Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Literally the Best Reviews - Ordinary Hazards

 Ordinary Hazards - Anna Bruno

Atria Books

272 Pages

I must confess that I absolutely judge a book by its cover. Not only the actual cover, but the summary on the inside flap. The book I am reviewing today almost didn’t make it because of the first part. But then I read the flap, and there was a reprieve from being put back on the shelf. I am a sucker for novels that explore the human spirit, and the summary for Ordinary Hazards by Anna Bruno deserves all the credit. Then when I got to sit down and read it, I realized that judging a book solely by its cover is stupid.

This novel takes place in a neighborhood bar that would win no awards, but it’s the place that all the townies congregate. It’s off the beaten path which suits the locals just fine. Every town has one. You know where they are. The course of the book takes place over five or six hours in one evening, with extensive flashbacks to build the backstory.

Emma takes her usual place at the bar, alone and tired of all that’s happened in her life. Her business partner is hounding her to take her call, and she’s wondering whether it’s all been worth it. She bemoans her divorce as it was her ex-husband who brought her to this town. Everything around her reminds her of him and their time together. Yet, there are things tying her to the place that she can’t simply shake off.

What starts out as a normal evening ends up changing the lives of everyone in the bar. As each hour progresses, more and more of Emma’s story is revealed, as well as the relationships between all the regulars. They all have played a part in the melancholy that has dragged Emma to the barstool in some way. 

Friendships and relationships are strained by events in the past, leading to a moment at the end of the evening that finally breaks some of those ties while strengthening others. What is Emma’s story? Why is she almost afraid to live? Can she find her way back to happiness? Those are the questions that will chase the reader through the pages. Her life has taken several abrupt turns to bring her to this moment. Will she be able to overcome this adversity and find happiness once again?

This novel is all about the characters and the relationships between them. It explores how they grow, how they share, and sometimes how they simply drift away. Tragedy is the current underlying all of these connections. How those moments affect them defines the development of each character. 

As Emma’s story unfolds, the reader vacillates between empathy, anger, and happiness. One of the things I really liked about this novel was Emma taking a look at her fellow drinkers in the bar, remembering a story about them that had an influence on her. It made all them, Emma and the other characters, that more real. 

Emma wallows through the tragedy that has brought her to this particular moment. All the while, events are unfolding around her that brings her life into stark focus. The events snowball around her until she is faced with her own happiness and mortality. Isn’t this how real life works? A single event can change your life in an instant. How you react to the sudden change can define you as a person. And Emma is faced with exactly that scenario.

Ordinary Hazards by Anna Bruno is practically a case study in human spirit and emotion. It breaks down the string of events that bring a person to a specific point at a specific moment in time. It explores the decisions that could have been made, and the ones that maybe shouldn’t have. It has Emma second guessing herself. We all do these things when confronted by live changing moments. Bruno writes these characters so realistically that they seem to only wait for the invitation to walk right off the printed page into the real world.

There are some harsh scars in this novel that have no easy resolution. Whether the bandage is just ripped off or gently attempted to be removed, there is still going to be pain. Emma’s pain is palpable as you read. Because of that, this book moves quickly and will satisfy the reader as she finally makes the decision that will help her heal. 

If you’re like me and like to read about incredible people, even if they’re fictitious, Ordinary Hazards would be a great one to pick up. This is Anna Bruno’s first novel. I hope there are many more. I will eagerly await each one.

Craig Bacon has dreams of writing a novel a lot like this one. He would probably set it in his local town, which opens up a lot of potential.