They’ve just announced that 419 by Will Ferguson has won this year’s Giller Prize. On Sunday, the Shadow Giller announced that we chose The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler, though we did have 419 in our second place spot (okay, so I had it in my third place spot, but still). Kim once again shows she is in line with the judges since, like last year, her first place spot went on to win. See my review of 419 here, KFC’s review here, and Kim’s review here.
When working through a list of books, it’s always nice to come to the best one last. That’s how I felt about Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride (2012), my fifth and final read of this year’s Giller Prize shortlist. What I found here may not have been entirely to my tastes (I’ll get into why in a moment), but it was an always interesting story and Richler was a deft and controlled story-teller.
The Imposter Bride is, in its way, another World War II book. We see plenty of these every year, and at times I feel I’m not in the mood to go there again even though, often enough, I’m happy if I do. In this case, intrigue propelled the plot forward from the first pages, and Richler’s skills as a story-teller kept me going to the end.
When we begin, we are in a banquet hall in Montreal. Lily Kramer is sitting on a couch with her new husband, Nathan:
In front of the couch was a table laid with fruit and hard-boiled eggs. Her husband picked up a plum and rolled it in the palm of his hand. His name was Nathan and she had known him for a week. It was his brother, Sol, she had been meant to marry, a man she had corresponded with but hadn’t met, who had caught one glimpse of her as she disembarked at the station and decided he wouldn’t have her. Lily watched Nathan roll the plum in his hand and wondered what his brother had seen in her that made him turn away.
We quickly learn that Lily has just arrived in Canada as a Jewish refugee. The doors were barely open and the ticket through was a waiting fiance. Sol signed up for the part, for a fee, but, when he saw the bride, “he recoiled”:
Damaged goods. That’s what he saw. A broken life, a frightened woman, a marriage that would bind him — however briefly — to grief.
Nathan approached Lily at the station, explained that Sol had left, and told her it was Sol’s loss. He would happily marry her.
The story gets stranger at the wedding. First, Sol is now upset. “The bride looked good to him now. There was a boldness in her expression that he hadn’t noticed before, that hadn’t been there, he could swear, when she first stepped off the train.” Nicely, Richler navigates through the crowd, shifting perspectives as easily as Tolstoy does in the crowds in Anna Karenina. Brooding, Sol sees two people he doesn’t know, a mother and daughter who were not invited.
The mother is Ida Pearl Krakauer. She came to the wedding because she had hoped the Lily Azerov getting married was her relative they believed lost in the war. Her daughter, Elka, came along and was surprised they stayed even after finding out this Lily was not their relative. “It won’t last,” are the first words Ida says to Sol.
We readers know that the Lily Azerov marrying Nathan is not actually Lily Azerov. She’s stolen that name from a corpse in Poland (“nothing went unused”).
This all happens in the first, dense but flowing chapter. We may suspect the remainder of the book will dwell on this situation, but there’s more. In chapter two, we meet Ruth, Nathan and Lily’s daughter. She’s already six years old, and she’s just received her first correspondence — a rock — from her mother in years as Lily abandoned her family when Ruth was still a baby.
Elka and Sol are married, and Nathan and Ruth live with them. The book proceeds from there, every once in a while stepping back in time in alternating chapters, but mostly moving us forward as Ruth grows up, learning about her family’s secrets and the hidden grief.
I liked this books quite a bit. As with most of the other books on this shortlist, it is heavily reliant on plot mechanics, some of which you just need to go along with. For example, it’s developed well enough, but the main reason Sol and Elka marry is for the book’s plot. Their wedding keeps the Kramers and Krakauers together so that Lily’s identity stays in the foreground. I found things like this easy to forgive, though, as Richler manages the characters and their varying emotions well.
I will say, though, that many parts of this story reminded me of one of my favorite reading experiences this year: Deborah Eisenberg’s “Cross Off and Move On” (reviewed here). That short piece published in The New York Review of Books also delves into family secrets from World War II that the next generation has to deal with. I found Eisenberg’s language and nuance superior to Richler, even if I consistently enjoyed and admired Richler’s story. Still, I recommend The Imposter Bride to anyone who finds the above interesting, and it is certainly my choice for this year’s Giller Prize.
We have started a Facebook page where, along with links to our reviews and podcasts, we will be posting various things we find interesting online. Please click the like button on the right-hand sidebar to follow us there.
Will Ferguson is best known as a travel writer, and here he puts his experiences roaming around the world together in a global, political thriller, that isn’t particularly thrilling, and I know some people have issues with it being “global,” particularly as it writes of the experiences of an African woman, and, well, I didn’t think it actually all came together that well. 419 (2012) isn’t a terrible book — I thought the writing was nice, and I enjoyed delving into its central motivating plot device – but for me its strengths never quite got the better of its weaknesses.
When the book opens, we watch a car careening down a snowy embankment. Henry Curtis is dead, and it isn’t certain it was an accident. Warren Curtis, the high-strung son, believes his father drove off the cliff on purpose.
He may be right. No one knew it at the time, but before his death Henry put the family home up as collateral for a large loan. It’s strange because the house was paid off and Henry was a retired schoolteacher who spent his time woodworking and visiting internet sites devoted to woodworking. Further, he increased his life insurance policy. Why? His family cannot begin to understand, but investigation reveals multiple emails between Henry and someone named Victor Okechukwu, from Lagos, Nigeria. You’ll probably recognize a lot of this:
SUBJECT: Urgent Matter to the Attention of Mr. Henry Curtis. Please do not turn away!
RECEIVED: September 12, 11:42PM
Complements of the season! With warm heart I offer you wishes of good health from Africa. I am contacting you today regarding an urgent business proposal, and though this letter may reach you as a surprise, I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decisions you make will go a long ways toward determining the future and continued existence of a young woman’s happiness.
Sir, I am writing today on behalf of Miss Sandra, daughter of Dr. Atta, late Director & Chairman of the Contract Award Committee for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. As you may know, Dr. Atta died tragically in a helicopter crash in the Niger Delta under circumstances most suspicious. Miss Sandra’s uncle vowed to care for her, but he too has fallen afoul of government-back criminals
. . .
As might be imagined, between father and uncle, Miss Sandra was able through God’s will to amass quite a sizable fortune. [. . . ] Although only twenty-one and renowned for her beauty she is unable to find a suitor, for she has been forced into hiding by her family’s high-placed enemies.
She has asked me to contact you — MR. HENRY CURTIS — for help. She cannot turn to the police, for the police are part of this murderous cabal. She is pleading on bended knees for you to rescue her from a hopeless future.
Henry’s first response is that they must be confusing him for someone else. But the man on the other end of the email has done his homework: “I was looking for Henry Curtis, graduate of Athabasca University, retired from the noble profession of teachering, a member in Good Standing of the Amateur Woodworking Society of Hounsfield Heights, subscriber of the Briar Hill Beacon Community Newspaper, husband of Helen, grandfather of twins, a highly respected figure in his community, known for his honesty and integrity. I apologize for this mis-sent mailing.”
We’re all familiar with these internet schemes (called 419 after the criminal code that makes it illegal), and several people who have fallen victim have lost everything, like Henry. In this case, though, his daughter, Laura, is going to Nigeria to get it back.
That is only one part of the story. The scammer is actually named Winston, and he’s become a problem in the hierarchical world of cyber scamming. We also meet Nnamdi, a young boy who gets involved in the mafia that controls and regulates these scams. Nnamdi eventually saves a pregnant African Sahel woman, a voice from the impoverished and oppressed.
It’s ambitious, but I think Ferguson bites off more than he can chew. The main story line involving the cyber scam is interesting, and as familiar as we may be with these scams I haven’t encountered it in a novel before, so I enjoyed it, even if I didn’t love it. Truly, it would probably feel slight if it were on its own.
However, after adding the other threads, particularly the one about the Sahel woman, the book felt choppy, and, I think naturally, it started to feel like everything was forced to fit into this examination of corruption and the disparity of wealth. In the end, I felt things didn’t really come together in a believable way, let alone a way that complemented the gravity of the themes.
All that said, I did enjoy the book. It reads nicely and, as ill-fitting as the threads might be, Ferguson gives each a beating heart.
Head on over to Kevinfromcanada to see what we chose as this year’s Shadow Giller winner. Here’s a hint: it’s one I haven’t reviewed yet, and it was my top choice too.
At the end of 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s dream of setting up as a writer in London wasn’t becoming a reality. Struck with the idea, he decided to leave his troubles behind and walk across Europe to Constantinople as a tramp. He was only eighteen. World War I was barely a memory, and he didn’t yet know what to make of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Nearly a lifetime later, Leigh Fermor wrote about this trip in a planned trilogy. Originally published in 1977, A Time of Gifts is the first volume, and it takes us from London, to the Hook of Holland and to Hungary.
NYRB Classics published their edition of A Time of Gifts in October 2005, and it is the book we’ll be talking about in Episode 2 of The Mookse and the Gripes Podcast.
In Episode 3 we will be discussing Milton Rokeach’s The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.
Podcast: Play in new window
Show Notes (1:06:19)
- Brief Patrick Leigh Fermor Bio: 03:31
- Main Discussion: 05:18
- Co-Host Trevor Berrett
- Co-Host Brian Berrett
- Introduction Music — “Where We Fall We’ll Lie” by Jeff Zentner, from his album The Dying Days of Summer (used with permission)
- Outro Music — “Promise Me That You Will Never Die” by Jeff Zentner, from his album Hymns to the Darkness (used with permission)
One thing I love about the Giller Prize is that they don’t ignore the short story. Each year I look forward to reading at least one short story collection due to its place on the Giller list. This year, it’s Russell Wangersky’s Whirl Away (2012), a collection of stories that take simple characters to the brink. I was impressed and delighted by many of the parts, but on the whole, I found it disappointing. I’m still trying to understand how that could be.
Whirl Awaycontains 12 stories, most only 15 to 20 pages long. They go down quickly. Indeed, perhaps one of my problems with the stories was the general feel that, overall, they were straightforward, something I don’t look for in short stories.
For example, the second story in the collection, “Echo,” though narrated in the third-person narrator, closely follows the perceptions of Kevin, a five-year-old boy whose father is often gone because he drives shipping trucks. When his father is around, he leaves an indelible impression on Kevin, but it’s not the one you hope for. Kevin goes around talking “in short, tight bursts of words”: “Don’t you care what I think?” “There you go again. How many times to I have to listen to this stuff?” “Save it for someone who cares.” “Maybe you should just sit down and shut up for once.” It’s a sad story that doesn’t end well, yet I couldn’t help but think that as well as it was written there wasn’t much to it. I have said next to nothing about this story, yet I’m confident you already know what’s going on here. This makes it, in a way, not particularly well written. It’s something like this: great at a sentence level, not so great at a global level.
I had a similar problem with the first story in the collection, “Bolt.” At the beginning, a man dies in a car wreck (there are many car wrecks in this collection, and I have no problem with that since car wrecks all too often take someone from us out of the blue). The story reminded me a bit of William Trevor’s “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” because “Bolt” deals with the two women in the dead man’s life, his estranged wife Bev and his open mistress Anne. Here’s our introduction to the two women:
“John was coming home,” Bev said.
“No, he wasn’t.”
“Yes he was, bitch. He was on his way here when he crashed. He was coming home for good. Why do you think he had all his stuff?”
So the story looks at the dead man’s relationship with these two women as they wonder just what he was doing when he died. As much as I like the foundation, again it just didn’t feel like it went all the way. It doesn’t examine through language and the structure of the short story much else than the surface level fears the two women have.
So I enjoyed on one level the first two stories, but ultimately they disappointed me. That was not the case with the third, “McNally’s Fair,” which I loved through and through for its subdued tone as it looks at the subdued life of Dennis Meany, a man who travels from small job to small job. He’s known for his silence, “a kind of silence often taken for disdain,” and he was always the easiest to fire since he didn’t put up a fuss. Once his personality is set up we learn that he was married to a woman named Heather: “They were the last ones in their high school class to pair up, and when they did, it had seemed to be because they both looked around at the same time and realized there weren’t any other reasonable choices left.”
They didn’t love each other, and Dennis finally moved on, sending checks home each month until he got a letter telling him not to bother anymore. He found he didn’t mind, and yet:
Sometimes, he would turn around and be absolutely convinced that something was missing, as if he had lost his wallet or misplaced a false front tooth, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was that was gone. It didn’t have shape or colour; it wasn’t like a sweater missing from a closet, or an important tool left out in the snow and buried.
Dennis couldn’t imagine that it was as simple as loneliness, because he didn’t think he was lonely.
As the story moves on, we feel terribly for Dennis and we sympathize with his pathetic efforts to meet and court some other girls. At the same time, we are a bit terrified of him and of what his loneliness could bring him to do. As much as I enjoyed this story — and I’d say it’s worth the entire collection — I was still reminded of an even better short story by Maile Meloy, “Travis, B.” Still, “McNally Fair” shows that Wangersky can write beautifully and compose an overall beautiful story (beautiful not necessarily meaning all happy, obviously).
This story was the highlight of the collection for me. The next nine stories, as the first three, were all well written but varied in how much they felt like well executed exercises (“911″) or fully committed short stories (“Family Law,” “Sharp Corner”). Despite my disappointment in the whole, I still found enough I enjoyed throughout the collection to make it very much worth while.
After my response to Alix Ohlin’s Inside (here), I was wary to continue my Giller shortlist reading. None of the five books is one I would have sought out were it nor for the Giller Prize, though often I’m happily surprised with the discoveries the prize leads to. I was hopeful, then, that Ru (2009; tr. from the French by Sheilan Fischman, 2012) might just be this year’s discovery. After all, it won Canada’s Governor General’s Award when it was first published in French, and my admiration for translator Sheila Fischman is growing. Still, after hearing others say it is a Hallmark-card book and very typical of sentimental immigrant stories, I had my doubts.
I’m happy to say that I liked Ru quite a bit. It’s not a book I’d rush out to promote on the streets, but if it wins the Giller Prize I wouldn’t think this was a bad year, after all (if Inside wins, however . . .).
Our first-person narrator, Nguyen An Tinh, was born in 1968, in Saigon, Vietnam, during the Tet Offensive, as was our author (just how much of this is fact and how much fiction, I don’t know). She’s telling this story many years removed from that day and half a world away from Saigon. Now a mother of two, she lives in Quebec, and this book is an attempt to connect the dots, to make some kind of narrative, between Saigon and Quebec. It’s a worthy goal but is perhaps ultimately futile. As she says of her own children: “Because of our exile, my children have never been extensions of me, of my history.”
Told in a series of short vignettes, this novel of fragments mimics the fragmented life the narrator has lived. Finding themselves enemies to their own country, when the narrator is ten years old she and her family escape Vietnam with the boat people, going first to Malaysia and then to Canada. I felt the fragmented style worked without becoming annoying. In fact, I rather liked the flow and found the segments, most not even a page in length and seemingly in random order, nicely written, bearing a sense of gravity common in such books, but also showing some nuance that is often absent when writers feel the gravity is enough.
The style of the book is one of concise flashes of memory, and we often feel the narrator struggling to tell us what each means or why she’s even bringing up that memory, and why now. Paralyzed by various manifestations of fear (first, of the Communists as she and her family escaped, then of the privations that took them to Malaysia and then to Canada, then of the inability to communicate, until paralysis became a personality), the narrator nicely presents how removed she feels from her own life, as if the best way to live it were as a silent spectator. In fact, when she arrived in Canada, some people she knew well didn’t even know she could speak. Now, as a mother, her son cannot speak or hear, though he is neither deaf nor dumb.
I do understand some of the criticisms I’ve heard about this book. Sadly, its contents can be compared to many many works of fiction. It’s not that we don’t want to remember these events or the tragic lives they created; it’s just that they can sometimes blur together, and when that happens often sentimentality is the overriding feeling. I also understand that the fragmentary, remote style makes it hard to get to know the characters, but, for me, that was actually part of the book’s strength; it was that that made me appreciate it as a work of literary art and not simply a story. We can’t expect to feel much closer to her life than she does, after all. That said, this would not work if there weren’t windows in the narrative that allow us as readers to peer a little closer than perhaps she can and see some of the dots and themes being connected. For example, a common theme throughout the book is coexistence. This passage is from later in the narrator’s life:
I wanted to be very different from my mother, until the day I decided to have my two sons share a bedroom, even though there were empty rooms in the house. I wanted them to learn to stand by one another the way my brothers and I had done. Someone told me that bonds are forged with laughter but even more with sharing and the frustrations of sharing. It may be that the tears of one led to the tears of the other in the middle of the night, because my autistic son finally became aware of the presence of Pascal, a big brother he’d ignored during his first three or four years. Today, he takes palpable pleasure from curling up in Pascal’s arms, hiding behind him in front of strangers. It may be that thanks to all that interrupted sleep, Pascal willingly puts on his left shoe before the right to accommodate his brother’s obsessive rigidity. So that his brother can begin his day without irritation, without undue disruption.
Earlier in the novel, she tells us of a wall that was built to split up a home between two sons who didn’t want to be with each other. When the mother died, she willed one son the room with a fan but no switch; to the other, a room with a switch but no fan. This idea of coexistence and walls connects to and complicates the various stages of the narrator’s life.
Obviously, many readers will latch onto this story and its style, as I did, and some will be understandably disappointed. I’ve got three books left on the Giller shortlist. I’m hopeful at least one of them is significantly better than Ru, but, as I mentioned above, this one is good enough for me – even if it is not great.
Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Kevin Barry’s “Ox Mountain Death Song” was originally published in the October 29 & November 5, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.
Click for a larger image.
I’ve only read one Kevin Barry short story, “Fjord of Killary,” which I am now surprised to find out I didn’t like (see here). I don’t remember what happens in it, but I do remember the ominous feel, and if I hadn’t just read my thoughts probably would have told anyone asking that I liked it. Well, perhaps my first impression of Kevin Barry was simply wrong. After all, last year he was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Prize for his collection Dark Lies the Island. Earlier this year he published his debut novel, City of Bohane, which I’ve heard good things about.
I really enjoyed this short (three-page) story about a manhunt in the Ox Mountains of Ireland. I am still trying to wrap my head around the ending, which is also welcome.
One reason I liked this one more than many other recent offerings in The New Yorker is that Barry has a unique, strong voice, but he’s actually using it to say something, and the natural vim of his voice combined with the folksy tone (he addresses the reader subtly throughout) goes a long way to making this an entertaining as well as a highly troubling read. When we begin, we meet the criminal, Canavan:
He had been planting babies all over the Ox Mountains since he was seventeen years old. Well, he had the hair for it, and the ferret grin, and there was hardly a female specimen along that part of the Sligo-Mayo border that hadn’t taken the scan of his hazel glance, or hadn’t had the hard word laid on, in the dark corners of bars, or in the hormone maelstrom of the country discos, or in untaxed cars down back roads, under the silly, silly moonlight.
It’s a cynical tone that mocks the mood of love. Maybe for good reason, because this particular Canavan, who is 29 years old, is only the most recent in a long line of Canavans to build up to trouble: “Each in the stepped line of the generations was a taunt to the next: a taunt to exceed, go further.” It’s as if the Canavan generations represent evil, and time changes only the style:
The years gave in, the years gave out, and only the trousers changed — breeches of sackcloth gave way to rain-soaked gabardine, gave way to tobacco-scented twill, and on to the denim variations (boot cut; straight leg; at glamorous times, beflared), and then to the nylon track pant, and then to cotton sweats. The signal gesture of a Canavan in all this time did not change: it was a jerk of the thumb to the waistband to hoick up the pants.
On the other side of the archetypal spectrum is Sergeant Tom Brown, most recent in a long line of guards and policemen. He’s sixty-five and nearly retired. He would really like to take care of Canavan before then. Making all worse is the fact that Canavan is suffering from terminal cancer. His oncologist confirmed Sergeant Brown’s fear:
“An auld fella might slow it,” he said. “A young fella won’t.”
They know that before Canavan dies — soon — he will kill someone. And so we enter the Ox Mountains, and the old Sergeant Brown is hunting high and low for the young Canavan. It’s a disturbing conclusion, and it doesn’t take long for you to get there and see how these forces as old as time confront each other at this moment. And we know from the first words of the story that this is not the last Canavan. Little Canavans are growing all over the Ox Mountains.
One aspect that made me slightly uncomfortable was the view of the women involved here. Canavan is violent, and you know he mixes violence with sex; yet the women continue to love and protect him. Whoever the narrator of this story is casts his cynical eye over these girls, “some heated foolish girl.” I don’t think it’s a spoiler, but before I end this review I want to highlight the last few sentences:
These mountains, their insistences: those who would run would run, and those who must follow must follow, and waiting — oh, wasn’t there always — some heated foolish girl. Listen –
The tinkled chime of her laugh against the mountain black as she feigns outrage at a dropped hand, and now — listen — the tiniest of brushing of the air as her eyelashes close and bring down the darkness: the falling-in-love-all-over-again.
I think they’re amazing. The rhythm, “listen,” the fact that this story ends with “falling-in-love-all-over-again”: this world-view is highly disturbing and beautifully rendered and placed at the end of this violent story that begins making fun of those girls and their “silly, silly moonlight.” I think it’s terrible, yet I think the story is fantastic. I can’t get behind the narrator’s cynicism and I can’t cast blame where he does — I think that’s a dangerous misunderstanding — yet I cannot ignore his voice in the world, and I’m glad Barry had the skill and courage to present it.
Now, how will I feel about this story when the glow of the prose has passed? I’m anxious to see, and I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.
As I said when I participated in my first “blog tour” for Ron Rash’s The Cove (review here), I usually decline invitations to join these things. But sometimes a book comes along and you have to say yes. It happened again. Welcome to the final day of the blog tour for E.J. Levy’s debut short story collection Love, In Theory (2012). I love a good collection of short stories, but that’s not what made me interested in this book. Rather, this collection won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction this year. It’s an award I need to get to know better, and this book has given credence to my suspicions that these folks know what they’re doing.
Review copy courtesy of University of Georgia Press.
I was further anxious to read these stories when I saw where they were initially published: The Paris Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Mid-American Review, The Missouri Review, and The North American Review, all publications which foster the art of the short story. Why, one I was really excited about, “The Three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota” was published in The Chicago Tribune; whether The Chicago Tribune fosters the art of the short story, I don’t know, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
But as much as I was interested in the book, I was also wary. The title suggests abstract intellectualization, the potential that these stories would be put through a thematic ringer. I guess it’s that word theory, a word that may be most responsible for getting me out of academia, as much as I enjoy literary and aesthetic theory. And some of the titles of the stories (other than the one that hearkens beautifully to one of my favorite books of this year or ever, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (which will be the subject of our third podcast . . . ) (review here)) also didn’t pull me in: “Theory of Enlightenment,” “My Life in Theory,” “Theory of Transportation,” “Gravity,” “Theory of the Leisure Class,” and “Theory of Dramatic Action.” I was worried the theme would direct the writing. Well, maybe it did, but it worked very well. The emotion, the atmosphere, the nuance: it all comes out stronger than any abstract, overarching theme.
Naturally, each story revolves around some kind of love, whether it be young love, old love, heterosexual love, homosexual love, family love, even love for God (which is set up as a kind of competition). Again, let me be clear: these stories are unique, stand-alone stories, each holding its own power. I don’t want to suggest Levy went off to write about every form of love under the sun. Each story feels individual and intimate, as if they began with the real emotion and experience and not with a desire to, say, now write a story about motherly love.
And direct. I wasn’t expecting Levy’s style to be so clear and direct, again due to her indirect titles. But look at the first line from the initial story, “The Best Way Not to Freeze,” which is told from a rather cold and distant third-person perspective which closely follows the woman:
They met in a camping store, where he was working as a clerk and she had come to rent a pair of climbing shoes.
Levy avoids the meandering sentence and also avoids the unnecessarily concrete, not giving us their names for a few pages. She gives us what she needs to introduce a rather mundane, typical encounter at a store. This encounter doesn’t even immediately result in anything; the two characters go their own way. The central character is the woman, a PhD who knows an awful lot about theory but cannot figure out how to love or be loved. Her “relationships ended as they began, cordially, in corridors and seminar rooms, on e-mail, collegially. Without hard feelings, or soft.” This particular love affair does begin to bloom, and, I have to say, as direct and mundane as some of this story is, my mouth dried up a couple of times due to the emotion Levy manages to portray as we see this relationship fall apart at the very moment each seems to be attempting to shore it up. I know that’s not a particularly original concept, but so what? It’s not the concept. It’s how Levy writes through it, and I attribute a lot of the success to her clear and direct way at presenting what on the surface appears to be mundane, all while letting us feel the torrents blazing underneath it all.
Even as the perspective changes from third- to first-person, this direct, controlled style comes through. For example, in “The Three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota,” the narrator is one of the hospital staff. He’s the muscle who tries to keep the patients in line. The hospital has three men who each believes himself to be Jesus Christ. As Rokeach did, a senior doctor has decided to put the three men together, hoping they will see their delusion and walk away cured. As this is going on, our narrator falls in love with Karen, one of the doctors involved in treating the three Christs. Usually staff and medical don’t mix, but he and Karen do. The three Christs seem to be breaking down all sorts of barriers. Faith and reason, as aspects of love, go against each other in this sad story.
It’s a strong collection, and I hope Levy continues to treat us to her short stories. I don’t even care if all of them are about love and theory.