Man Alive! by Mary Kay Zuravleff

Man AliveI picked up this novel because of excellent reviews in various places (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus) and was happily surprised. I’m always hoping that a good–especially a starred–review will translate into a novel I love, but it doesn’t always happen. Zuravleff has a great, zingy writing style which is fun to read.

Man Alive! (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) is a “domestic novel” which is a genre alive and well  and lately seems filled with stories of missing/kidnapped children or family secrets. Sigh. I’m tired of those plots. Man Alive! instead deals with a family literally struck by lightning and trying to recover its balance.  Dad Owen Lerner receives the blow as he puts coins into a parking meter on a blustery day; his physical and mental injuries strike deep into the heart of his family’s equilibrium. Wife Toni, college-age twins Will and Ricky, and teenage daughter Brooke find their lives spiraling away from the familiar patterns. And Owen’s not so sure that “recovery” means that he’ll be the same as before.  He develops a strange obsession with grilling meat and has less enthusiasm for his pediatric psychology career in the aftermath of his life-changing event.

In this lovely domestic novel, Zuravleff uses a family crisis to create real life on the page, characters that live and struggle in ways that are familiar to us, even if we haven’t experienced a bolt of lightning. It’s the finding of the universal in the domestic that works so well. Here’s one quote–a thought from Toni about raising three children: “With the kids, she tried to position herself midway between the poles of hovering and neglect, though it sometimes felt as if she were simply running to one pole, tagging it, and then running to the other.”  Nicely done.

Some other domestic novels that ring true, tell us something about ourselves that we maybe weren’t able to put into words:

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (Riverhead)
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (Bloomsbury)
A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein (Algonquin Books)
Cost by Roxana Robinson (Picador)

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