Gina Frangello’s A Life in Men on the surface is the story of friendship between two girls, but dig deeper and it encompasses the wide range of relationships we make and break through our lives, the way love can sustain us and the way acts of violence can tear us asunder.
Nicole (Nix) and Mary are best friends. Two beautiful blonde American girls who have everything going for them. Except that’s not true. Mary is very sick, having been diagnosed at a late stage with cystic fibrosis. Nix goes off to college, her future bright and open before her. Mary remains home, with little hopes of a future at all. Over a break from college, Nix takes Mary to Greece, a way to spend time together and a way for Mary to see some of the world as her expected days on Earth start to slowly dwindle. But after an incident on the island, the relationship between the friends changes.
We follow Mary as she travels the world, trying to live as much as she can in what little time she has. She meets and falls in and out of love with many different men. She has sex to get a high. She does things a person with cystic fibrosis should not do. Nix travels to London and then disappears from Mary’s life and from a great deal of the book. For much of it, it’s just the reader, Mary and her many men.
This book is beautifully written and the scenes leap off the pages. The characters are well-developed — deep and flawed. They are real people, even if at times the book seems less so.
However, we spend very little time with Nix after the girls leave Greece. She is a complex and interesting character and so much of Mary’s story is tied up in Nix that having her voice included more would have buoyed the book in some of the slower parts.
However, just when you wonder how many more of Mary’s escapades will come, the book takes a turn. The last 100 or so pages grab you and don’t let go until the final word has been read. At the end we see more of Nix’s story and the men in her life and we see why Mary made some of the choices she made. The book ends in a heart-rending and beautiful way.