Book Review: All That Man Is

All That Man Is (2016)
David Szalay

I shouldn’t have loved this book; it is, after all, just about men, being an exploration of the male ego through the arc of a lifespan.

In a series of subtly interconnected stories, different male protagonists each represent an “age of man,” from youth through old age. The book’s title is ironic: few of these characters, although many of them are conventionally successful, achieve within the scope of their story relationships which are satisfyingly deep, whole, or compassionate. The first part, dealing with love, shows young men searching for something which usually turns out to be little more than a sexual encounter. The next section concerns “war” — really, careers and the struggle for various degrees of wealth and power. And when we come to the final stories, we find our protagonists reluctant to leave the field of battle, leaving many life issues unresolved.

So why did I like this book? Besides being very artfully done and extremely intelligent and readable, it managed to convey the feeling that, although most of these characters fell short of the kind of transcendence we might want in a short story, that transcendence could have been reached. That these interesting and complex men somehow always just miss that potential for self-knowledge and wisdom struck me as almost tragic. Indeed, whenever I can call something Shakespearean, I think it’s pretty special. And, near the end of the last story, an elderly man, despairing his aging body and the loss of his political power, just avoids his moment of epiphany during a potentially life-altering encounter with his beloved daughter, Cordelia.

To request a copy, click here.

Review by Deb Burleson, Circulation Staff

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