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Review: Death Is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca

[ 7 ] July 10, 2011 |

Reviewed by Caitlin Busch

I nearly knew what I was getting into when I picked up Death Is Not an Option. The book’s synopsis and jacket agreed we would explore “a world where sexuality and self-delusion collide.” In fact, it delves deep into the psyche and pushes the imagination beyond where some readers may want to go. At times, the text pulled me in so far that I struggled to remember Death was about “a” world, not “the” world. It is a testament to the author’s craftsmanship to say I was carried away, despite my efforts to the contrary.

That is not to say it was a pleasant read! No story in this collection is able to see innocence; in fact, none make the attempt. Rivecca has a great ability, but writes with an unmistakable edge. (Take, for example, her open letter to Anne Lamott.) She has no reservations about exposing the jealous and futile world which Death inhabits. That she makes no apology may immediately alienate or overpower the reader. It would be no surprise to learn the stories in her debut fiction collection came in part (or wholly) from Rivecca’s own experiences working in social services or elsewhere in her personal life.

Every selection in Death Is Not an Option explores the expanse of imagination and its effects on the human psyche. The different narrators are inner-directed or stunted in some way, so they compensate through various modes of story-telling and manipulation. Each must find escape or face their lies, whether competing with or outgrowing old friends, perfecting emotional dismissal or coming to terms with bitterness and the desire for validation. The reader who pays close attention to Death’s secondary characters will be rewarded with a clearer picture of reality.

Then there’s the particularly raw subject matter in the selection titled “Very Special Victims.” Some readers may find the overt treatment of incest and pedophilia unsettling; admittedly, I was neither pleased nor surprised when it finally came up. I did appreciate Rivecca’s subsequent truth-seeking as she explored the changes a family must make when sexual abuse is uncovered. She adroitly revisited the breadth and depth of imagination in her descriptions of the brutal cycles of chicken-and-egg faced by a now-grown victim of abuse.

Critically speaking, Rivecca should be honored for digging deeply and putting her discoveries to page with such conviction. Her technical talents are obvious in close reading – and that’s just the trouble with Death Is Not an Option! I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book to an average reader. Someone whose casual reading list includes Beloved or As the Crow Flies may be better equipped to deal with Rivecca’s creation than one who leans toward Jane Austen or Jane Green. This book will push you well beyond your comfort zone… Proceed with caution!

Rating: 4/5

Caitlin is a fiction writer who also dabbles in poetry, creative nonfiction and acrylic painting. When not reading, she enjoys hiking, cooking and spending time with friends and pets. She earned her B.A. in English from the University of Portland and currently resides in Louisiana.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by W. W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Category: Anthologies, Genre Fiction, Literature & Fiction, Short Stories

Comments (7)

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  1. 7
    Mare says:

    It sounds interesting. I love a book that’s well written and can push me at the same time. That said, i would probably wait until the fall to read it. I don’t know if it just goes back to school days and summers on the beach, but I tend to read just quick and easy reads during the summer.

  2. 6
    FHC says:

    being one of the readers who leans toward JA, this reviewer’s warning to proceed with caution is appreciated and point well taken! thank you,Caitlin. not that there isn’t time or place for indepth reading, but it does help to know book content in order to choose when and where to include such reading material… congrats to Rivecca on her ability to express her learnings to advantage and assist readers undergoing the journeys she so capably discusses.

  3. 5
    Na says:

    I would love to say that every review drives me to try a book, or at the very least to keep it on my radar and more tangibly to add it to my ever-growing to-be read pile. That will not be happening with DEATH IS NOT AN OPTION and has nothing to do with its literary value. I haven’t read it and my opinion is not informed but it is instinctive and based on my personal preference. Just not my cup of tea folder. Even without reading the review, the cover and title did not appeal to me. I did get the sense that it was the type of book where its meaningfulness is to be found beyond the surface. Read the title, think about it a little, look at the illustration on the cover and debate that further. Interesting to come across, but not enough to lure me in and the review re-affirmed it for me.

  4. 4
    Michelle says:

    I just wanted to say “hi” – I’m a new follower. My blog is if you want to visit. Have a great week!

  5. 3
    Colleen Turner says:

    I am not sure if I am in the right mindset at this time to read this one. I have worked in an alternative school (where kids kicked out of the regular school system had to work their way through our behavioral program before being integrated back into the general school population) and on the juvenile ward of a Behavioral Health Center, and reading the charts and background for many of the kids nearly broke my heart. I have read it all, from abuse of every kind to downright abandonment and manipulation, and I knew when I had my own son I could not raise him properly and continue to work within these settings. I cried almost every day when I came home from work and it just couldn’t continue. I am afraid reading this might bring up some bad memories and more heartache, but that doesn’t mean I want read it at some point. I think it is good to push yourself and to never forget, I am just not sure if “happy, relaxed summer time” is the time to do it. Thanks for the review!

  6. 2
    Carol Wong says:

    This would not fun to read but I would want to. Except for overly horrific books, I like books that push me out of my comfort zone. I was curious so I looked this one up on and read the first pages of the book. The author is very talented. She wrote the story like the way kid think. I was hooked immediately. In fact, the character named Claire in that story seemed the embodiment of someone I knew from 7th grade on. She wanted everyone to call her “toothpick”, she was so proud of her ironing board figure. She picked me to pick on. I was her game. Then she was horrified that we had to share a locker together.

    Carol Wong

  7. 1
    Bethie says:

    I don’t know if this one is for me right now. I usually read much lighter stuf in the summer. It is so hard to read anything deep with the kids around. Perhaps I will give it a try when the kids go back to school in the fall. I’ll put it on my list for later this year. Thanks for the review.

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