Monday, May 10, 2010


Review: The many faces of love

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The Secret Lives of People in Love—the very title of this book drew me to it. It’s the first short story collection of author Simon Van Booy. His stories all have one thing in common, and in case you couldn’t figure it out by the title, yes, it’s love. He writes about love between friends, between strangers, between couples, between parent and child. And the stories are set all over the place—New York, Paris, Kentucky (random choice, I agree).

I don’t read too many story collections; I think the only others I have read lately have been by Jill McCorkle (and you know my love for her). As far as this one goes, I found the stories to be either hit or miss. A couple of them really stuck with me, and some of them I can’t even remember now. “As Much Below as Up Above” was the most memorable to me. It’s about an ex-serviceman in the Russian Navy who, by the luck of the draw, avoided the tragic accident that took the lives of his crewmen. Another favorite is titled “Where They Hide is a Mystery” and about a boy who finds consolation from a stranger in Central Park after his mother’s death. I kept waiting for the happy love story that ends happily ever after about the passionate couple that can’t live without each other. But, it never came.

It’s not that Van Booy’s stories are dark; they just always have a catch—something that causes a little pain and spoils the perfect ending (with the exception of maybe one or two). In this regard, I guess they’re very real, and I never felt like the stories were repeating themselves. The author created a lot of unique scenarios. [Though, I caught him using the phrase "saddest-happiest day" in more than one story!] Van Booy writes a lot of those one-liners that beg to be underlined while reading because they’re poignant and perfectly describe the emotion. Phrases like:

“…I would randomly take pictures of nothing in particular. How else could you record life as it happens.” —Little Birds, p. 2

“It had bent slightly by supporting her. It was crooked with the weight of her love.” —Where They Hide is a Mystery, p. 31

“I’ve lived so long without the pain of language. My life is a letter with no address.” — Distant Ships, p. 67

My advice to you: don’t rush through these. [I tried not to but when you're stuck indoors avoiding a monsoon of pollen and have only one book to read, it's hard to resist turning pages.] After a while, the poetic language takes a turn towards trite, and I think these stories are intended to be moments beautifully captured, enjoyed individually and over and over again. Take your time and you’ll get a lot more out of it.

Review copy provided by publisher.


2 comments:

softdrink said…

You only had one book to read?!? Just the thought makes me all jittery and wanting to make a run to the bookstore.

Kari said…

Hahaha, yes. I had planned on spending the whole day outside not reading, and I wasn't at my apartment.