Man Alive! by Mary Kay Zuravleff (3 out of 5)
Well after the emotional whopper that was The Light Between Oceans, I needed a laugh. This was good for a laugh or ten. It wasn’t by far the funniest book I’ve read in a while, but it was refreshing and light. Again, if you’re looking for a heavy hitting novel, this isn’t it. It is, however, pretty damn good.
On vacation with his wife and kids, Dr. Owen Lerner, feeds a quarter into a parking meter and his flashes before his eyes…literally. The parking meter and Owen are hit by a bolt of lightning. He survives, but the family may not. Owen, a child psychiatrist before this event, goes from stable and somewhat stodgy to not giving a rat’s ass about anything except…barbecue. The reader gets a glimpse of this coming when you get Owen’s description of being unconscious directly after the lightning strike, and every other sentence is a phrase relating to the awesomeness that is barbecue. In fact, reading this made me yearn for true barbecue- aka Memphis, Texas, or Kansas City. This isn’t just a fickle passing interest- Owen becomes obsessed with barbecue. He wants to retire from his practice and just barbecue all the damn time, even thinking of a restaurant devoted to barbecue, instead of the respected doctor he’s been all these years. His wife Toni is freaking out over this odd turn of events while she tries to rein her respective freaked out children: the twins Will and Ricky have their own respective issues. Will is a horndog pillpopper, while Ricky is messing around with his professor and her husband. Brooke, the daughter, is in a bad relationship. All of this while Owen dreams of making a rack of ribs on the barbie. What a great idea for a book.
I was highly entertained by this book. I wasn’t feeling as friendly about the boys- the twin boys annoyed the hell out of me, but hey, they’re twin boys caught up in hormones, they’re supposed to sound self-consumed by the size of the maracas on the females they’re checking out. Brooke falls for the typical lines an abusive man would feed her, and those are very real things going on in the world today with teens. I like that Zuravleff weaves them into Owen’s wacky “after lightning crisis”. I love the real dynamic of a older married couple, and how things can be stale after awhile, but that love can keep a family together as much as keep them apart. In this case, all of the family dramadies take a front and center seat at the circus sideshow that Owen’s newest favorite pastime is providing for them.
As much as I enjoyed the book and laughed a great deal at the wackiness, it did grow slowly into the plot. The dialogue often takes a backseat to Owen’s spare rib fantasies, but it’s necessary to keep the quirkiness of the plot. I felt like it slid downward into the muddy banks of doldrums at moments. The book just dragged through the middle of the book. The author had to wrap up all her separate loose threads, and she does accomplish that, but I think at the expense of the book, at least the middle part of it. That lost some of the allure for me. I kept putting the book down, making a roast, coming back and reading another chapter, setting it down, reading a Castle fan fiction story, picking it up again, churning some butter, you get the idea. I love the hell out of Owen, in case I haven’t mentioned it. It just felt like more could have been accomplished in way of more quirky, less wordy.