Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: Man V. Nature by Diane Cook

From Goodreads:
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
Last year I discovered George Saunders and Karen Russell and immediately fell in love with short stories all over again.  I've always enjoyed them, but hadn't really read many since college.  Saunders and Russell both did something so unique and quirky and twisted with their stories that I couldn't stop reading and pretty quickly devoured their backlists.  This year, the honor of authors blowing me away with slightly bizarre, twisted short stories goes to Cook.  They're just brilliantly done: the perfect length, just the right characterization, and that twist at the end that the whole story hangs on.

Entertainment Value
I can't get these out of my head.  Each one is a bit more shocking than the next, and I've found myself mulling over them endlessly.  There are so many subtle elements to each story that I feel like I could draw a different conclusion each time I consider a story.  I love the way that each story could have so many different layers and meanings.  It's a book that made me wish to be smarter, in a very good way, so that I could wrap my head around what the stories are trying to say.  I'd absolutely love to take a college course on short stories that includes this collection.

If you like Saunders or Russell, this is an absolute must read.  It's also going to appeal to those who are already familiar with the author (a producer from This American Life) and those who enjoy short stories.  And I think it'll also be good for those who enjoy magical realism and the exploration of people facing off against nature, whether that means the actual physical elements or the hidden nature of humanity.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  You can click here to see the other stops!


  1. As a huge fan of short stories, you've definitely sold me! Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. I enjoyed the fact that there are so many directions from which to think about these stories: each one so different and challenging!