Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Journey Can Take You Many Places

    First Paragraph:

   "All I ever wanted was a life less ordinary."
Manny lay flat on her back, eyes wide, staring at the ceiling while she waited for her clock to hit 6:00. Another day of work, she thought. Another day older and deeper in debt."

A Life Less Ordinary is the first book published by Victoria Bernadine.

Starting out at 'minus 31 days', we meet Manny Mankowski, a 45 year-old woman, who feels unmotivated and unattractive. She sticks to her routines like clockwork. Goes to work, goes home, repeat process. 

To get her through the boring trivialities of life, she's created an imaginary beau- Harvey. Her Mr. Perfect. Harvey acts as her inner voice. Not just a conscience, but also a true reveal of her inner thoughts, some selfish and dark, some reassuring and hopeful. He is her sounding board.

He helps her get through the days, but when she's passed over for a promotion at a job she's been doing for fifteen years, it tips the scales. Now off balance, she's thinking hard about her life. The missed promotion is a wake-up call and just puts emphasis on the 'dead-end' aspect of her career. But the deciding factor comes when she is faced with the prospect of another fifteen years working the same job at the same place, and she quits.

She's decided to have her mid-life crisis (her words, not mine) in the form of selling her house and most of her belongings and departing on a six month road-trip around the States and Canada. But she doesn't want to travel alone, so she puts out an ad for a travelling companion and awaits the results, much to the shock of her sister, Daisy and best-friend, Rebecca.

Zeke Powell works for an e-magazine called 'What Women Want'. He's a blogger famous for rocking the boat. He can be arrogant and fancies himself a ladies man, but is a good guy when push comes to shove. His boss, Leah, is also the wife of his best-friend, TJ, and she suggests he reply to Manny's ad and go with her on the trip. All for the purposes of their blog. They want to expose her 'mid-life crisis' to the world and try to gain popularity for their e-zine by doing so. He wants a scoop and he doesn't mind being a little cruel to get it.

Of course, he doesn't tell Manny that. So, off they go, choosing the next destination from a hat (or plastic bag in this case), with Zeke (unbeknownst to Manny) blogging about her actions and his reactions along the way. He sees her as vulnerable and unaware and doesn't want to hurt her, but of course it won't stop him from writing, so he has to tone down the level of harshness usually present in his work. 

They spend the time sight-seeing and generally exploring everything they can, all down to Manny's itinerary. The point of the trip for Manny, is to get out of her comfort zone and learn how to connect with people again. To be comfortable with strangers and start enjoying life. Zeke may just learn something along the way too.

Meanwhile, Rebecca is struggling with changes of her own. Thirty years ago (when she was sixteen) her (then) boyfriend got her pregnant, changing her life forever. He abandoned her, her parents disowned her and if it wasn't for Manny and Daisy's parents, her life would've just about ended there. 

Now her daughter, Jaime, is a grown woman, going through a divorce of her own. Mother and daughter don't have the best relationship, but Rebecca finds herself looking after Tris, Jaime's ten year-old daughter, as Jaime sets out to find the father she never knew.

At the same time, Daisy's marriage is failing. She spends her nights at the casino. Her husband, Hub, is an estranged partner and father to their two teenage kids, and is rarely around. She labels herself a 'married, single parent'. They're already unhappy marriage is put to the test when Daisy discovers something Hub has been keeping secret. 

Finally, Tj and Leah are trying for a baby, but are having complications. They're taking fertility tests to see if there's an actual biological reason why they're having such a hard time. 

As you can tell, there are quite a few storylines going on in this book. All connected through theme, they focus on the complications of life- in all meanings of the word. There are many forms a journey can take, and many endings and beginnings to them. Change can be for the better or worse, through a decision we've made or something we had no control over, but in the end, it is what we choose to make of it. So many sub-plots can be confusing, but it works here, and each one is just as interesting and meaningful as the others. The focus is on Manny's journey, but the other stories aren't any less significant.

The description of travelling is beautifully done, namely the emotions experienced. The wonder of a new place, the almost child-like joy and excitement. The curiosity, a little nervous tension and the anticipation all mixed up with good old-fashioned fun. How the journey differs when you share it with another, even just a stranger met along the way. It's so addictive and infectious that I'm almost tempted to take off on my own six month adventure.

The characters are complicated and unique. They're not infallible. The relationships and conversations between them are enjoyably witty and very wry, especially between Manny and Harvey and Manny and Zeke. Harvey is more of a safety blanket. He's a constant figure, but is only ever constantly present, when Manny is stressed, afraid or nervous. 

The relationship between Manny and Zeke is oddly endearing. Somehow, with all the confidence he shows and she lacks, Zeke comes across as the older of the two. Sometimes. Manny's friendly personality and honesty open people up to her. Zeke, however, while not necessarily dishonest (depending) is a closed-book. He won't straight out lie, but he will emit details or refuse the question. But it leads to quite hilarious interactions between the two.

The characters are well-rounded and well-written. And you know what? I'm actually going to miss them. As odd as it sounds, they've grown on me. It's always sad when one journey ends, but you just have to keep looking forward to the next, and you'll always have the memories.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. To the point that I had trouble putting it down, and only managed it when (at 6 am) I was facing sheer exhaustion. What kept me reading so obsessively? In short, the characters. I've commented on why I think they're great characters, but I'm not sure I can so easily pinpoint why exactly I liked them so much. They're very real, and the way they interact with each other is as though they've been friends forever (which in many cases they have), and they pull you right into that inner circle. They make you their friend. They're not necessarily the most original characters, but when I'm with my own friends, or meeting someone new, I don't compare them to others, I don't find fault in similarities or unoriginality, I just see them for them. And that's what these characters are to me- just them.

A rather subtle ending, with a call-back to the beginning. Such small things can be so big, while such big things can be so small. Life is scary. We all know it. They're will always be things we wish we could run away from, forget or change. But strength comes in not letting fear win. In standing up and fighting back. Yeah, life is scary, but it's real, and what more could we hope for? What better reason do we need to live purely for the sake of living? To come out of our shells and be who we really are, to let people see us as we really are. What better motivation do we need to do something a little less ordinary?

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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