By Brian Francis
ISBN No. 978-0-385-67155-2
Most books, once separated by genre, can then be further separated by how they relate to the other books within that genre. In fiction this second separation can sound like a recipe. And so it is with this new novel.
Using ingredients/formats/premises culled from other, recent and popular titles, the first third of a cup of “Natural Order” sounds an awful lot like “Water for Elephants” (the nursing home, the flashback, the sale of a family home), the second full cup sparks worries that “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (a son with secrets, a mother’s iron-clad maternal instinct). And the final teaspoon, well, it’s actually a surprise that I didn’t see coming. The result is a novel that’s quite satisfying – and that’s saying something these days.
No ‘spoiler alert’ here; just a lot of nuance to appreciate: the poignancy of an old Mother’s Day card, the leisurely grind of daily life that turns disappointments into golden-hued memories by virtue of time, and an uncomfortably spot-on illustration of the often difficult mother-son tug-and-push. In the bigger scheme of things “Natural Order” impresses more than the recent titles by such heavyweights as John Irving and Edmund White. Both of those “name” writers boasted their novels were about the whole arc of a person’s life – but their books ended up being a lot like everything they’ve written before (I’m starting to think Irving and White are writing about their own “arcs of life”). Certainly fiction is in a slump and only the rarest of writers can “re-invent the wheel” when it comes to combining the ingredients/formats/premises of popular fiction in a new and novel way. Given that recipe “Natural Order” is an original.