How to Survive a Natural Disasterby Margaret Hawkins
"I didn't speak until I was seven. I didn't feel the need," May tells us on page one of How To Survive A Natural Disaster, a story of family rivalry, betrayal, violence, and forgiveness told in six voices. May, the strange, silent Peruvian orphan who is adopted and brought to a leafy suburb north of Chicago at six months old to mend the lives of an already troubled… See more details below
"I didn't speak until I was seven. I didn't feel the need," May tells us on page one of How To Survive A Natural Disaster, a story of family rivalry, betrayal, violence, and forgiveness told in six voices. May, the strange, silent Peruvian orphan who is adopted and brought to a leafy suburb north of Chicago at six months old to mend the lives of an already troubled family, might not talk, but as her Grandma Jack observes, "That baby studies people." Next, we hear from May's mother Roxanne, who hopes a baby and religion will fix her marriage; May's father Craig, an artist who'd rather be anywhere but home until he falls in love with this strange dark child, April; May's beautiful brilliant adored older sister who wants to be an actress and who appears "to breathe light like some benign dragon;" Mr. Cosmo, their three- legged Weimaraner; and Phoebe, the morbidly depressed, morbidly obese, agoraphobic neighbor who is the one who finally must rise to the occasion when May finds her father's loaded gun hidden under his dirty laundry. As each voice makes a case for his or her own side of the story the reader learns that blood ties aren't what make a family and that sometimes survival is only possible through forgiveness.
The story of a dysfunctional suburban family, seen through the eyes of its most troubled members.
More anthropomorphized animals and midlife crises from journalist and critic Hawkins (A Year of Cats and Dogs, 2009, etc.) make for a weird and spiteful second novel. This odd multinarrator drama feels like a big fake-out from the beginning. The book opens with a confession from May, a newly landed immigrant adoptee from Peru, robbed of her native name of Esmeralda. The experience, it seems, has rendered her mute. After that jarring introduction, we meet April, May's precocious sister, who is the center of her mother's world. Their mother, Roxanne, is a hateful, hypocritical Stepford Wife aspirant who takes her considerable venom out on her husband. Craig, meanwhile, is a beta male with many regrets, who responds to his wife's nagging to get a job by obsessively filling out contest entries. Though he genuinely loves his adopted daughter, his confessions are merely sad. "Later, years later, Roxanne accused me of staying for the kitchen. It was a low blow, though she was partly right," he says. "The truth is I didn't know where else to go."This story of familial self-destruction is familiar, although Hawkins doses the book with truly bizarre perspectives that may intrigue more impulsive readers. The outsider's perspective comes from Phoebe, the obese shut-in who lives next door and uses her creepy observations to chronicle the family's destiny. The insider's look comes from Mr. Cosmo, the family's three-legged Weimaraner. "I don't mean to sound self-absorbed although I know that's how people think of me—flighty and selfish and handsome—but the stress in that household was almost unbearable by then," the dog moans. Readers who get this far will be rewarded with a clichéd tragedy that may well inspire them to turn on any characters they've embraced.
An exasperating, caustic read that is difficult to swallow, despite its brevity.
- Permanent Press, The
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Meet the Author
MARGARET HAWKINS is a Chicago writer and critic. She had a long-running column in the Chicago Sun-Times, writes for ARTnews, has written for WBEZ, worked in business, taught art, been an independent curator, and currently teaches writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her first novel, A Year of Cats and Dogs, was published by The Permanent Press in October of 2009.
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