Man V. Nature (Paperback)
Harper Perennial, 9780062333117, 288pp.
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
October 2014 Indie Next List
— Bill Carl, The Booksellers on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, OH
View the List
San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of the Year
Boston Globe’s “Best Fiction of 2014”
Roxane Gay’s Top Ten Books of the Year
An Amazon Best Short Story Collection of 2014
An iBook Best of 2014
A refreshingly imaginative, daring debut collection of stories which illuminates with audacious wit the complexity of human behavior, as seen through the lens of the natural world.
Told with perfect rhythm and unyielding brutality, these stories expose unsuspecting men and women to the realities of nature, the primal instincts of man, and the dark humor and heartbreak of our struggle to not only thrive, but survive. In “Girl on Girl,” a high school freshman goes to disturbing lengths to help an old friend. An insatiable temptress pursues the one man she can’t have in “Meteorologist Dave Santana.” And in the title story, a long fraught friendship comes undone when three buddies get impossibly lost on a lake it is impossible to get lost on. In Diane Cook’s perilous worlds, the quotidian surface conceals an unexpected surreality that illuminates different facets of our curious, troubling, and bewildering behavior.
Other stories explore situations pulled directly from the wild, imposing on human lives the danger, tension, and precariousness of the natural world: a pack of not-needed boys take refuge in a murky forest and compete against each other for their next meal; an alpha male is pursued through city streets by murderous rivals and desirous women; helpless newborns are snatched by a man who stalks them from their suburban yards. Through these characters Cook asks: What is at the root of our most heartless, selfish impulses? Why are people drawn together in such messy, complicated, needful ways? When the unexpected intrudes upon the routine, what do we discover about ourselves?
As entertaining as it is dangerous, this accomplished collection explores the boundary between the wild and the civilized, where nature acts as a catalyst for human drama and lays bare our vulnerabilities, fears, and desires.
Praise For Man V. Nature: Stories…
“What I like most about these stories is that many of them are dispatches from the end of the world, and it turns out to be a surprisingly familiar place.”
“Diane Cook’s stories are like high-wattage bulbs strung across a sinister, dark land. Man V. Nature is equal parts dazzle and depth.”
“Man v. Nature is a knockout…every single story could make a great movie…‘Somebody’s Baby’ completely captures the crippling, animal-like vigilance of early motherhood. I had to put the book down and just sob, and I was thrilled at the same time, thinking: ‘It works! This medium really works!’”
“This week, I have been reading the most astonishing book, MAN V. NATURE by Diane Cook. The stories are surreal, with the sharpest edge and in one way or another, each story reveals something raw and powerful about being human in a world where so little is in our control.”
“MAN V. NATURE is as close to experiencing a Picasso as literature can get: the worlds in Diane Cook’s impressive debut are bizarre, vertiginous, funny, pushed to the extreme-but just familiar enough in their nuances of the human condition to evoke an irresistible, around-the-corner reality.”
“Man V. Nature could also be called Diane Cook V. The Challenges of Writing Fresh, Invigorating Fiction in Our Age. In the latter contest, Cook crushes. Here is a bold debut.”
“Here’s a good rule: If Diane Cook wrote it, read it…Safety is tenuous, if not an illusion, in her thoughtful, unsettling, and darkly funny collection.”
“This debut story collection takes the familiar narrative conflict and applies it to contemporary characters. The capriciousness of the natural world in Cook’s stories colors them with a Romantic, almost surreal light that fans of Megan Mayhew Bergman are sure to appreciate.”
“Masterful…Each darkly comic modern fable reveals our societal preoccupations -- with status, sex, motherhood, belonging -- for what they really are: thin veneers over our ever-present animal selves, ready to crack at the merest provocation. A book that’ll grab your attention and keep you thinking.”
“Lively, apocalypse-tinged tales…Cook mines the moments that precede the losses-when the battles are truly raging-and it’s in them that she finds great beauty and strangeness…And, in the end, this collection suggests, meaning might be worth the battle.”
“[Cook] puts forth idiosyncratic and twisted conceits, but delivers the narrative goods when it comes to depicting the tragic, emotional lives of her characters… Like the best kind of fiction, the reader is left with much to think about within the broad realms of sex, death, love and friendship.”
“A dark pleasure...In ‘Meteorologist Dave Santana’ sex happens less often than the desperate, older woman (the meteorologist’s neighbor) would like. Cook is a young woman imagining an older woman’s need, and not charitably. But if Cook is anything like me, that desperate neighbor is herself. I’ve never really felt young.”
“Seethes with heat, rejection and twisted perception…I found myself enthralled by all of the stories in this collection. Not only are they surprising, but also fresh, funny, sad, often surreal and oddly true.”
“Quirkiness abounds, with several fairy-tale tropes thrown in for good measure...Some stories jump off the page...all are oddly charming.”
“I couldn’t pry myself away from MAN V. NATURE . . . The stories are grim, violent, and darkly funny, but never so far removed from our most human urges to seem TOTALLY implausible.”
“Potent and unnerving…stark spookiness in the vein of Shirley Jackson and William Golding…[and] a lonely weirdness like that of Aimee Bender and George Saunders…Cook writes assuredly of archetypal terror and even more insightfully of hunger-for food, friendship, love, and above all, survival. A canny, refined, and reverberating debut.”
“Hunger, despair, and perpetual awe for the collapsing natural world and the vulnerability of existence therein. Apply liberally before exposure to the elements. Contents include truth and other known allergens.”
“This past month I discovered Diane Cook and had many moments of story-delight, really just too many to count, because Diane Cook is that good. . . . Cook’s writing is lively and frank.”
“MAN V. NATURE may be Diane Cook’s first book, but the former “This American Life” producer’s work is impressively precocious--making it our favorite short-story collection of October.”
“Irresistible reading...The author probes her characters’ psychological depths in weird and wonderful ways...With MAN V. NATURE Cook makes a bold, original debut.”
“Beautifully written dystopian short story collection.”
“When people ask me the desert island question, I usually say this is the book I’d bring...Her stories about survival amid the brutalities of nature are bracing primers for the apocalypse.