3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
As a wheelchair-ridden, retired athlete in an unhappy marriage, it is easy to imagine Susan Roberts doing something doubtlessly ill-advised and self-destructive. In a brief (albeit thorough) lapse of judgement, she attempts to use her wheelchair to run a green-light, as it were, across a busy highway. The flat, unforgiving face of an oncoming bus would have been her final sight had Mr. Vogel, her neighbor (yet ironically, a stranger) not heroically intervened, earning himself an injury he hides very well. Subsequently, he lands himself in a hospital a few days later, and a coma-induced delusion causes him to implicate Susan’s husband, Jack, in a mix-up to end all mix-ups, involving the theft of nearly two million dollars from a mutual neighbour, Allison Pfouts.
Wally, another neighbour, is a man who fate habitually strives to spit on, who loses the things that matter to him with the gradual inevitability of a child losing his milk-teeth. Naturally, his poor fortune lands him neck-deep in the Pfouts mess. The main plot of Cooperative Lives follows this dramatic episode as well as its aftermath. In addition, the narration is populated with character-driven subplots which are based on the lives and previous experiences of the affluent residents of a building facing Central Park, New York.
Patrick Finegan’s drama boasts a large, varied and nuanced cast. The experiences, thoughts and actions of characters are presented to the reader by a judgement-free, third-person voice. However, this omniscient narrator does not make excuses for them, which allows the reader to decide what he or she thinks of them.
Additionally, the writing elegantly interlaces views on racism, politics, abuse, freedom of the press, and the inadvertent hypocrisy of society, subtly using the views of individual characters in a manner that is not overbearing. Finegan displays great skill in the utilisation of situational and dramatic irony, which keep the story engaging, yet he still manages to surprise the reader with plot-twists towards the end of the tale.
Furthermore, all the subplots complement each other without contradiction, succeeding in providing insight into the perceptions of all involved personas. At the same time, the subplots cover most of the first two-thirds of the novel without appearing to be feeding an overarching plot, which is introduced rather late into the book, and consequently, I felt as though the story was going nowhere. I might have abandoned my reading efforts, had I not been required to write a review. The subplots, while beautifully interwoven, failed to stand on their own, lacking a backbone as they did.
What I found most irksome about Cooperative Lives was the author’s tendency to expound excessively on a myriad of topics, including New York traffic control systems, hospital policies, actuarial concepts, information technology, cancer, culture, aeronautical engineering, and many more. While his mastery of the subjects is impressive, most of the information presented is superfluous or dull.
Patrick Finegan seems to expound on Dickens’ assertion in A Tale of Two Cities, recognising that “...every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!” This is the best way to describe Cooperative Lives, and is what I found most intriguing about it. I rate this contemporary, multi-themed drama 3 out of 4 stars; with a bit of work on the plot and pacing, plus a little less digressing by the author, the book could be quite near perfect.
If social commentaries or multi-faceted tales pique your interest, then Finegan is a man after your own heart, while if you like fast-paced books, or are under sixteen years old, skip this one. I would not recommend this tale to children because of the strong language as well as sexual content. Additionally, the technical manner of the writing and the vocabulary used may bore non-adult audiences.
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon