Reviews > Published on March 8th, 2016

Bookshots: 'The Folly of Loving Life' by Monica Drake

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Folly of Loving Life

Who Wrote It:

Drake writes with simple elegance and a sharp sense of humor, finding much to love and laugh at with her hopelessly flawed characters.

Author of the critically acclaimed novels, Clown Girl and The Stud Book, Monica Drake. She's kind of a big deal, now. At least to me.

Plot in a Box:

This is a short story collection that follows two sisters throughout their disturbing, unstable lives. Told from many different points of views and perspectives, readers can gather a layered, three-dimensional portrait of a broken family. Spanning decades, with Portland, Oregon, as home base, these stories are heartbreakingly funny and seriously warped.

Invent a New Title For This Book:

The Folly of Loving Life is also the title of one of the short stories in the collection, therefore I'll choose what I think is the seminal story instead: See You Later, Fry-O-Lator.

Read This If You Like(d):

Read this if you like dark stuff. Sad stuff. Real life heartbreak. This book is chock-full of it.

But also read this if your sense of humor is warped and alive, for there is much to laugh at, much absurdity, here within these pages.

Meet the book's lead(s):

This is a collection of short stories, so in theory we should have as many leads as we do stories. But the stories are linked, following a single family throughout the decades. The main people we know, then, are the sisters: Vanessa (Nessa, Nessie) and Lucille (Lu). Both are products of a broken home, a broken family, and both struggle to make their way through the bizarre-o patterns of life.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

Nessa is strong and brave and waifish. I'd love to see her played by Britt Robertson from Tomorrowland. I think she'd be vulnerable enough, and also tough enough.

Lu is goth. Tiny and broken. Elle Fanning, perhaps, with her hair dyed black and partially shaved.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Portland, Oregon, is the backdrop for almost all the stories. While parts of it sound amazing, and I'd love to visit, I'll stick with somewhere sunnier, thanks. I'm too susceptible to weather-related grumps.

What was your favorite sentence?

There are a lot of sentences to love, but this one? This one made me laugh so hard I snorted, so this is the one I'm picking. It's from the story, "Referee."

In this porn video already playing on the tiny TV when Mack and I saunter in, there's a guy in a gorilla suit with a cartoon-big white cock chasing what's meant to pass for a platinum blonde in a satin dress. Fay Wray and King Dong.

You're welcome.

The Verdict:

I'm not a huge fan of short story collections generally. I like to track characters over longer spans of time than a short story typically allows. But I do love the craft involved in creating shorts; taking a character from point A to point B over such a brief period takes a lot of skill and guts. I admire shorts, though I do not love them.

This, then, is the best of both worlds for me. The stories of Monica Drake are each singularly crafted to work as a standalone. Any of them, even the brief vignettes called "Neighborhood Notes" could appear in any literary journal, and any of them could win an award. The fact that they're linked up, tracking a pair of sisters through the ups and downs (mostly downs) of their alcohol- and drug-addled lives, gives me that overarching storyline I need to really fall into a collection.

I fell for this collection hard and fast. Drake writes with simple elegance and a sharp sense of humor, finding much to love and laugh at with her hopelessly flawed characters. And while most of the collection is set in hard-core reality (dive bars and seedy apartments), "The Arboretum" was my favorite, a Stephen King-level creeptastic tale of a mother's descent into mental illness. I read it one night, in the dark (thanks, Kindle), and had to seek out the warmth of my husband in bed in order to go to sleep. It was that creepy.

Monica Drake, you gave me nightmares.

Thus I have to say: well done, my friend. Well done.

About the author

Leah Rhyne is a Jersey girl who's lived in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Aliens, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah now writes horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets.

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