Appealing and surprising takes on a subject prone to cliché.

LOVE BEGINS IN WINTER

Couples find surprising, if not downright strange ways to come together in a second romance-centered collection by Van Booy (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2007).

The author has a pitch-perfect tone for writing about the tender passion. Instead of florid, melodramatic prose, the five tales feature hushed, patient storytelling that’s deliberately abstracted; Van Booy’s goal is to capture the ineffable nature of falling in love. The title story is a braided narrative involving Bruno, a famous concert cellist prone to musing on the death of his sister years ago, and Hannah, who similarly mourns the untimely loss of her young brother. Restrained without being icy, it recalls a Bergman film as it returns to such curious, ghostly characters as the nun Bruno sees writing on a frosted window, or the homeless man Hannah watches in a Los Angeles park. Van Booy has a taste for merging such gentle imagery with more violent moments, as when Hannah’s father chops off his hand after the death of his son. “The Coming and Going of Strangers” opens with a gypsy man risking his life to save a child from drowning. Two decades later, the man’s son seems to have inherited his father’s nobility, which helps readers understand that he’s more than a Peeping Tom as he obsessively spies on the girl he adores. Van Booy’s gauzy characterizations can be maddening: Is the narrator of “Tiger, Tiger” unhealthily fixated on a pediatrician who had an affair with her mother-in-law, or is he truly amazingly wise, as she seems to believe? In this particular universe, emotion counts for more than motivation, so the hero of “The City of Windy Trees” doesn’t seem especially odd for being so absurdly concerned with Raisinets and David Bowie songs. His journey from New York to Sweden to meet his daughter comes to such a sweet, sensible resolution that it convincingly shows how love rights the world.

Appealing and surprising takes on a subject prone to cliché.

Pub Date: May 12, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-166147-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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