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How to Survive a Natural Disaster by Margaret Hawkins
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How to Survive a Natural Disaster


"I didn't speak until I was seven. I didn't feel the need," May tells us on one page of How to Survive a Natural Disaster, a story of family rivalry, betrayal, violence and forgiveness told in six voices. May, the strange, silent orphan brought to a leafy suburb north of Chicago at six months old to mend the lives of a troubled family, might not talk, but as her Grandma Jack observes, "That baby studies people."

Next we hear from May's parents, her sister, her dog and Phoebe, their agoraphobic neighbor who is the one who finally must rise to the occasion when May decides to take matters into their own hands.

As each character makes a case for his or own side of the story the reader learns that blood ties aren't what make a family and that sometimes survival is only possible through forgiveness.


"Hawkins follows her winning debut, A Year of Cats and Dogs (2009), with an even more arresting work, a droll and unnerving novel of extreme familial dysfunction. At the center of the vortex is Roxanne, a failed artist who married wealth only to end up emotionally impoverished and divorced. She barely feels connected to precocious April, her perfect blond daughter, instead lavishing her toxic love on May, a baby she adopts in Peru after precipitously marrying Craig, a sexy going-nowhere artist her flinty poker-playing mother tags instantly as a rogue. But Craig is a great cook, and he likes the kids, even May, who turns out to be a strangely watchful child who never speaks nor smiles at humans. Each character—including reclusive textbook-editor neighbor Phoebe; Mr. Cosmo, the three-and-a-half-legged Weimaraner; and time-bomb May—takes turns narrating in a round of increasingly alarming testimonials that reveals dangerous levels of selfishness, neurosis, psychic damage, and rage. Hawkins has created an unusually incisive, rapid-fire, percussively hilarious, caustically dark, and piquantly pleasurable tale of tragic domestic mayhem and incremental redemption."

Radio Interview