Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Secret Lives of People in Love...A Favorite for the Year

Yes! I finished it. I've been reading The Secret Lives of People in Love, by Simon Van Booy, for several weeks now. I found myself stashing this book of short stories away and only allowing myself brief dives into it. I couldn't allow myself to get completely engrossed or else I might've downed it one giant gulp. I couldn't have savored it that way. I read each story as if it were a universe of its own, and it was gorgeous.

You know how sometimes you can watch a movie and think, "Wow, that's classic." Not that it might become a classic (or maybe it will), but you think, "That's done with real, unadulterated style." Or maybe an actress on TV reminds you of "old Hollywood," all glitz and glamour and class.

The Secret Lives of People in Love is written with pure, unadulterated style and immeasurable class. The words are pretty, the stories flow, it's not pretentious or overly self-aware. It's just good storytelling. Storytelling at its best, I would say. Sometimes they were sweet, sometimes they were the slightest bit twisted, sometimes they were wonderfully bizarre. But they were always well rounded, solid, and felt complete.

Some of my favorite passages:

"And in the early hours of the morning, as he stopped breathing, a recently married nurse who had been watching him since dawn took a strawberry from the heavy yellow bowl and gently slipped it between his lips. In a dull office overlooking the Seine, the nurse's husband was thinking about her elbows, and how they make tiny hollows in the grass as she reads."
--From "The Reappearance of Strawberries"

"Although I knew she would have invited the waiter up to her room had he been sitting where I was and looking at her as I was, I didn't care. I wanted to stretch into the ridge of her spine and complete her back, as water freezes in the crevice of a rock."
--From "Snow Falls and Then Disappears"

"Life can unmoor so many feelings; it is a relief we sleep through it.
Night unravels the day and reinvents it for the first time.
We may mean nothing to time, but to each other we are kings and queens, and the world is a wild benevolent garden filled with chance meetings and unexplained departures."
--From "Everything is a Beautiful Trick"

"That night Serge lay awake beneath a full moon in his bed. His curtains were ivory squares that washed his crumbling apartment white, turning his furniture to old wedding cake."
--From "Apples"

It's hard to say what this book is about. It's about people with ordinarily extraordinary lives. And I think what I love most is reflected in the last quote, from "Apples." Van Booy has a way of capturing moments and images that seem completely realized and important and poetic. As I read, in fact, I was reminded of moments in my own life that might've slipped from me until that point, but in their own right now seem integral and beautiful. The stories evoked memories that hadn't been with me in a very long time, and I feel that by reading this book I've inherited some memories that aren't really mine, but that will stay with me just as if I'd created them myself.

If you attempt no other short stories this year, or next, or the next...pick up this book. It is published by Turtle Point Press, and as it certainly should, it's garnered some hefty praise from the L.A. Times, Newsday and Publisher's Weekly. I'm also thrilled that Estella's Revenge was one of the first to review it, and Nancy did a great job on her review and her interview with Simon Van Booy.

This is one of only a small handful of books I've deemed worthy of a perfect 10 this year.

*Sorry for the lack of pretty pictures; Blogger's being wonky.


  1. Why thank you, for the shout out. :)

    Isn't it just the most utterly wonderful, amazing, stupendous set of stories ever, ever? You did such a fantastic job of describing the book and the strong impressions it leaves with a reader (Carrie of My Middle Name is Patience is another enthusiast, just FYI - she says to read Simon is to love him). Simon is just the sensitive genius you'd expect, in person, too. I wish he'd hurry up and publish another book. Hurry, hurry, Simon!

  2. You definitely have me interested in this one. I love the passages you shares, and I love the concept of "ordinarily extraordinary lives". And plus, it's been a while since I read a short story collection.

  3. I generally don't care for short stories, but this book sounds intriguing. I love the passages you shared; they're so lyrical! Lovely review.

  4. When you mentioned this one yesterday I knew I had heard about it before but couldn't quite place it. Thanks for the reminder about Nancy's review on it. And, of course it's on my list. Sounds wonderful even if I'm not a big fan of short stories ;)

  5. I'm usually not a short story fans...the last book being Alice Munro. But the writing of this collection appeals to me so I'll have to add it to pile.

    The story about dying man and the nurse is beautifully sad.

  6. Wow, from your description and those passages it sounds like an amazing book.

  7. The passage you posted from apples makes me want to read that one for sure! Sounds like a wonderful book full of great stories!

  8. I keep meaning to get this books! I will definitely make a better effort now, you make it sound so good!

  9. Thanks, BF! I'll have to check out Carrie's blog. Any friend of Simon's work is a friend o'mine.

    Nymeth, definitely jump on this one. Breathtaking!

    Lyrical, yes! I think you'd adore this book, Les. It's gorgeous.

    Iliana, that seems to be a theme today re: "don't care for short stories." For a long time I didn't, but here lately I eat them up like candy. I've already started my Miranda July collection, and it's totally sucking me in.

    Matt, it is beautifully sad. It sort of captured me for the final thought as the husband imagines the dents her elbows leave when she reads. Makes me wonder what the people in my life notice about me that I never even think of on my own.

    It is, Carl, it is! :)

    Would love to hear your thoughts on it if you decide to give it a go, Heather T.!

    Heatheroo, you would LOVE IT. Seriously love it. I got the cookbook yesterday, by the way! I can't wait to try some recipes! I'm thinking of starting with Turkish delight.


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