For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our 27th book was Man v. Nature and the review is written by Andreea Sociu.
This a dark collection of stories. At every pace you will be forced to take in violent dichotomies like civilization vs savagery, reason vs impulse, order vs chaos, law vs anarchy, ultimately good vs evil. Every story pursues a different topic (womanhood in Moving On, motherhood in Somebody’s Baby, both the latter in “Marrying up”, abandonment in “Man v Nature”, self-empowerment and self-distortion through corporate-image creation in “It’s Coming”, savagery in “The Not-Needed Forest”, avarice in “Bounty” etc) but all of them cast light on stem: status. A large, often ungraspable concept due to its far-reaching and all-comprising meaning, status makes the lighthouse of Cook’s story array. The implicit question howling back at the reader: is this you?The greatness of each story lies in the extent to which it makes us question our own status, relative to our actual circumstances or to some fictional, usually repressed ones which we’d prefer not to acknowledge because of an expected stinging and no less diffuse pain. Because the writing in these pages brings it all up, this is you, all this is happening to you, what will you do, where is the exit, you know you’ve felt this before, remotely yes, but now it’s here back screaming at you from somewhere, do you face it or you die? Or maybe you just let go and see what happens. But whatever it is, it will not bring you pleasure. It will bring you pain. “It’s coming”, the unseen monster. It will make you see.
Uncertainty and pain are the coordinates on which we usually question our status, lines that Diane Cook captures magnificently in the magic-realism of each story. One leading to the other, they hit like a V arrow custom-made for our species. There is apparently no exit, only rules to be bound to. With people, sex, friendships, money, children, career, all necessary to us because of status, we are left in the center of the crossroads realizing that sooner or later we have to face it: we are primal slaves to concepts, slaves to those around us, slaves to this saturating feeling of emptiness left after we are faced to confront them. Slaves to our own nature, through the impossibility of influencing our own encumbering status.
I recommend reading this book in solitude, there is a risk these pages will draw you in so badly that you will just want to be left alone to think. They will possibly make you want to open your mind and leave you uncomfortable. But you will not be alone, there will be Borges with his persistent employment of inevitability twisting and twirling from the page onto the reader himself, William Golding’s instinctual power, Lars von Trier’s inescapable nature of evil, and John Fowles’ theatrical madness-bordering magic. Can it be more riveting and disquieting than this?