Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Art of Unpacking Your Life

Title:  The Art of Unpacking Your Life
Author:  Shireen Jilla
Publication Information:  Bloomsbury Reader. 2016. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1448215943 / 978-1448215942

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The sociable weaver bird nest splayed across the acacia thorn tree like an ancient, sun-damaged headdress."

Favorite Quote:  "Their friendship was representative of this time when only the big things mattered. The small things had yet to grind them down."

The Art of Unpacking Your Life follows a tried and true formula for women's fiction. A group of friends - male and female - meet in college. After college, they go their separate directions, some by choice and some by circumstance. Life - marriage, career, children, divorce, and everything in between - happens. Some stay in touch; some don't. Twenty years later, one of the group reunites them, in this case, on a once-in-a-lifetime safari vacation. Together again, life with all its joys, sorrows, and scars is revealed as it can only be to true friends. Relationships shift; people change; friendship remains.

As with other books that follow this plot line, the book can be a quick beach read.  It is not always a light read for each friend brings a different set of issues. Connie deals with her husband's infidelities and children who need her less as they grow up. Luke is dealing with divorce and all the events that lead up to that divorce. Sara brings a focus that makes her career her life. Matt juggles the priority between marriage and parenthood and the price one may pay for the other. Dan brings a midlife ache to reach for his dream even if that means upheavals. Lizzie is the one who seems to never quite have grown up.

The reason for these friends reuniting is an African safari adventure that Connie convinces all of them to take. This brings the group to the Kalahari. Bits and pieces of the story talk about Connie's connection to this place, but that seems to be there just to provide a reason for the setting. Her connection is not central to or even really important to the book. Actually, this book could have been set anywhere. The descriptions of the safari aspects of the vacation seems to stand outside the story to give credence to the setting. While interesting to read about, these adventures are not really relevant to the plot. They seem to bookend the parts of the story that move the plot forward.

The friendship in this group seems to bridge the gap of the twenty years. Old hurts and old loves are brought up. Decisions are hashed over, questioned, and supported. Of course, drama happens. With six friends, spouses, old loves, new loves, and children, how could it not? However, really a lot of drama seems to happen within the scope of only a few days.

The book does have a couple of unexpected twists and turns in this drama. The question remains, through it all, will friendship endure? True to form, by the end, each person and each relationship reaches a point from which to move forward. The ending for some of the characters is not entirely satisfying, but it does tie up all the threads of the book.

A beautiful setting. Some individual issues faced by the characters that deserve more intent examination if you choose to. An entertaining but mostly predictable story if you choose not to delve further.  The choice of how far to unpack this story is all yours.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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