The Folly of Loving Life

Monica Drake
Future Tense Books ($15)

The Folly of Loving Life, Monica Drake’s book of interconnected short stories, bears an earnest title that might make a certain reader roll their eyes, but its darkly funny tone and sharply drawn characters are anything but obvious. The collection follows the lives of sisters Vanessa and Lucia, a binary star with the city of Portland, Oregon as its contrarian core. Place and sense of self are intimately tied here; in the early story “The Arboretum,” for example, Drake describes how Vanessa and Lucia’s mother suffers a psychotic breakdown after they leave the city for a house at its periphery. Sections called “Neighborhood Notes” help pull the camera outward, repeatedly demonstrating how Portland—like the sisters themselves—has become more crowded with reference and opportunity for delirium. The freely associative prose can occasionally muddy the narratives, but sudden jerks into lucid insight or observation suggest a larger strategy on Drake’s part, one that emphasizes how hurling ourselves heedlessly into the world may be a means of counterbalancing our own sad, vivid mythologies. Any heavy-handedness is also buoyed by a comedic sensibility (one of the longer stories is called “S.T.D. Demon”) that is satirical but rarely self-satisfied. These first-person voices negotiate absurdity with admirable self-awareness, in fact—always flirting with their own destruction in push-pull orbits around Portland and the world.

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