Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review of The Secret Lives of People in Love

The Secret Lives of People in Love: Stories
Simon Van Booy
Harper Perennial
a copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours

The Secret Lives of People in Love is suffused with loneliness and with love. This is a quiet, spare collection that unfolds moments in unexpected ways. These stories are gentle in one moment, and devastating in the next. A few things are striking in these stories: a sense of voice that is confident and unique to this writer; simplicity of structure; sentences that read like lines of poetry. This is a book I would like to carry in my pocket forever.

Exquisite writing carries its own burden. Sometimes a line of writing is so beautiful that the beauty obscures meaning. Simon Van Booy's stories explore the tension between exquisite language and emotion and stark revelation: his characters are lonely, even when they are in love, and the reader often feels a disorienting sense of staring deep into the well of a stranger's soul. Van Booy creates characters who don't seem like characters--they seem like the souls of all the people you've passed on the street every day. A madman who knows he is mad and sits for days in an airport terminal becomes the most comprehensible and sensible person you could meet. A man keeps a secret--that a family story is a beautiful lie: "I don't see the point of truth anymore, it causes just as much heartbreak as lying." A reclusive man falls in love with a store manequin.

Many of the stories in The Secret Lives of People in Love are about people who have experienced unimaginable loss--yet this is not a sad collection. The stories in The Secret Lives of People in Love are resonant, quiet, meditative, eerie, but not sad. There is a cumulative hush that builds in the collection--the kind of quiet that falls over a city when snow has been falling all day.

Many of the stories are told by first person narrators. In "Little Birds" a boy walks the streets of Paris on his birthday. Prescient and wise, he is is an observer:
Even though I'm only fifteen and have not had a girlfriend as such, I can tell who is in love with who when I look at people. A woman in a wheelchair is being pushed across the bridge by her husband. They are in love....He tilts the chair toward him as though his body is drinking from hers.
Van Booy's characters brim over with insight born of silent observation. In some stories there is a sense that the sentences are lines of poetry strung out in paragraph form. "Distant Ships" is narrated by a man who has not spoken for twenty years; the sentences are crystalized thought hardened by silence. The end of this story brought tears to my eyes--sudden, genuine tears.

The Secret Lives of People in Love is dreamlike, beautiful, spare, yet generous. This is a story collection unlike any I have read. Simon Van Booy has written a rare and lovely collection of stories; I recommend The Secret Lives of People in Love to poets, lovers, recluses, and anyone who was ever in love or wanted to be.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like nothing I've ever read before.

Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page.

ImageNations said...

I enjoyed this review. I have just added it to my wishlist. The stories sound very interesting. thanks

bermudaonion said...

I've yet to experience Van Booy's work but have his latest book and hope to soon.

bibliophiliac said...

@heathertlc-thanks for the feature!
@Nana-I'm now going to go out and read everything Simon Van Booy has written. I will definitely be rereading these stories.
@bermudaonion-I can't wait to read his other books. I'll be interested to see what you think of the latest.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

This sounds wonderful. Thanks for the recommendation!