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Pretend All Your Life

1 rating: 4.0
A book by Joseph L. Mackin

Mackin's bleak debut traces six disastrous days in the life of Dr. Richard Gallin, a plastic surgeon living in post-9/11 New York City. Gallin is besieged on all fronts: his practice is hemorrhaging money, his personal life is in shambles, he is the … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Joseph L. Mackin
Publisher: Permanent Press
1 review about Pretend All Your Life

Sometimes we're not who we tell the world we are

  • Apr 12, 2010
Not too long ago I read Saturday, a novel by Ian McEwan that details the events of a single day. I really loved it. When I read that the events in Joseph Mackin's Pretend All Your Life take place over just six days, I found myself wondering how it would compare. When I started to read, I realized it compares very well.

The protagonist in both books is a medical professional, but Joseph Mackin's protagonist, Dr. Gallin, is a plastic surgeon rather than a neurosurgeon. The novel reflects this specialty from the myriad surfaces of thoughts, lives and events that it depicts--sharp surfaces that cut, and mirrors that reflect. As New York struggles with its own new face in the aftermath of 9/11, so Dr. Gallin searches for identity among the people and purposes surrounding him. Is it all about appearances, or do appearances shape truth?

Gallin once told his son "Pretend to be a thing all your life and at the end that's what you'll have been..." But what if you change what you're pretending? What if someone makes the pretence impossible? And what if what you've pretended turns out not to be what you want?

The doctor shapes people's bodies because what's on the outside really does matter. But terrorists have reshaped New York. Death has reshaped the lives of survivors. Sickness reshapes security and threats change the shape of hope. Meanwhile a woman sculpts a form that might be her best piece of work, and waits for art itself to define its completion.

Perhaps that's what Gallin's waiting for too in this six-day pause before the future.

The end of the book seemed surprisingly abrupt, newly sculpted changes, deliberate and accidental, suddenly coming to fruition. But then, change often is abrupt, and escape might be a new beginning or simply the next turn in the road. It felt right, and I put the book down with a sigh.

I enjoyed reading this book. I liked the way the author made me view identity, and the way he juxtaposed large themes and small. The weight of fate felt similar to many of Ian McEwan's books, but an underlying lightness of touch made me think of McEwan's world relieved by penthouse sun and well-placed art. This was a very satisfying novel, deeply intriguing, curiously thought-provoking, and a really good tale.

So now I've reviewed three books from the Permanent Press, and I've loved them all. I have a feeling I'll soon be guaranteeing that I'll really enjoy anything they publish - I'll be raiding the library for last year's books, and the year before's...

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