4 out of 4 stars
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Cooperative Lives by Patrick Finegan is a novel that follows the stories of the many tenants that live in an expensive building in New York. These colorful characters come from different backgrounds, and their lives intersect for a short period of time while they are neighbors. The author uses these short intercalations between his protagonists to jump from one life story to the other in a seamless way.
The book opens up with the story of Wallace. His wife, Hanife, left him after the surprising death of their daughter. The Wallaces were family friends with Jack and Susan, a very special couple, as well. Jack is way older than Susan, and the many discussions about his life insurance are starting to bother him. At some point, Susan compares getting money from his life insurance to winning the lottery, which makes Jack even more upset. After losing a big part of their money, the age issue in their relationship seems to be doubled by financial insecurities. Another prominent character that lives in the building is Sheldon, an old man whose entire family died, and who is currently struggling with loneliness and health issues. Between all the tenants presented to us, I loved Mildred the most. She is a widowed writer, with a peculiar personality. It was a big surprise to find out that the Maltese terrier she kept talking to was, in fact, the taxidermied body of her beloved dog. Patrick Finegan puts his characters in many difficult situations, and he documents their reactions as they try to keep up with the challenges life throws at them.
Cooperative Lives has another important protagonist: New York. The author declares his love for the city through countess descriptions, and the readers can almost feel like they are taking a walk on its impressive streets. We are being immersed in New York’s society, partaking in gossip, meeting new people and learning the latest news about each of the building’s tenants.
I loved finding humor in this novel. Mildred is a writer of young adult romances. She is starting to realize that she cannot keep up with the times when it comes to modern literature. “Paranormal phenomena, vampirism, lycanthropy, advanced sorcery and intergalactic warfare” are all subjects she doesn’t know how to write about. There is a specific paragraph in which she imagines these supernatural inclusions in the beloved Wuthering Heights. In her mind, Catherine and Heathcliff are turned into vampires, while Edgar Linton is gay. I found myself laughing out loud while reading the detailed plotline Mildred imagined for Emily Brontë’s novel. I believe Patrick Finegan used both humor and critique to make a satirical remark at today’s most popular publications.
I was impressed by the excellent job the author did at documenting Alya’s struggles. Wallace and Hanife’s daughter’s fight with leukemia is put under the spotlight. From the parent’s reactions, the detailed conversations with the doctors to the gruesome details about the illness’ effects on the body, Patrick Finegan offers a great representation of what disease can do to a family. I was touched by the way the author managed to let Alya’s innocence shine through her experiences in the hospital. Being a child, she believes radiology “belongs in a broadcasting booth,” and killing fungus in her bloodstream means hurting “little mushrooms among the blood cells.” She even wondered whether her treatment “killed the leprechauns too.”
Although the plotline was entertaining, I found the lengthy descriptions, the slow pace of the book and the myriad of details to be tiring. However, this is a personal preference, and I would definitely recommend this book to the many readers that enjoy learning about the characters’ day to day lives. There is also a lot of thought-provoking content reserved for those interested in politics, medicine, and financial issues.
I rate this extremely well-edited book 4 out of 4 stars because I believe the author explored at length many complicated relationships. Patrick Finegan makes sure his readers can follow the plotline by including lists of his characters’ names, addresses, and occupations at the beginning of his novel, proving his attention to detail. Cooperative Lives is an incredibly interesting book that presents the complicated lives of many families that lived in New York between 2012 and 2013. After finishing the book, I can agree with the author’s statement: this is, indeed, “the world’s most contemporary historical novel.”
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