Friday, April 04, 2014

A Life in Men by Gina Frangello: A Review

A Life in MenA Life in Men by Gina Frangello
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had the pleasure of meeting Gina Frangello last month at the Tucson Festival of Books, where we spoke on three separate panels together. We also spent a lot of time between panels chatting in the authors' green room, and so I heard a lot about this book (as well as about her process of writing the book) prior to finally sitting down to read it. Gina was an engaging speaker, as well as a fascinating person, and so I was eager to dive in.

A LIFE IN MEN, is a sweeping story of a woman named Mary Grace who, at seventeen, is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (a life-shortening pulmonary disease typically diagnosed in early childhood). And so just as her life is about to begin, her life expectancy is suddenly abbreviated to an unfathomable six years.

The novel is not about illness, however. Nor is it about dying. It is, instead, about living. About embracing life, embracing the world, and all of the people in it.

There is an urgency to everything about this book, despite its epic scope. We travel with Mary from Greece to London, Africa to Mexico, Amsterdam to Morocco. We watch as she struggles to compress a lifetime of experience into these few precious years, to ignore her illness even as it incites this manic sort of approach to living. Book-ended by two tragedies: the Lockerbie disaster and 9/11, Mary's life becomes a sort of luminous, shimmery thing in between.

The story is told to us in a meandering omniscience, her character revealed via the various men in her life (as well as by her vibrant best friend, whose death sets the story into motion). The cumulative effect of this is the understanding that an individual's life is not a solitary thing, but something which has far-reaching trajectories. It also suggests that perception and truth are not mutually exclusive: "There is never only one Truth," Frangello writes. "There is only one truth at a time."

I really loved this book.