&Review: All Stories are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer

All Stories are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer. Publisher: Harper March 2016

All Stories are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer. Publisher: Harper March 2016

The Book Itself: Again, another simple cover. The heartbeat monitor in the background is nice, but not enough to really set this cover apart.

My Review: In this thoughtful, mesmerizing tale with echoes of Station Eleven, the author of An Uncommon Education follows a group of survivors thrown together in the aftermath of two major earthquakes that strike San Francisco within an hour of each other—an achingly beautiful and lyrical novel about the power of nature, the resilience of the human spirit, and the enduring strength of love.

On Valentine’s Day, two major earthquakes strike San Francisco within the same hour, devastating the city and its primary entry points, sparking fires throughout, and leaving its residents without power, gas, or water.

Among the disparate survivors whose fates will become intertwined are Max, a man who began the day with birthday celebrations tinged with regret; Vashti, a young woman who has already buried three of the people she loved most . . . but cannot forget Max, the one man who got away; and Gene, a Stanford geologist who knows far too much about the terrifying earthquakes that have damaged this beautiful city and irrevocably changed the course of their lives.

As day turns to night and fires burn across the city, Max and Vashti—trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium—must confront each other and face the truth about their past, while Gene embarks on a frantic search through the realization of his worst nightmares to find his way back to his ailing lover and their home.

I picked up this book on a whim: I really liked the title. As I read it, it dawned on me that I was reading about a fictional (though very possible) devastating earthquake that cripples San Francisco….about a week after my best friend and I purchased show tickets and started planning a long weekend in San Francisco for this fall…

Maybe not my best idea. I’m not freaking out and cancelling reservations or anything, but the book does offer a sobering snapshot of a disaster zone, and the very human moments that occur amidst the chaos.

I cannot offer any insight into the scientific or political accuracy of the events that happen in All Stories Are Love Stories. But everything unfolds much the way you’d expect in a disaster film or scary speculative fiction: you get to know the characters, brief snippets of their backstories, their relationships with their families and loved ones, their actions as they move through their last day before the earthquakes. And then disaster strikes and even though you knew it was going to happen – the earthquakes are clearly outlined in the novel’s synopsis – the scenes that unfold afterward are still heartbreaking and even horrifying at times.

And yet…I’m still a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. I tend to be this way about books and movies created solely, it seems, to elicit an emotional response: all they want to do is make you sad. I sound like a heartless robot now, but there is just something…almost manipulative about a tear-jerker. Sometimes they sacrifice true character or plot development for another emotional twist. I particularly dislike Nicolas Sparks’ books and movies for this very reason. Although All Stories are Love Stories is no Nicolas Sparks: it is better written and has a speculative, human interest bent to it.

Max and Vashti had a beautiful, tragic love together in their past. The reason they broke up, and what each of them did while they were apart is a heartbreaking study of love in and of itself. When they are trapped beneath rubble post-earthquake, they are forced to unpack their feelings about what happen. You do root for them, and their situation is so wrought with conflict that you’re not sure how you would have handled it either.

Gene is a geologist stumbling home to get to his ailing partner post-quakes. He more or less knew these quakes were coming, and soon, and the guilt he feels about that and his fear for those around him make him an interesting character to follow. It is smart for Percer to include him as a character because 1) he brings insight to the earthquakes and the aftermath they wreck on a city like San Francisco. I might not be able to understand some of the science, but a character who can put it into layman’s terms is a good voice to have in the novel, and 2) even I would have become very bored if all of the novel’s action was trapped beneath the rubble with Max and Vashti.

There is also a rather confusing side story involving kids from a children’s choir that Max directs, and a nun and priest from an unusual religious order. The book alternates between these three perspectives, and I definitely think the kids/nun/priest perspective is the weakest. Overall the scenes involving them are confusing – I often lost track of who was speaking – and I thought the other two perspectives were much more compelling.

The pace also kind of lagged for me as well. I don’t think it was a bad book, or a bad story at all. In fact, most of the writing was quite beautiful, and the stories of the characters involved were certainly sad and complex. I’m just not sure this was quite my cup of tea. I would recommend it for those of you who like a good, emotionally-wrought story, though. A final twist at the end really sucker punches you in the heart. Even a stone-cold, robotic heart like mine, apparently 😉

My Grade: C+

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