Ordinary Hazards, Anna Bruno’s debut novel, takes a deep dive into grief, love, loss, and family. The novel examines how a person’s every decision impacts the direction and future of their life. I found the book extremely moving and a powerful study into human emotions, reactions, and resilience.
The Final Final is the kind of bar that doesn’t exist in cites, a peculiarity of a small town that has seen better days. It is so called because it’s the last bar on the edge of town. The final stop after the final stop: The Final Final.
It is 5 PM and Emma has settled into her hometown bar for the evening, nine months after her divorce from Lucas, a man she met in this very room on a blind date orchestrated by the very locals who now surround her. As she observes their banter and reminisces, key facts about her history begin to emerge, and the past comes bearing down on her like a freight train.
Why has Emma, a powerhouse in the business world, ended up here? What is she running away from? And what is she willing to give up in order to recapture the love she has lost? As she teeters on the edge of oblivion, becoming more booze-soaked by the hour, Emma’s night begins to spin out of control.
A meditation on contemporary love, loss, and the place we call home, and in the tradition of Ask Again, Yes and Little Fires Everywhere, Ordinary Hazards follows Emma’s epic night of finding her way back to a life worth living.
I loved this book! The story spans a single night and each chapter is another hour, another drink, another memory that haunts our protagonist, Emma. The daughter of wealthy parents, Emma has always strived to be the best at everything. She graduated from Harvard and took a Wall Street job just like she was supposed to. However, this is short lived, and Emma moves to a little town where the locals never leave. The ones that do all seem to return and gather at the local watering hole, The Final Final.
Emma spends her evening sitting at the bar and observing those around her sipping their drinks, having conversations, picking on one another, and reflecting on what has brought her to this very moment. As the clock ticks on she recalls many life-altering decisions that set her on a path of love, loss, and despair. Emma met the love of her life, Lucas, at this very bar. Little did they know tragedy would strike and tear them apart.
Each chapter reveals something new to the reader about Emma. We learn about the complicated relationship she has with her father and her need for his approval. Their relationship, or lack thereof, plagues Emma and influences many of her decisions. We witness Emma and Lucas’ love story and realize that she’s yet to let him go. She sits at the bar hoping for the slightest mention of his name, an update, no matter how minor, that can clue her in to how he’s doing. Each chapter contains flashbacks that divulge what caused the separation and resulted in Emma’s sad state of mind. Even though Emma’s vision is hazy after many drinks, she is seeing clearly for the first time. She’s confronting the fact that she may have been away when tragedy struck, but her decisions were most certainly a contributing factor.
Readers also feel the rising tensions between Emma and the other patrons, most of which were Lucas’ friends before she ever came to town. The cast of characters is eclectic – a mentally unstable doctor, a drug-dealing, single father, a young girl that knows far too much at such a young age, a washed-up diner cook, and a quiet barmaid. Each character is a string tethering Emma’s past to her present. I loved these characters and learning their backstories. Bruno does a fantastic job developing the characters and making each one an important piece of the puzzle. She mastered the slow burn leading up to the inevitable boiling over of tensions. Bruno crafted flawed characters in a way that still makes them likeable and relatable. We’ve all experienced anguish, despair, and loss and that’s why the characters are so memorable.
The bar itself, The Final Final, is a great setting! It symbolizes the last stop in the grieving process and is somewhat cathartic. So much has happened inside the bar and so many memories were created there. It only makes sense that the bar would provide the final release of grief. The last exhale of a breath held for too long.
I didn’t really know what I was in for when I started this book, but now that I’ve finished I know it will stay with me for a long time. The grief process is different for everyone and Bruno wrote about it beautifully. Every story climaxed at the same time and ended with each person exorcising their inner demons. While this is a heavy read, it is a very important one. All of us are guilty of bottling up regrets, pushing down our emotions, and putting a smile on our face. Ordinary Hazards shows us that confronting our emotions is the only way to continue moving forward with our lives. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of deep character development and books that teach us a little more about ourselves.
Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the advanced reading eBook in exchange for my honest review.
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