: A LIFE IN MEN by Gina Frangello

Recommended by Bonnie Jo Campbell

A Life in Men is a story of disease set against a backdrop of disaster—but wait! This joyful, ambitious novel is also an adventure and travelogue traversing three continents. It is a meditation on love, sex, and most importantly friendship, which can overcome time, distance, and even death.  

Mary doesn’t want to expire quietly at home, and her determination to live a full life on fast-forward sends her careening wildly at times; she hides her cystic fibrosis from her companions and is careless with alcohol, exposure, and her medical regimen. We fear for her, but admire her determination to triumph rather than simply survive. Like a benevolent god, Frangello loves all her characters, the wild women, the doctors, and the junkies alike. We are present with striking juxtapositions: fresh bread and death, garbage and history, disease and ecstasy. 

Frangello is fearless as she ponders the meaning of family, the nature of human cruelty, and the profoundness of social inequality. Even as Mary follows guidebook advice about tourist spots in in third world countries, she reflects upon in how privileged she is, how privileged even to live with cystic fibrosis—in Morocco, a woman like Mary would die very young. The time shifts and point of view changes may at first jar some readers, but they’re easy to follow. The time frame of this very American story begins with the Lockerbie disaster and ends with the destruction of the Trade Towers, and life between those twin tragedies—rich and terrifying and heartbreaking. I left this book with a strangely uplifting thought: that our lives will go on after we’re gone.