How to Survive a Natural Disaster

How to Survive a Natural Disaster

by Margaret Hawkins


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"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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781579622046
Publisher: Permanent Press, The
Publication date: 09/01/2010
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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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How to Survive a Natural Disaster 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
mlschmidt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not an easy book to get into, but very easy to put down and forget where you had left off. Writing seemed disjointed and did not lead into a smooth storyline, I usually enjoy multi-person narrative, but in this case, the characters didn't seem to link together.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ugh....what a downer this whole book was. I suppose it's a character study of a family that is REALLY dysfunctional and can barely be called a family. Told from multiple viewpoints (including the family's three legged pet dog), everyone is human and flawed, but so flawed that it is almost unbelievable. The whole book is very slow too, it builds up to almost nothing. Some disaster is alluded to in the beginning of the book, but once the disaster is revealed, it was also revealed to me that I didn't care about any of the characters in the book. Overall, skip it.
lahochstetler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My main thought when reading this book was "Wow, I didn't see that coming." I thought I knew how this book was going to end, but I ended up being surprised, which is a good thing. My second thought upon finishing this book: this is one messed-up family. Told by six different characters, including a dog, this is the story of a last-ditch effort to save a marriage, and the profound effects of those efforts on everyone else. That last-ditch effort is a child, May, adopted from Peru by the disastrous Roxanne in an effort to salvage her marriage to Craig. The entire family is messed-up, both parents are treacherously immature. May copes with her family by going mute, and by becoming obsessed with her sister, April. April cannot cope with the attention, and neither girl gets what she needs from their mother. The family is clearly headed into a downward spiral to disaster. There's some foreshadowing to the ultimate crisis, but the form of that crisis still comes as a shock. I was very suspicious of a book that is, in part, narrated by a dog, but it's not gimmicky in the way I expected. This is actually quite an engaging book, and I became invested in May's future.
icedream on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book but I realize that a lot of readers don't enjoy books told in alternating points of view. That doesn't bother me as long as it flows and the story is compelling, which is everything How To Survive A Natural Disaster delivers. The story deals with family disfunction and the adoption of May, a Peruvian orphan, and how when everything falls apart, how do families pull themselves back together. A smart story from a new author.
jlouise77 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Decent book, kept me reading. I really liked the character development and the way that everyone got to tell the story from their point of view or rather the reader got to hear each characters thoughts and reasons for the way they acted. I was a little disappointed with the ending and I thought there would be a lot more from Esmerelda's, but overall, a pretty decent read.
bibliophileofalls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was better by far than I expected. It started as merely amusing in a sort of naughty almost sacreligious sort of way but development of the characters and some truly funny parts along with the story line made it a very readable nearly compelling read. The characters were very believable, although quite odd and the final part of the book really sobering. You had almost gotten to forget about the "disaster" that had to be coming, you were so caught up in the strange lives of these characters. A good read you're not likely to forget very soon. I'll look for another book by this author fairly soon.
daddyofattyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book gives a great description of a typical modern less-than-traditional family. Told alternately by six members of the family (including a three-legged Weimaraner and an agoraphobic neighbor), we see how events unfold and are interprerted differently by various members of the family. Each person has selfish motives and goes 'with the flow' for lack of better alternatives, until a drastic event changes life for all and in fact, some end up with what they always wanted but lacked the courage to pursue.Although the story leads up to a life-altering tragedy, the tragedy itself is not dwelt upon. Instead, we are shown how a life with self-absorbed individuals and a lack of communication can lead to an explosion where some get free, some get just what they deserve, and no one walks away unscathed. This story at first seemed too simple to be called 'well-written', but as I read on, I realized that it is written exactly how one thinks without third-party commentary and enjoyed it so much that I will certainly look up Ms. Hawkins' first novel and will keep my eye on any of her future work.Thank you, Permanent Press, for this wonderful advance bound galley edition, and for introducing me to this fresh new writer.
nightprose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A small book with a big punch! Each chapter, each character, was full of tragedy, and raw emotion. The title is ironic, as there is no "How to"; it is just pure survival. I felt drawn in to the tragedies, and drained each time I put the book down...but yet, I had to know what happened, how they each survived...together, apart.Ms. Hawkins illustrates how survivors comes in all shapes, sizes, and even species. She takes every day life and shows the tragedies that fill them, and how we go along just to survive each one, each day. It is our neighbors, our friends, it is us. And survive we do, because we have to.This book will make you think; it will make you feel. This book will make you listen to other people and their trials, and it will make you reflect on your own. It will also make you want to read more books by Margaret Hawkins.
jgillin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had wanted to love this book, as at times the writing is brilliantly dark (forgive the oxymoron). Unfortunately, How to Survive a Natural Disaster was a disappointment... had I not been reading this as an early reviewer, I probably would have abandoned it. Normally, I love books where each chapter is narrated from a different character's perspective; here, not enough happened until the book's climax to engross me in what each character had to say. The climax is given away on the book flap, so even at the scene of a family shooting, the reader may find her/himself bored.While the characters could have been intriguing, I never felt as if I could adequately understand them or why they behaved as badly as they did.The premise of this story was interesting, but I felt as if the plot itself dragged on endlessly. Furthermore, particularly at the beginning, this book was quite confusing; I found myself having to go back to the cover flap to determine who each of the characters were, and this became very distracting. For example, I couldn't figure out from the initial narrative who Mr. Cosmo was; only when I looked back at the cover flap was I able to understand that he was commenting upon events from the point of view of the family dog. I found it difficult to make inferences from the previously read text and a great deal of the book consisted of the rehashing of the grievances that forced this family apart.With the exception of Phoebe, the agoraphobic neighbor, I could not get a feel for the characters' motivations. While I certainly appreciate a good tale of family dysfunction, I was annoyed by the fact that all these characters just endlessly argued and whined. Grandma Jack, who could have been portrayed as one of the spunkier characters, instead came across like the grumpy old lady who appears on the front of Hallmark cards.I wouldn't say that reading this book is a total waste of time, but my recommendation would be that if you have the chance to read something else instead, go for it!
beccabgood1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am a reader who enjoys getting to know a book's characters, and this novel is a treat in that regard, with wonderful, complex relationships and the dry humor that comes from them. Nobody here is "normal," and in other hands they could all be unlikeable, but somehow Hawkins manages to make us care about them. They all get to introduce themselves, but their weaknesses shine through their attempts at self-justification and denial. The first three-quarters of the book is charming, intriguing, and fun. Then we come to the 'natural disaster' of the title. Unfortunately, at that point, when the personalities might have blossomed, or changed, or revealed new and unexpected qualities, Hawkins seems to have stopped exploring them, and the writing turns somewhat pedestrian. The tone of depressed mourning may be appropriate for what occurred, but it's just not all that interesting.Not a must-read, but you might enjoy it if you're into quirky folks and the way their lives get tangled up together.
lorimarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book to a certain extent. The way it was written from each character¿s point of view was very well done, almost like they were each being interviewed. What I have a problem with in this kind of book is the big build up. I spent all my time wondering what could have happened that caused everyone to have the need to tell his or her side of the story. Expectations weren¿t really met. The other part that seemed weird were the chapters by the dog. I loved the dog¿s take on things, but it didn¿t really fit with this kind of story. It looks like her other book will be something I¿ll enjoy. But for me, this one didn¿t really hit the mark.
kgallagher625 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A barely functional, unhappy family adopts an orphan from Peru, partly to replace a lost infant, and partly to give the mother someone to love and an excuse for remaining in her unhappy marriage. The child, May, is a darkly silent presence, not speaking or laughing, held in contempt by her favored older sister, and used as a pawn in her parents' constant power struggles and battles. She is considered "slow" and strange.The author hits all the right notes in this darkly comic (or comically dark) story, from humorous to excruciatingly painful scenes. She structures her story in alternating first-person chapters, including some chapters narrated by the family dog. I'm not a fan of talking animals in books, but the author handles this technique with impressive confidence and skill.I was surprised by how compelling the story was. A sense of dread and impending calamity creeps in from the beginning, and by the middle of the book I was on the edge of my seat with suspense.Hawkins has written a wonderful study of the complete breakdown of a family. Her characterizations are spot on; each character came to life for me in a satisfying way.My one criticism of the book is the character of May, the adopted child, who seems inscrutable from beginning to end. Her birth and infancy in Peru were miserable, she is treated differently from the family's other child, and she has some troubling characteristics, but none of this prepared me for her eventual actions. I'm not convinced that the circumstances of her life with the family were extreme enough to cause any of her behaviors, and her subsequent thoughts and feelings about her actions make me think she simply had sociopathic tendencies. However, I think the ultimate mystery of May just enhanced the story for me, giving the book the feel of an epic tragedy. A fine novel by Margaret Hawkins.
SheilaDeeth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wonder what constitutes a perfect first sentence for a novel. ¿I didn¿t speak until I was seven,¿ the first sentence of How to survive a natural disaster by Margaret Hawkins, certainly comes close. And having finished the book in one afternoon¿I could hardly put it down¿I¿d have to say her final sentence comes even closer to perfection, in my humble opinion. (My opinion is biased of course, as you¿ll determine if you read the novel. But the fact that I was sent a bound galley by publisher, The Permanent Press, is not at all why I¿m biased. I¿d have enjoyed the read wherever I got it from.)The characters in this novel are almost walking disasters themselves. But, apart from the dog, they¿re so human, so very normal, so inherently flawed they reflect life¿s preoccupations almost perfectly. The story is told through their various eyes, from Roxanne seeking God¿s guidance in church leaders and coincidence, to Craig, the struggling artist who turns his world into a spoiled palette, to genius April, to equally genius May, to Pheobe who¿s painted herself into a cave with her retreat from memories¿ to Mr Cosmo, the observant three-legged dog.Cosmo wears his wounds where everyone sees, bothering none about their cause. But others¿ wounds are harder to explore, and humans maybe bite each others¿ paws rather than chewing their own. Except for Phoebe, who in the end is the one who shows the true meaning of family. Meanwhile, Peruvian orphan Esmerelda, snatched away to foreign soil, is watching them.The characters¿ stories are beautifully told, starting with innocent surface truths, till other telling details slide into light. Defensive, angry, yet somehow always forgivable; wounded, broken, yet somehow worthy of healing; they do their best and worst and struggle through life. But there¿s humor, a gentle touch, and a delightful mix of voices to lighten the tale. There¿s a compelling need to know, when and how did the child learn to speak, and what is the ¿age of reason,¿ that draws the reader in. Perhaps the age and the reasons might be different for all of us.Despite the gun, the disaster¿s natural; survival is based on forgiveness; and there¿s reason to hope. How to Survive a Natural Disaster is a fascinating, absorbing and enlightening tale¿like I said; I couldn¿t put it down. It¿s highly recommended.
Magadri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much for the most part. I absolutely adored the chapters told from Phoebe's point of view; they were so well written and relatable. The chapters are told from different character's points of view, and the styles and quality of writing differ with each character to better show their personalities. I think that Hawkins did a great job of going back and forth and remaining true to the characters. Personally, I didn't like May, and I agree with one reviewer's observation that she may be sociopathic more than a victim of circumstance. Still though, the book was a lot of fun, and I'm so happy to have gotten a chance to read this. Looking forward to reading more from Hawkins.
LukeS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿How to Survive a Natural Disaster¿ recounts the grim story of a family so dysfunctional it barely merits the name. Craig feels he was tricked into marrying Roxanne, a religious woman with a daughter from a previous marriage. She becomes pregnant but loses the baby early in her term. So desperate is she to make things work with Craig, she flies to Peru and adopts another baby girl. And is it this baby girl through whom the events and consequences play principally out. Margaret Hawkins tells this story through first-person exposition, each main character taking its turn illuminating the story. Even the dog has part of the narrative. We watch as the ¿sun rises and sets¿ over the favored older daughter. We watch as neighbors and strangers assume the uncommunicative baby is ¿slow¿ as she continues her mute ways. The older girl¿s grandmother lavishes gifts on her, April, the favorite. Through it all, the younger girl, May/Esmeralda, keeps her counsel. This utter lack of even a semblance of balance between the treatment of the two girls forces the narrative along, and gives this novel its dark energy. For Esmeralda doesn¿t lack for intelligence or emotion. She has the resources, neglectfully made available by Craig, to right these wrongs.In this piece silence fills the space left empty by all the noisome cant spoken and heard in our modern lives. The small, dark presence of May reminds us that loved ones have needs and desires not to be ignored or forgotten. This least little girl, the nearly forgotten child, owns an unseen energy that exacts a reckoning one grim day and changes everything. This brief story brims over with real humanity ¿ all its needs, all its querulous claims, all its selfishness. The voices of the characters balance the author¿s need for realistic speech and plot exposition, and this Ms. Hawkins handles superbly. Sometimes the fatuousness of the individuals hurts, as we wish they would just grow up and give of themselves a little. But this is impossible, given the family¿s constitution. It¿s left to a noble neighbor woman, neurotic and nearly agoraphobic, and maybe suffering from split personality disorder, to pick up the tatters of this sorry group, and help life go on.Ms. Hawkins deserves high praise for this intrepid book. It is a dark story, but exceedingly true and unadorned. In fact, its lack of tidy, neat wrapup preserves it, and deserves our lasting admiration and gratitude. Memorable, thought-provoking, balanced, and faithful, it proves Ms. Hawkins's ability and we're all richer for her having told it.
riofriotex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This 199-page novel is a good character study of a dysfunctional family and their odd neighbor. The story is told through the voices of six of them: May, an adoptee who chooses not to speak until age seven (and therefore everyone thinks she is developmentally disabled); her spoiled and self-centered older half-sister, April; her worrywart mother, Roxane; her philandering artist father, Craig; their three-legged dog, Mr. Cosmo (yes, a dog); and agoraphobic next-door-neighbor Phoebe.The chapters alternate between these different narrators. A few are quite short - only one sentence each. Others are much longer and often have the narrator self-analyzing and sharing secrets. A surprise climax leads to a not-completely-believable happy ending. Despite the seriousness of the "natural disaster," I found this book to be rather droll. I'd recommend this book for those who like dark humor.© Amanda Pape - 2010
rmckeown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love ¿discovering¿ new writers, and first novels thrill me. I felt that when I read Hawkins¿ The Year of Cats and Dogs. Better yet, every member of my book club loved it, too. However, when I come across a second novel by a writer like Hawkins, a sense of apprehension comes over me. I approached reading How to Survive a Natural Disaster with that sense of foreboding. Oh, me of little faith! Hawkins has equaled her success with this second effort.The novel has an ensemble cast of quirky and wonderfully interesting characters. Roxanne, a divorced, single mother of the brilliant April, Roxanne¿s mother Jacklyn, Roxanne¿s second husband Craig and their adopted daughter May, and last, but certainly not least, Phoebe, a neighbor who edits textbooks at home and who has some mild psychological problems. Then, the animals, all with quirks and secrets of their own ¿ Mr. Cosmo, the three-legged weimaraner who seems a bit psychic and Bill, Phoebe¿s faithful companion.Each chapter belongs to a different character, and the star of this series is undoubtedly Roxanne. She has the longest chapter (about 25 pages) a quarter of the way into the story, and when I finished it, I immediately turned back and re-read it. This chapter could almost stand on its own as a short story. The psychological self-examination by Roxanne -- and all these characters ¿ is exactly the kind of novel I love reading. I also thoroughly enjoyed the (sometimes) minor differences in interpretation of events and perceptions regarding the other characters. All the people that inhabit this first-rate story have a solid, realistic quality about them ¿ some are better humans than others ¿ but they all ring true as clear as a digital recording.The ¿natural disaster¿ occurs about three-quarters of the way through the novel. With 50 some pages left, I felt the ending might be a bit too long. But as I made my way through the final chapters, I began to see the importance of those pages describing how the event affected all of them. I began thinking about tragedies ¿ specifically Shakespearean tragedies ¿ and the way he gave the final lines to the most important character, which hints at the future. In this context, most of the ending words and thoughts fall to one person ¿ Phoebe. This epiphany made all the difference, and the ending powerful became for me.Don¿t be tempted to look ahead as you read, because two of the chapters consist of only one line each, and if you read those, it might spoil the ending. Scheduled for publication in September, move Hawkins to the top of your reading and collection list. 5 stars--Jim, 7/21/10