Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik


Jill's take on Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik was another book we picked up on our binge at Powell's in Portland, Oregon. I think Zac grabbed this one and I think I remember sort of being on the fence about it though (obviously) leaning toward purchase when I did my pre-reading at the store.

I started this book after starting to read Lincoln in the Bardo for a second time. Shelter in Place is quite a different book than Lincoln, and I think it took me a bit to clean my brain of the previous experience and fully envelope myself in this one. Does that happen to you? The previous book you read influences how you read your next? It does to me. 

I enjoyed Shelter in Place quite a bit. The characters are all quite flawed but I did (mostly) enjoy the way Maksik dealt with and described the women in the book. The story deals with the main character (Joe) and his relationship with his strong girlfriend Tess, his mother who commits murder and his father who changes his life in the wake of her crime. Joe's world is also turned around by his mother's initial crime and then by Tess's insistence that his mother is a "hero" of sorts and gets Joe embroiled in a plot mimicking his mother's crime.

Shelter in Place is told through the veil of loss and self reflection at the end of a phase of one's life. The reader needs to bear in mind that the stories being told are all memory from one person's view and the biases that go along with that. Joe isn't making revisionist history on purpose, but that's what happens when stories are told, isn't it? We all apply our biases and our opinion onto what we think happened but can never really get to exactly what happened. That exact moment will never exist again. These stories that are told are more about feeling than actual fact telling and I definitely felt the anger, the uncertainty and the angst felt by Joe throughout his life.

Sure, there are moments in the book where I didn't enjoy the language or descriptions or felt like things were pretty thin. Overall, though, I enjoyed reading this book and some of the imagery still remains with me.

Zac's take on Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

There was definitely a masculine vibe to this book, and I tend to not like that so much. There was some serious regret as well, and as a person who doesn't regret things, it's interesting to read about people who do. Although I live with such a person, so I can only take small doses on top of the daily doses. Know what I mean?

Shelter in Place was well written. There were some great descriptions. Even though I read this a few months ago (as mentioned in my review of Station Eleven, I'm 5 book reviews behind!) there are certain scenes that come right back to mind. One of them is a pretty graphic sex scene in a dirty bathroom, complete with choice phrases. While I won't soon forget it, I kinda wish it wasn't there. Or it was there in a different way. It must be hard to write realistically about sex. I've never tried, but I've read enough bad sex scenes to never want to try.

That said, Shelter in Place takes you on an interesting journey of regret and loss and love, all through the point of view of the single male character. The women are interesting but I would have preferred a little perspective from the wife who leaves or from his mom who was in prison for a crime of passion. I guess that's what you could call the murder of a strange man in a grocery parking lot with a hammer.

That's how the novel starts, and it really does hook you. Memory is a fragile thing, so I suppose it's wise that the novel was constructed from the point of view of one person - the other people in his life are dead or have chosen to leave. All he has is himself and his memories as he tries to piece together how he got where he is. he holds on to these memories like the flotsam left over after a ship has sunk - each piece he grasps and examines as if his life depended on it.

And in some ways it does.