Monday, January 22, 2018

Luck Favors the Prepared


I received a free copy of this book from the author, Nathaniel Barber. All opinions are my own.

Rating: 4 Stars

This is an interesting collection of short stories ranging from observations on death, family, high school, divorce, and a variety of other topics. At times I could not seriously believe that all of these things could have happened to one person. And that's coming from someone who has had her own share of experiences that also border on the comically devastating. This is not a linear memoir of Barber's life, but moments in time that have at least partially defined who he is, or is not.

I have a couple favorite stories from this collection, though all are strong in their own ways. I don't want to spoil too much so all I will say is that one of my favorites is that of the author's first attempt at being a landlord. The home he and his ex-wife shared is the home he offers up as a rental property for a family who turn out to be the exact nightmare I envisioned, were I ever to attempt it myself. Things start out normal enough, but quickly take a turn for the weird - and worse. The wife turns out to be a total psycho and you can't help but both cringe and chuckle at her insanity. Of course, were I the author, I definitely would not have been laughing. But that is the beauty of the author's writing, the way he presents them are at least in part, an attempt at humor and he is most often successful. It may not always be a laugh-out-loud humor, but readers will appreciate the wit and dry humor to be found in this collection. As the stories are snippets of his own life, that humor often comes at the author's own expense, and you will be glad that many of these experiences are not your own.

As mentioned before, the stories are not told in a linear fashion. Barber jumps around back and forth in his life, sharing these stories that all have one thing in common: him. There are loose threads tying some together, but for the most part they are stand-alones, stories you might share sitting around the table with your friends, recounting some of the more embarrassing or oh-my-gosh moments in your lives.

Barber is a gifted storyteller, in the most frustrating of ways. In some of the stories, I was waiting for the punchline, thinking surely it could not end the way I perceived it was ending. Yet I ended up swiping the age with no resolution at all. I wanted to know more, I HAD to know more, and I was left hanging. The difference here is that the stories were strong enough that I still cared to know what happened, after the initial WTF passed. In the past I have read stories told in a similar way. Sometimes I cared to know what happened after the words on the page ended, and some I did not. For many of these stories, these tales of family and friends, an ex-wife, a brother who was both a friend and a foe, I had to know more. It is his use of silence that is as powerful as the words he does give, that keeps drawing the reader in.

These stories are real, and real-life is messy. There is not always a happy ending, with sunshine and roses and puppies. You might find yourself questioning how all of these misadventures could happen to one person, but the way in which they are told confirms that they indeed did. Perhaps some of the stories contain embellishments, perhaps not. In the end that does not matter, because even at their tamest, some are still bordering on unbelievable. You'll laugh, cringe, wonder how the hell some of these people function in daily life, and then want to give Barber a hug. Highly recommended.

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