Daily Archives: June 28, 2010

The Secret Lives of People in Love – Book Review

Love reveals the beauty of seemingly trivial things – a pair of shoes, an empty wine glass, an open drawer, cracks on the avenue. – from The World Laughs in Flowers, page 48 of The Secret Lives of People in Love –

Simon Van Booy weaves tales of ordinary people and makes them extraordinary in this collection of nineteen short stories. What appears trivial, is revealed to be monumental in the lives of his characters … all of whom have secrets they keep from those around them. As with his other published collection, Van Booy writes stories in poetic, intricate language which draws the reader in.

My favorite story in the collection is perhaps the shortest story at only three pages. In The Reappearance of Strawberries, a man’s deathbed becomes a reminiscence of love in France sparked by the joy of sweet strawberries.

Eight stories above the infamous rue de Vaugirard, the man in the ninth bed of the Bonnard Hospital ward had requested nothing but strawberries for several day. For most of that Tuesday afternoon all that could be heard were the tiny hands and feet of rain against the window. – from The Reappearance of Strawberries, page 11 of The Secret Lives of People in Love –

Van Booy takes the reader to New York City in several of his stories, relating the immigrant experience from a very personal point of view. A Russian man living in Brooklyn finds himself contemplating marriage to an American girl, but he harbors a secret from when he served on a Russian submarine. This secret fills him with guilt. Before he can move forward in his life and in his relationship, he must face his demons; and as the tale unfolds, the secret is revealed.

All seas are one sea. Every ocean holds hands with another. Although I have a job in Brooklyn, and I even have a girlfriend called Mina, part of my soul is in Russia. If I can brave the sea one last time – just up to my chest – I know that I may be reunited with myself. – from As Much Below as Up Above, page 14 of The Secret Lives of People in Love –

The themes of loss and redemption are common in this collection. For many of the characters, their secrets keep them tethered to guilt. In Distant Ships a father living in a small village in Wales chooses to become mute when tragedy steals his son from him. His days are monotonous as he gets up each day to work in a warehouse. He mourns his son and the wife who has moved to America but never divorced him. Van Booy’s ability to capture grief and loss is amazing – and he does so with few words.

Sometimes I time my walk to coincide with the three o’clock school bell. Children gush into the playground like hot water and into the arms of their parents. I would give everything, even memory – especially memory – if I could hold Leo again. The weight of his absence is the weight of the entire world. – from Distant Ships, page 68 of The Secrets of People in Love –

I also found myself being pleasantly surprised by some of Van Booy’s stories. In Snow Falls and Then Disappears the opening sentence reads:

My wife is deaf. Once she asked me if snow made a sound when it fell and I lied. We have been married twelve years today, and I am leaving her. – from Snow Falls and Then Disappears, page 77 in The Secret Lives of People in Love –

Because of those first sentences, I thought I knew where this story was going – but as with so much of Van Booy’s prose, the story takes an unusual turn I was not expecting.

There were a couple of stories which had me scratching my head a bit – Some Bloom in Darkness is one of them. In this story Sabone, who works at the railroad station, witnesses a woman being abused. This event has a huge impact on him – specifically, he begins to lust after a manikin in a store window. I won’t tell you how the story ends, but suffice it to say, this one was a bit bizarre.

Despite sometimes feeling a little lost as to the meaning of certain stories, overall Van Booy’s debut short story collection is astonishing and satisfying. Poetic, spare, and showing insight into the human condition, Van Booy’s writing is a treat.

Those who love the art of the short story will want to add this book to their reading list. Van Booy does not disappoint.


**FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

Mailbox Monday – June 28, 2010

Another Monday…and another Mailbox Monday (hosted each week by Marcia at The Printed Page).

No matter how disciplined I try to be, books keep finding their way onto my shelves…and this week was no different.

Here is what arrived on my doorstep over the last seven days:

I requested Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman  (due for release in July from Doubleday) through a Shelf Awareness offer. This novel is set on the coast of Maine over the course of four summers and connects the stories of two families. There is something about books set in New England coupled with family sagas and secrets that call out to me. Red Hook Road is actually a follow up novel to a previous book by this author (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits), which I have not yet read. Khaled Hosseini says this about Red Hook Road: “A thoroughly gripping and elegantly written story about love, grief, friendship, and the unexpected ways in which disaster brings families together. The novel is chockfull of revelations and insights on how people both unravel and manage to find grace under strain.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of two previous novels. She has also had her work published in the New York Times, Elle, Vogue and other magazines and journals. You might remember the fallout that Waldman faced when she wrote in an essay that she loved her husband more than her children – later she published her memoir Bad Mother and was interviewed on NPR (where she spoke about the controversy). Waldman is married to novelist Michael Chabon and they live in Berkeley, California with their four children. Learn more about Waldman and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Rebecca from Viking/Penguin emailed me a pitch I could not turn down, and so I now have The Doctor and The Diva by Adrienne McDonnell lined up for review this summer (the book is set for release in July). This debut novel is a “tale of passionate love affairs, dangerous decisions, and a woman’s irreconcilable desires as she is forced to choose between the child she has always longed for and the opera career she cannot live without.” Doesn’t this sound like a fantastic summertime read? The book is set in the early 1900s and moves from Boston to a coconut plantation on the island of Trinidad to the remote rivers of South America and to the opera stages of Florence. Called “lush,” “haunting,” and “absorbing,” The Doctor and the Diva portrays the life of a woman who dares to want it all.

Adrienne McDonnell has taught literature and fiction writing at UC Berkeley and led writing workshops at both Berkeley and Adult Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She lives near San Francisco. The Doctor and the Diva is her first novel. Check out the author’s website for more information.

I also found myself browsing the sale shelves at Barnes and Noble this week and could not resist picking up two books which I’ve been interested in reading for awhile now:

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (Atria Books 2009) – A crime novel set in the 1950s in apartheid South Africa, this novel got some fantastic reviews when it was first released. This is Nunn’s debut, but her sequel to the book (Let the Dead Lie) was releases in paperback in April 2010 through Washington Square Press. Read more about Nunn on the publisher’s page.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central Publishing 2008) – Another debut novel, this time set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. A thriller and page turner, here is another book which excited reviewers when it was released. Smith has since published his second book – The Secret Speech (available in paperback May 2010). Read more about Smith and his work on the author’s website.

And for those of who read my Sunday Salon post yesterday, you’ll see I also found some amazing books (at great prices) in the yard sales on Saturday!

What books came into YOUR house this week?