A LIFE IN MEN by Gina Frangello


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Frangello’s ambitious second novel travels the world—to Kenya, London and beyond—searching for the kind of experiences that will validate two short lives.

In the late 1980s, college sophomores Nix and Mary leave Ohio to summer in Greece. Mary has just been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and though it's unusual to be diagnosed so late (the disease kills most people in childhood), her prognosis is grim—she won't live to 25. Nix wants her to embrace what little life she has, but things go horribly wrong on Mykonos, and the two part ways. A few years later, Mary is in London, having an affair with Joshua, a South African acrobat, and living in a place one notch above a squat. Among the charismatic drifters of Arthog House are Sandor, an artist, and Yank, a photographer who involves Mary in petty crime to support his heroin addiction. None of them know about Mary's CF. One day, while out with Yank, Mary begins coughing up copious amounts of blood, their secrets now binding them in a kind of romantic nihilism. Nevertheless, Mary leaves with Joshua; they tour the world with his circus, ending up in Africa, where they work as safari guides. Having outlived her prognosis, Mary decides she wants normality and returns to the U.S. There are more men—as the title promises—each chapter named for the man who dominates a period in Mary's life before she leaves him. There's Eli, a married professor, and her birth father, Daniel, a handsome wastrel and former junkie currently living in a Mexican mansion. She becomes so sick while visiting Daniel that she returns to a hospital in the U.S., where she reunites with Geoff, the college student who rescued her and Nix in Mykonos. He's now an expert on her disease, as if he had been waiting for her. They settle down and, safe in the calm of matrimony, Mary goes to Amsterdam to meet her half brother Leo for the first time and finds both Sandor and Yank there too. For the last hundred pages, Leo, Sandor, Yank and Mary are in Morocco, under their sheltering sky, walking to Mary’s death. Throughout the novel, Mary writes endlessly to Nix, though early on we learn she was killed not long after Mykonos in the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie and that Mary’s whole short life has been a living tribute to the friend who saved her.

A stunning novel—Frangello’s broken characters live in a world of terror and redemption, of magnificent sadness and beauty.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61620-163-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2014


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