In her spectacular collection of short stories entitled Man v. Nature, Diane Cook shows that personal, internal demons look different for everyone, but affect them on the same basic level.
Everyone has demons to fight in daily mental life. Although some of her stories take place in different realities than our own, these dystopian spaces are not so far out of the unimaginable norm. The stories that she does keep within the universe we know takes normalcy and twists it so that the reader has to check twice to make sure that the world being described is actually familiar. Cook’s characters are collectively dynamic yet each has their individual flare. While reading this collection, you will be horrified and awed at once.
Diane Cook begins her collection with a quote from Emily Dickinson about the wilderness. Most people will say that there is only one kind of wilderness; the untamed wild that lays beyond human control. Wild creatures are thought to be untamed beasts that only wreak havoc on the world. However, Cook makes the argument that wildness takes on as many forms as there are people in this world. Being wild is an amorphous trait that presents itself differently in each person’s world.
In a collection of short stories, it is easy to have the characters of different tales sound the same and the narrator to have an unchanged tone, but this is not true in Cook’s work. Throughout the twelve stories, the reader is exposed to a variant of characters and types of narration. In “It’s Coming,” the characters are all office works in an urban center being chased by an unknown monster. Conversely, in “Man V. Nature,” the only speaking characters presented are male.
“The Mast Year” follows a woman who has such good luck that people flock to her and infiltrate every part of her life for an entire. While “The Not-Needed Forest” is placed in a world where randomly selected boys are deemed unwanted by the government and sent away to be incinerated. Throughout the collection, Cook keeps the tone mysterious and fast-paced enough to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.
Though cleverly disguised, Cook has each character in each story battle their wild, inner demon. In every person, there is a fiend that gnaws wanting to break out of your subconscious into the conscious world. The way Cook outwardly manifests the inner demons is by having each character assume some wild characteristic.
In “The Way the End of Days Should Be,” the story’s protagonist is trying to keep some semblance of his old, normal life in a time where the tide is rising and destroying everything in its path. This character adopts an intense narcissism, which he demonstrates with, “I’d begun to think of this earth as my own private sanctuary.” While ignoring the rest of the struggling human race just outside the doors of his pristine mansion, the protagonist of this story shows the intense selfishness to which all humans are prone.
In addition to Cook’s amazingly fluid writing, another huge draw to this collection is the fact that it is not a full-length novel. If you get bored with one plot line, there is nothing holding you back from flipping back to the table of contents and looking for a more intriguing title.
Read the whole collection, or just read parts, you choose. Let Cook take you out of your own headspace and embark on a journey that flows through a diverse portfolio of amazing work.