4 out of 4 stars
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Man Mission by Eytan Uliel is a unique foray into the depths of toxic masculinity as told through a fictional narrative following the life journeys of four friends. Shortly after their launch into adulthood Eytan, Sam, Daniel, and Alec decide to execute on a dream they’ve held since they were students: going on an annual manly adventure to a far flung land. Thus a tradition was born. From New Zealand to Iceland, Peru to Japan and many places in between the men escape from their everyday lives once a year to hike, bike, kayak and adventure in every way they can. Over time their annual man mission becomes the one steadying event they can rely on amidst their growing and changing lives. The familiarity and friendship provided by the trip support the men through marriage, having kids, losing parents, getting divorced, and learning how to truly be a man.
The greatest strength of this novel is it’s ambitious goal to shine a light on the effects of toxic masculinity. The traditional role of men in society is top of mind (and top of news) and thus relevant to both male and female readers. By using the annual man mission trip as a framework the author is able to weave the narrative together highlighting the traditional marks of a man up against the new standards men face. He does this through a cast of very relatable characters tackling very relatable life circumstances. The truth behind the story is palpable.
Featuring entertaining situations, engaging dialogue, and a strong narrative voice the only weakness to this text is the pacing of the character development. Instead of a progressive development deliberately interwoven throughout, the characters seem stuck for the vast majority of the plot only to make huge mental steps in the last thirty pages or so. It is difficult to read glorifying accounts of traditional concepts of masculinity and not balance it equally with positive healthy developments.
With that said, the way that the story is paced arguably reflects very accurately the experience many men have. Male and female readers alike will recognize the attitudes and storylines and, true to the characteristics of many men, they will embrace and find comfort in those stereotypes until the last possible minute when they are forced to confront them. So while a female reader may find frustration within its pages ultimately this is the story of men, as told by a man, and that perspective is important and should be honored as it is.
Overall I would rate Man Mission 4 out of 4 stars. Outside of its suburb editing, it stares down the barrel of a loaded, relevant, and pressing topic without fear. While other books on this topic tend to be non-fiction or didactic, Man Mission uses the power of an entertaining storyline to reach the heart of the issue. Male and female audiences will find this novel relatable, entertaining, and challenging. Its message will be best received by those who are aware of shifting gender norms - which is an ever-growing audience. A thoughtfully developed list of book club questions would push this discussion even further and would serve as an excellent complement to the novel.
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