Saturday, October 25, 2008

'The Secret Lives of People in Love'

by Simon Van Booy
Fiction/Short Stories, 2007
Turtle Point Press, softcover, 154 p.
The Secret Lives of People in Love is a first short story collection by award-winning writer Simon Van Booy. These stories, set in Kentucky, New York, Paris, Rome, and Greece, are a perfect synthesis of grace, intensity, atmosphere, and compassion. Love, loss, frailty, human contact, and isolation are Van Booy’s themes. In prose that is sweet-toned and measured, Van Booy writes about the difficult choices we make in order to retain our humanity and about the redemptive power of love in a violent world.
I feel that I read this a bit too quickly, one story almost right after the other, during the recent read-a-thon. It would’ve been better, I think, to let each story sink in before going on to the next, but he writes so beautifully I couldn’t seem to stop myself from reading just one more, and before I knew it I’d read them all.
The broken chair would not have supported the full weight of a person, but by some miracle had remained intact, beautifully ancient, with one leg suspended an inch above the carpet, as though immersed in a never-ending dream of walking. (Apples)
Like the blurb says, and the title implies, he’s done a wonderful job capturing the symptoms of love, and grief, and the effect other people, even strangers, can have on our lives. All the stories were touching but my favourites are Little Birds, the first story in the collection, and Snow Falls and Then Disappears. On the surface, these two stories seem quite different, the relationship between a boy and his guardian, and a man trying to get up the courage to leave his wife. But there is so much more to these stories and to me it seems as if they are about the stories we tell ourselves to cope with the loss of someone important in our lives.
I think living with the absence of someone we love is like living in front of a mountain from which a person – a speck in the distance, on some distant ridge – is perpetually waving. (Everything is a Beautiful Trick)
This was a wonderful collection of stories that I will definitely revisit. And I see that he has a new book of short stories, Love Begins in Winter, coming out in May 2009, which I’m already looking forward to reading.

Author's website
And if you haven't already, or even if you have, read this wonderful interview with Simon, conducted by the lovely Bookfool for Estella's Revenge.

My Rating: 4/5
(#44 for 2008, My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Estella's Revenge
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On


  1. Hi Nat :} This sounds like a wonderful book, I already checked with my library and they do not have it in their computer but are willing to order it new. So it will be a while. This is my kind of novel/short stories. Thank-you for the great review.

  2. YAYYY! I'm so glad you liked it. It's one I definitely need to re-read sooner than later. "Snow Falls and Then Disappears" is one of my favorites, too.

  3. A lovely post. I've read the links as well, which took me to Simon Van Booy's website. He is completely new to me but now I think I must find his books.

  4. Sylvie - That's nice that they'll order it in at least. It's a lovely collection of stories, I hope you like it. :)

    Andi - Yes, I definitely want to reread it too!

    BooksPlease - I hope you read the interview too, it's really good! I hadn't heard of him either before Nancy (Bookfool) raved about him awhile back. I will definitely be getting his next book.

  5. I've been meaning to read this one but you know how that goes. I feel like when I read short stories sometimes I do read them all quickly and maybe that's what I need to stop doing to enjoy them more. Maybe spend some time with each one.

  6. Iliana - I especially felt that way this time because I read them all in a couple of hours or so. But I do think I enjoy short stories more when I take some time between each one. Oh well, next time.

  7. Nat!!!

    I'm so excited that you've read Simon's book and enjoyed it!!

    I will tell you that the first time I read extremely slowly and savored, letting the stories roll around in my head for a couple of days. That's how I like to read short stories, too. The next time, I zoomed through the book to refamiliarize myself with the stories before interviewing Simon. After both reads, I was left numb with adoration. He has such a gift. And, Simon talks just like he writes but at lightning speed. He's amazing. I can't wait for his next book!!

    Thanks for the shout-out! I'm just ridiculously thrilled whenever someone I know "finds" The Secret Lives of People in Love. :)

  8. Nancy - I did really enjoy it and I definitely plan to read the stories again, taking more time to savour them next time.
    I'd read the interview when it was first posted at Estella's but I loved reading it again, he seems like such an interesting guy.
    And you're welcome, it was thanks to you that I ever put it on my wishlist in the first place! :)

  9. Thanks for the review! I'm always looking for great short story collections.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  10. Anna - If you like short stories, I'd definitely recommend these. :)


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