Friday, June 29, 2012

Brand New Human Being

Brand New Human Being
Emily Jeanne Miller
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
272 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

I have got to say - really, I absolutely MUST SAY - that I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

Reading Brand New Human Being is kind of like watching a supermodel slip and fall on the runway, knocking out one of her teeth. You are filled with a mixture of horror, gratitude that it isn't you, and a wee tad of schadenfreude, because, let's face it, who doesn't like seeing other people miserable? So long as it isn't you, right?

Or maybe that's just me.

Here we have Logan August Pyle, whose father, Gus, died four months earlier, leaving behind a young widow (Bennie, only four years older than Logan) who got all of Gus's cash and the lake cabin. Logan was left with his boyhood home, a tract of land that other people want and are willing to pay for but which yields no monetary satisfaction for Logan, only a sense that he's safeguarding his father's legacy. Oh, and a watch he can't find - Logan was left that, too.

Logan's wife, Julie, works for a law firm, and by "works," I mean she WORKS. All the time. She's rarely home, and when she is, she is focused nearly solely on her and Logan's four-year-old son, Owen. Logan, meanwhile, was supposed to complete his dissertation and become a doctor of literature, but with Julie's pregnancy and the death of his father, well, you know how these things happen. They don't happen - that's what happens.

The real problem for Logan is that he is fast becoming a spectator in his own life.

I stand there, seemingly paralyzed, looking down. Julie's on her side, one bare shoulder uncovered, and Owen's back is pressed against her front, her arm wrapped around him and her hand tucked under his chin, and he clasps the hand with both of his, as if in prayer. Outside it's begun to rain, hard, and raindrops slide down the windows, changing the light to liquid as it passes through the panes and collects on the bed, where the two of them lie curled together in such a way that it's hard to tell where mother end and child begins. Is this hell or is it heaven? I have no idea.

Logan loves his son, and he loves his wife, but he's jealous of both of them. He's jealous of a lot of people, even if he can't see it himself. His father was destroyed by a cancer that ate him up for four years, and Logan is being consumed by a disease as well: inactivity. He can't even rake his lawn, much less work on his marriage and fatherhood.

But then one day, he catches Julie in an apparent compromising position, and he leaves. He grabs Owen and heads to the lake cottage where Bennie lives. Lest you think he heals, you would be wrong. Things go from awful to horrible. At one point, he "baptizes" both Owen and himself, believing that the two of them can be brand new. But when an adult is baptized, he accepts his shortcomings, professes faith that they can be corrected, and surges forth, determined to be a better person. In Logan's case, he believes other people need more improvement than he does.

This is a funny, sweet, sad story, and I enjoyed it so much. Logan does some awful things - so does Julie, for that matter - and there are times you want to wring his neck. But you can't help but like him, and that's a testament to Emily Jeanne Miller's writing. She creates characters who are pretty unlikeable, but she inspires us to like them anyway.

Give this book a try. It's a quick read, and worth every minute.

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