Published by Harper on October 7, 2014
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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A refreshingly imaginative, daring debut collection of stories which illuminates with audacious wit the complexity of human behavior, as seen through the lens of the natural world
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. In Diane Cook’s perilous worlds, the quotidian surface conceals an unexpected surreality that illuminates different facets of our 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 take refuge in a murky forest and compete against each other for their next meal; an alpha male is pursued through city streets by murderous rivals and desirous women; helpless newborns are snatched by a man who stalks them from their suburban yards. Through these characters Cook asks: What is at the root of our most heartless, selfish impulses? Why are people drawn together in such messy, complicated, 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.
I’ve been sitting on this review until the very last moment because I haven’t known where to begin. My head is spinning. Every time I think I know what I want to say about this collection of short stories, I come up with a ton of other ideas, too much to include in one review.
Each story in Man vs. Nature centers around a personification of “nature,” which manifests itself as an aspect of the natural world, an aspect of human nature, or often, a blend of the two. Our hopes and fears, our virtues and failings, our natural lives and deaths, the balance we strive for, the societies we’ve created: All of these things are confronted, pled with, fought, accepted. It gets intense. It will take your breath away.
“Somebody’s Baby” had the greatest impact on me, thanks to moments like these:
“She felt shot at every day of her life since she’d begun having children.”
“Motherhood was naturally replete with loss.”
“If you could suddenly get back everything you’d already said good-bye to, would you want it?”
There are so many ways to interpret the stories in this book because there are so many different things to see, and they come at you quickly, little wisps of understanding. Sometimes a new insight would jump out at me and, to be honest, it barely seemed to relate to the actual words I was reading. And sometimes a meaning felt juuuust out of reach, as if I needed to pause, sit with the words for a while, maybe read the story again at a later date in order to grasp yet another layer or angle.
I’m thankful I had Kelly from The Well-Read Redhead (whose review I’m going to read as soon as I click “Publish”) because Man V. Nature is an astonishing collection that demands discussion. Grab some fellow bookworms who enjoy short stories, who enjoy a surreal read that is also grounded in reality, and who don’t mind getting a little creeped out and uncomfortable … because you are going to want to talk and talk about these stories.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy of Man V. Nature and including me on the book’s tour. Be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops for other perspectives!