Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Secret Lives of People in Love

The Secret Lives of People in Love
Written by Simon Van Booy
Turtle Point Press
Reviewed by Nancy L. Horner

“If you think she has gone for good, then you’re cutting yourself short, my friend,” the man said. He pulled an orange from his pocket and began to peel away its skin with his nail.

“My own wife,” the man said with a mouthful of orange, “is the blend of light in late summer that pushes through the smoky trees to the soft fists of wind fallen apples. Would you like some orange?”

--from "Where They Hide is a Mystery"

The Secret Lives of People in Love, a compendium of short stories by Simon Van Booy, is an unusual and fascinating literary collection. Each work is effectively an examination of love, observed in a surprising number of forms, and all are written with a consistent voice that is poetic yet startling in its simplicity.

At a mere 154 pages, I expected to breeze through the book quickly in spite of my tendency to read one story and mull it for a time before moving on to the next when reading short story collections. This time, the usual rule held true but a pause between stories to absorb them was not the only factor that led to such remarkably snail-paced reading. Instead, I found that the book was so starkly beautiful that I wanted to read every sentence slowly to avoid missing any of the simple but striking words of wisdom and truth peppered liberally throughout the book.

There are 18 stories in The Secret Lives of People in Love, set in a variety of locations: Paris, Rome, New York City, and Kentucky, among others. The author's knowledge of each setting is apparent; he has lived in many places. Van Booy’s prose is subtle but straightforward, at once powerful and gently poignant. Some of the stories made me misty-eyed and others were so sweet that I smiled all the way through them.

A few favorites:

"Little Birds" - A teenager ponders his unusual adopted father, the work he does and the love he has shown a child who came into his world a complete stranger, unbidden.

"Everyday Things" - A man becomes introspective about the vacation he and his wife have not yet taken when an accident leaves her in a coma.

"Where They Hide is a Mystery" - A young boy in Kentucky, grieving the loss of his mother, finds comfort in the words of a unique stranger with an extraordinary perspective on life and death.

The Secret Lives of People in Love is an excellent book worth savoring and rereading, highly recommended.

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