Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Secret Lives of People in Love

I read a highly favorable review of Simon Van Booy's short story collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love, in The Los Angeles Times and felt so intrigued that I bought the book and began reading it the same day. The reviewer wondered what Van Booy could do next, since he had created such a perfect first book.

Each story in this collection is mesmerizing. I looked forward to sitting outside on my lunch hour and reading while sitting on a bench under a large tree. There are lines that took my breath away.

A man who is afraid to venture out to the American sea after experiencing a horrific tragedy in Russia writes:
"All seas are one sea. Every ocean holds hands with another" (p. 14).

In the opening to another story, the narrator tells us:
"Each year is like putting a new coat over all the old ones. Sometimes I reach into the pockets of my childhood and pull things out" (p. 1).

A man writes of his mother who abandoned him:
"I barely remember her, but I am still in love with her ghost" (p. 93).

A man who has stopped speaking for twenty years after the death of his son says:
"I've lived so long without the pain of language. My life is a letter with no address" (p. 67).

Each story in this volume carries a deep sadness, but the writing is so extraordinary that the reader is left with an experience of the horrible beauty in tragedy. The stories are also not without hope. What is most prominent is the mystical found in the everyday.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Indepedent Woman

Alice Steinbach's Without Reservations will appeal to many women, or men, who desire a break from their everyday routines. It is also for those who feel they have lost touch with their true selves. This is not, however, a "roughing it" type story, since Steinbach has enough money to take a leave from work for many months and stay in average to above average accommodations.

Steinbach travels to France, England, and Italy. She writes so well that I often felt I was traveling right along with her. Steinbach has interested me enough to pick up her other book, Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman, in the future. She has also made Freya Stark, an earlier woman traveler, an intriguing figure. Steinbach discovers Stark while on her travels and refers to her often throughout this combination memoir and travel book.

Without Reservations also reads like a spiritual journey, especially due to the solitary nature of Steinbach's travels. I recommend it!