Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Roundabout Way of Talking of Love, Memories, and Happiness--Reading Simon Van Booy

I recently completed the short story collection Love Begins in Winter. It was first recommended to me by my Boston library friends Michael and Scot. Then we did a popular display featuring the Perennial series where classic stories included a new author's work at the end, one of them was Simon Van Booy's.

Then a few good customer's read the book and recommended it to me.

Then it won the Frank O'Connor award for best short story collection. Compared to all the other short story collection awards (and there are others), it is said to be relatively lucrative, at least in the press release.

So I finally read it. This isn't helping anybody! Publishers want me to read books that haven't come out yet. This book has been out since May and I can't even say "Oh well, I'm preparing for the paperback release." It was a paperback original.

The title story is about a cellist in Quebec whose encounter with a shopkeeper unlocks some powerful memories. It's very impressionistic, and I admit, in my simple way, that I didn't quite understand the details.

"Tiger, Tiger" was next, and its a more straightforward construction of a young woman who meets her boyfriend's mother as his father walks out on the family, and well, there's a connection to a family friend, a pediatrician who had an affair with the mother, and winds up having an influence on the narrator. After a few more, I'm convinced to go back and read the first story. I understand it a bit better. Yes, that's the beauty of stories, they are compact enough to read twice, and often there are often rewards for the effort.

At the end of the collection is Harper's PS section. I'm not a fan of the book group Q&A's at the end of paperbacks. I've yet to find a question I can use in our own in-store lit group (we're reading The Hakawati on Monday, December 7th, 7 PM). However, the source material and interviews in the PS section are often quite enlightening and at least from books I've read, rarely talk down to the reader.

Once your read the books and read that Van Booy's inspiration for stories is place, everything falls into place. He goes somewhere (the expense bill is, I guess, a bit higher than for most story writers) and finds inspiration. What would be the image that would unlock a memory? How would the past play with the present?

I think my favorite story in the collection was The Missing Statues, about a diplomat who encounters a priest in Rome and is reminded of the story of woman's ill-fated trip to Las Vegas with her son and lover (note: it's not his son).

Long reviews are not my specialty--I mostly do 30-second soundbites for presentations and staf rec cards and I usually borrow ideas from other people. Like an aggregator. But I don't think I heard this one before. The experience of reading Love Begins in Winter is much more akin to going to an art museum and studying paintings, probably in the impressionism wing. You step forward, step back, figure out what everyone is looking at, spot images, connections. What do the eyes say? Who seems connected, who is lonely?

I wound up liking the book, and was only sad because my appreciation seemed more often intellectual than emotional. That happense to me in art museums a lot of times too. I'm always jealous of others, who look at a painting and start crying.

It looks like Harper is going to rerelease Van Booy's first collection from Turtle Point Press next year. So then I'll be reading an even older book, and not for in-store book club. What is the world coming to?

1 comment:

Daniel Goldin said...

Cathy, our HarperCollins rep, suggested this lovely post from The New York Times as further reading.