Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Life In Men by Gina Frangello

A girl makes the most of her life

Two college girls, Mary and Nix, travel round the Greek islands. Nix is protective of Mary, who recently discovered she has cystic fibrosis and will likely live only a year or two more. Nix is determined that on this adventure Mary will experience life and lose her virginity to a handsome suave European. In scattered scenes over the course of the book, the reader learns more and more about what actually happened on that island. The remainder of the book concerns Mary’s travels in various picturesque locales and with different men as she tries to come to grips with her illness.

This story could also be called, A Life in Vacations. And although Mary does seem to order her life by the men she’s been with, it’s clear that the title is ironic. The characters felt fully three dimensional and the exotic settings, while hammy, worked well. The pace, however, was plodding and it wasn’t until about three quarters of the way through that I really started to care about what would happen to Mary. I kept weighing whether to put the book down for good, but like Beautiful Ruins, this novel revealed itself to be more complex than it seemed at first blush. The injection of the fatal illness imparted some much needed stakes to the essentially dull plot (check out this cool beach), and there was a skillful use of flash forwards to startle the reader, otherwise this story would be just another white girl’s reminiscences about junior year abroad. Once I got into the story, I admired (the way I did with Middlemarch) the semi-painful trudge through the pages which turned into something deeply moving, about how in any life certain things must be renounced. Maybe I just find it harder to be enthralled when I know the main character has a fatal illness. It makes me wonder how much stock I put in a happy ending. (Apparently a lot.)

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