From the P.S. Section of Simon Van Booy's collection of short stories, Love Begins in Winter, I learned he's a solitary writer. Not that writing isn't always a solitary act, but that he actively heads out of town and travels alone specifically so he can conceptualize a story before he puts it down on paper. His writing embodies the nature of this travel -- it's touched with the insights of a keen observer but not without a haunting sense of loneliness, one that informs every character that comes alive throughout the five stories.
Each has its basis in a love story, whether it's traditional or parental, love in its various forms remains the central theme of each piece. Entire lives are defined by it, or the absence of it, and as his characters come to find it, unexpectedly in most cases, love changes them in not-so subtle ways. Setting informs every inch of this book -- it's rich in its description, from the rain on the streets of Sweden to the snow in Quebec, you get the feeling that the author, and not just the characters, have walked the streets, lain in the cold white sheets of the hotels, and explored every inch of what's detailed.
Poets have such a way with prose. I know we take that forgranted, that poets actually know what to do with language, but sometimes they stumble over the longer form (I'm sorry Anne Michaels, I am sorry to say that outloud; I know you are beloved), and get lost in trying to find the right words. And yes, what Van Booy does with language is breathtaking. I'm forever impressed by writers who can create a vivid character, a vivacious situation, with just one sentence, and this book was full of moments that made me hand the book over to my RRHB and say, "see, THIS is how I feel."
I'm a romantic at heart. I wept at the sickly-sweet ending of the utterly terrible He's Just Not That Into You. I stumble over cliches of chicklit, and often find myself welling up even though I know I've read it all before. But here, in Love Begins in Winter, I've never come across love in quite this way before -- never stretched it out like a road underneath a motorcycle or jumped with it off a cliff as a backstory, and it's refreshing to see how it changes Van Booy's characters when it appears in front of them whether they're expecting it or not. Walter the Irish-Romany's knees get a little weak but pages later you see how true love vests itself into his life. George gets a letter in the mail and it changes his life forever, and for the better. And if you're patient, and read this book slowly, carefully, you can't help but get swept away in the romance of it all, at least I couldn't.
READING CHALLENGES: The "Summer is Short. Read a Story." challenge for work. Next up is actually trying to finish Sarah Waters' latest novel, and hoping that it doesn't continue to put me to sleep at the turn of every single page. Zzzzzzzz. Wait? What?
NOT FOR A WHOLE POST, BUT STILL: Speaking of romantics, I finished Gemma Townley's latest novel, A Wild Affair (#35) and have to admit that I wasn't as enamoured as I usually am with her books. The plot seemed really contrived and her usual way of writing smart situations within a genre that really exploits cliches just wasn't there. On the whole, I'm not sure if the Jessica Wild character is someone to hang a series of novels upon, and the "twist" felt more like a plot necessity than a life-shattering event. However, I still adore her, and highly recommend her chicklit as a cut above many of the other writers attempting the same kind of fiction.