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!
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.