A Life in Men by Gina Frangello
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
THE Low Down
Mary and Nix are the typical opposites-attract, childhood best friends - Mary is a sensible, sweet, loyal; Nix has a wandering spirit with a hunger for the unknown, may it be small town Ohio Friday night or a trek across the Atlantic, nothing is too small for her to make it an adventure. When Mary is diagnosed with an ultimately terminal illness at 17, neither of them can foresee the effect it will have the worldviews of them both, and how these changes will manifest themselves and shape each of their entire futures. When Nix convinces Mary to join her on a summer trip to the Greek Isles, meant to bring them closer together and show Mary a world that neither of them believes she will have much time to see, unthinkable events transpire that drive a wedge between them. They part at the end of their trip, Mary back to college and medical treatments in Ohio, Nix to her study abroad in London, not knowing it will be last time they ever see each other.
Flying on the tails of her lost friend, Mary embarks on her own journey to London, seeking things she does not yet know, and for a time even becoming her friend – assuming her name, and living vicariously through how she thinks Nix would have done. Mary’s journey beyond a boarding house in London takes her throughout the world and all walks of life, from rural New England to the wilds of Africa and beyond, and through the series of men who come in and out of her life and help shape not only her path but both who she is and who she thinks she is. Through the eyes of a young woman who knows her time on earth is shorter than many, she struggles with finding both her place in the world and the place that the people in her life have, and should or should not have, and in the end searching for what ultimate does, or does not matter.
MY Low Down
If you knew your time was more limited than most, how do you think you would live that time? Do you think the other people in your life would understand and support you, even if they didn’t agree with you? With unique and engrossing style, this thought provoking and stirring story makes you want to scream, cry, think and trek around the world in a bat of an eye.
A Life in Men not only forces thought about these questions, but does so from the intriguing perspective of breaking down a woman’s adult life by the men that helped shaped each part of it, and in turn the many different parts of her. Seemingly always torn between love and sex, now and then and what is to come, and whether she feels like being “herself” or her more adventurous best friend, Mary manages to pack more into her shortened life than many who will get two or three times the number of years to do so, and Gina Frangello helps you love her even when you want to hate her. When she disregards her health, you want to scream at her for a moment, but then you start to think about whether you would do the same thing – live life safe so that it lasts longer, or live life well and accept that it may make it a bit shorter? When she falls into bed with men she probably shouldn’t, you want to shake her and ask what the heck she’s doing – and then you think “but would I do that too if I could?” The men in her life are fathers, brothers, lovers and friends, all with distinct and interesting personalities and histories. Some provide love and companionship, others provide outlets for escape, but all have a place that add definition to Mary’s journey.
For a time, Mary also continues her communication with her lost friend, via her “Nix Notebook”. This one sided communication reveals more of the inner workings behind her actions and choices, giving a little hint of the first person POV that helps both understand her more personally and question her all the more. When Mary reaches a point where she feels she needs to break herself away from the Nix Notebook, she is symbolically shedding the skin she had been living in and accepting that she truly can LIVE on her own, without the psychological tie to “what would Nix do?” While she seems to succeed in leaving that part of her life behind, she ultimately realizes that she can’t let go of anything – she can choose what she dwells on and what she puts behind her, but at the end it will all be an element of the glue the holds her life together and makes her the person she becomes. The only true downfall of this story was that we weren’t given the opportunity to know Nix better – the small introduction and periodic appearances just don’t quite add up to enough of a connection to truly care about her or the place in the story. This disconnect made the bridge between Nix and Mary’s reliance on and influence from her seem shaky at times, as though she was entered as a bit of an afterthought that was never allowed to fully partake in the story. The connection and theme of her is there and makes sense, but could have definitely been stronger and had more of an impact had the chance been there to really feel something for her, and in turn her relationship with Mary. I also would have loved to see the two girls connected more fully when Mary spends her time in London, rather than the brief bits and pieces we are given.
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