4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Thanks to Eytan Uliel, I got to participate in my first Man Mission. Fifteen of them actually. Although the rules clearly state that these missions are for men only, with the help of Uliel’s appropriately titled novel, Man Mission, I was finally able to observe and discover what all women, myself included, have been wondering since the dawn of time: what do men really talk about when we’re not around?
A Man Mission is probably not what you think. It’s not an exclusive boys’ club, or a luxurious yearly vacation spent lounging with cocktails around a resort pool. Quite the opposite. A Man Mission is an annual retreat where four former college buddies temporarily exchange their real-world and familial responsibilities for a few days of adrenaline-laced nature therapy. There’s no shortage of self-deprecating jokes, exotic foods, or chaffing on Man Missions, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The storyline begins just before Man Mission's conception when the narrator and his buddy Sam are in law school. After a day spent at their college food fair, the pair enthusiastically suggest a yearly trip to an outdoorsy location where they will test the limits of their manhood. This grand idea remained a pipe dream for several years after graduation until these 20-something men began to feel the weight of the real world on their shoulders. After a few years spent scrambling on the bottom rung of their career ladders, their once youthful optimism wanes, and the combination of an unfulfilling career and a lack of inspiration leaves them feeling burnt out and restless.
This restlessness isn’t all bad news, because it also signals that the time has finally arrived for the first Man Mission to commence! What follows next is a hastily prepared hiking trip in New Zealand, minor injuries, a tense afternoon with friendly drug dealers, and ample whining. In the eyes of the Man Mission Committee (which is just the narrator and Sam at this point), regardless of the setbacks, the trip is a complete success. Eventually, mutual friends Daniel and Alec join the group for a series of missions in Hawaii, Iceland, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and several other far-flung locations.
As the boys partake in these athletic outings year after year, the reader watches these single men mature into husbands with children. We observe shifting career paths and debates over financial security and following personal passions. We listen as they question their choices, struggle over aging, and ponder their significance in the universe. We watch each man rise, fall, and rise again. The way I see it, we are the fly on the wall for each man’s success and failure as they traipse along life’s endlessly winding trail. The ever-evolving character development was undoubtedly my favorite aspect of the novel, for it was immensely satisfying to watch each character mature and eventually find peace and acceptance with their choices.
Despite being a work of fiction, this book felt so much like a well-written memoir that I found myself double-checking the description to be sure. With age comes wisdom, so while this book would be appropriate for readers young and old, those with less life experience may not identify with the plight of the characters…yet. Readers in their 20s should take some time to browse the pages when they’re looking for an entertaining, realistic, and maybe even cautionary tale of how quickly life goes by. Readers in their 30s and 40s might identify with the toll that our personal and professional sacrifices have upon the body and psyche. Mature readers (the wisest of them all) will probably smile and wish that they could share this book with their younger selves.
I rate Man Mission four out of four stars. This novel deserves a perfect score because despite the regular time jumps between missions and the narrator’s exceedingly harsh home life, this book was a smooth and effortless read. The lighthearted tone and adventurous scenarios helped to soften the more prickly themes in the book, but at the same time, the author never shies away from illuminating the hardships and relationship struggles that couples face today. This text also deserves a four-star rating because it was professionally edited and free of grammar and spelling errors.
While I was hesitant to read a book that appeared to be directed strictly toward a male audience, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this novel confronts masculine stereotypes and negates toxic masculinity instead of amplifying it. Man Mission follows a group of men discovering and openly discussing the importance of emotional intelligence and offers a progressive perspective that’s not often present in mainstream society. As much as I enjoyed this novel, I almost overlooked it due to the title. I feel that the title may be unintentionally misleading to some readers, and therefore is my least favorite aspect of the book. If anyone else was initially turned off by the seemingly exclusive title, I’m here to remind you to not judge a book by its cover, or in the case of Man Mission, its title.
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon | on iTunes