Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories by Simon Van Booy — 256 pgs

Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories (P.S.)In this superb collection of five stories, Simon Van Booy gives his readers a perpetually moving and emotionally complex ride as he examines several individuals and the relationships that change their lives. First we meet a famous cello player whose loneliness and singularity is abandoned one fleeting moment after a chance meeting with a beautiful and contemplative woman in the titular story, Love Begins in Winter. Next we fall into the midst of a relationship between a young couple who are decidedly against marriage after dually witnessing the death throes of an emotionally starved relationship in the story Tiger, Tiger. Later we travel to Las Vegas where a young boy and his mother are exposed to the tender ministrations of a stranger when they are abandoned for a night of ill-fated gambling in The Missing Statues. Next we’re taken into the fevered heart of a young male gypsy living in rural Ireland as he tries to arrange a chance meeting with the woman of his dreams in the tale The Coming and Going of Strangers. The set concludes with The City of Windy Trees, in which a man named George Frack gets some unexpected and life-changing news with the arrival of a mysterious letter. With Van Booy’s subtle wit and grace, his stories come alive to touch readers in the unexpected soft places of their hearts, proving that the offerings in this collection can be at once provocative and moving.

Every year I make a resolution to read more short story collections, and every year I fail miserably. Though my intentions are noble, I always seem to shy away from picking up these types of books off my shelf. Part of the reason I feel so reluctant to dip into short stories is the very nature of their construction. At times, they are just too short for me to really get a feel for the characters and situations that they attempt to house. Last year, I had an unexpected and delighted reaction to Deborah Willis’ short story collection Vanishing, and since reading it, I’ve been more open to the possibility of involving myself in more short story collections. I figure if Willis’ can be that good, there have to be others that I would appreciate as well. Well, I have to admit that I found another star in Simon Van Booy, and now I think I’m back on the short story wagon!

Van Booy has a way with the short story, let me tell you. Each offering in this collection is stylistically distinct, with some stories being verbally sparse and enigmatic, and others leaving little emotion to the imagination. The titular story, Love Begins in Winter, had a very French feel to it and was quietly understated while still maintaining a stunning impact. I liked the way all Van Booy’s words and scenes evoked a place and time that was to me unfamiliar, but was the perfect home for his characters. Each story highlighted a longing and desire of a different kind, and though most of the tales had a touch of melancholy about them, they weren’t overwhelmingly sad. All the stories ended on a note of hope, even the strange Tiger, Tiger, which had a twist that I could scarcely believe. And now that I think to categorize it, each of these stories had a subtle twist to them, giving them a little more pizazz and sparkle than your ordinary short story.

My favorite story in this collection was definitely The City of Windy Trees. Because of its intense subject matter and the elegant way it was handled, I found my eyes welling up at its climax. It was a touching and bittersweet story, with gentle and eccentric characters who found themselves in a very odd position. I marveled at the way Van Booy created this piece, gently stacking layer upon layer of meaning into a structure of heartbreak and redemption that made its way unerringly towards my heart. Though the other stories were excellent as well, Trees evoked emotions in me that felt carefully orchestrated and complex. And that’s one of the beautiful things about Van Booy’s writing. Though it’s not maudlin or depressing, it creates a host of strong emotions in the reader by gently drawing on emotions that all of us can understand and relate to. It’s rare for me to feel so enamored of a short story collection, but by the end of the book, I felt very close to the characters I was reading about, and though we hadn’t spent a lot of page space together, I contemplated them for hours after I closed the book.

One of the reasons Van Booy is so successful in these stories is because he’s not afraid to show his characters in various stages of emotional undress. Their sadness and their joy is palpable and clear, and in many cases, it’s the source of the complexity that I spoke of earlier. Things don’t always go as planned for these characters, and because of that, their natural and organic reactions to their circumstances become focal points. Any author can create a man in love, but few can make his reader ache for the man as he watches his beloved through a thick pane of glass in the window. Another thing I liked was Van Booy’s decision to take some of his stories in unexpected directions. I felt that this gave a lot of depth and relevance to the stories themselves, and created layers of meaning that would otherwise have been neglected. It seemed to be done very casually, but the effect was one that deeply rooted me into the tales themselves.

If you are a reluctant reader of short stories, I would definitely recommend Love Begins in Winter to you. Far from being pointless and dry, these stories call up great stores of emotion and pin them securely against the framework of interesting and compelling narratives that you are unlikely to find parallelled anywhere else. I’m a new fan of Van Booy’s writing, and because of his clever extrapolation of events and emotions, I’ll be looking forward to reading more from this talented young author. A great collection that might just revitalize your interest in the short story. Highly recommended.

Author Photo About the Author

Simon Van Booy grew up in rural Wales. He is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books, titled Why We Fight, Why We Need Love, and Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter, and his essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian, and on NPR. He lives in New York City, where he teaches at the School of Visual Arts and is involved in the Rutgers Early College Humanities program for young adults living in underserved communities. He was a finalist for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, and his work has been translated into thirteen different languages.

Visit Simon at his website. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Wednesday, July 6th:Raging Bibliomania (Love Begins in Winter)
Thursday, July 7th:Books Like Breathing (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Monday, July 11th:Life In Review (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Tuesday, July 12th:Books Like Breathing (Love Begins in Winter)
Wednesday, July 13th:Rundpinne (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Thursday, July 14th:The House of the Seven Tails (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Monday, July 18th:Luxury Reading (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Tuesday, July 19th:“That’s Swell!” (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Wednesday, July 20th:Book-a-rama (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Thursday, July 21st:Bibliophiliac (The Secret Lives of People in Love)
Firday, July 22nd:Chaotic Compendiums (Love Begins in Winter)
Monday, July 25th:Regular Rumination (Love Begins in Winter)
Tuesday, July 26th:Caribousmom (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Wednesday, July 27th:Books Like Breathing (The Secret Lives of People in Love)
Thursday, July 28th:Unabridged Chick (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Tuesday, August 2nd:A Bookish Way of Life (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Wednesday, August 3rd:Steph and Tony Investigate (The Secret Lives of People in Love)
Monday, August 8th:In the Next Room (The Secret Lives of People in Love)
Tuesday, August 9th:In the Next Room (Love Begins in Winter)
Wednesday, August 10th:In the Next Room (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Wednesday, August 10th:My Reading Room (Everything Beautiful Began After)
Thursday, August 11th:Books and Movies (The Secret Lives of People in Love)
Friday, August 12th:My Two Blessings (Everything Beautiful Began After)

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


Wendy said...

SO glad you loved this collection - I agree 100% re: Van Booy's writing. I cannot wait to read his novel which I'm touring on the 26th...I have long wished Van Booy would take his skills to the novel, and now I get to experience it!! YAY!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

You and Wendy sure are enthusiastic about this! I admit I tend to shy away from short story collections!

Suko said...

Excellent review, Zibilee! I am not a reluctant reader of short fiction collections but dive right in. This book sounds truly wonderful.

Vasilly said...

I've read nothing but wonderful things about Van Booy's writing. Can you believe that I still haven't read any of his books? I was fearful that maybe the buzz around his books were too good to be true, but after reading your review I think it's time to give his stories a try. Thanks for the wonderful review.

phentermine said...


nice post thanks for sharing.


TheBookGirl said...

Wow, you could have been speaking directly to me -- as much as I love to read, I have always shunned short stories (with only two exceptions, O.Henry and du Mauppsant). I don't know what it is, but the medium just never appealed to me.
I've heard wonderful things about this author and I guess now I know why...must give this a try.
Wonderful review as always :)

bermudaonion said...

I've actually learned to appreciate short stories in the last year or two. I've never read Van Booy's work, but so many bloggers great bloggers, like you, love it, so I feel like I need to give it a try. This sounds like the perfect book to start with.

Audra said...

Loved this review! I too am not a short fiction fan so I tend to skip short stories but so many folks swoon over van Booy I'm clearly missing out! I can't wait to start his novel this month - I hope it's delicious!

nomadreader said...

I'm not much of a short fiction reader, but I like the idea of five stories in a collection; somehow the number seems more manageable. Thanks for the recommendation!

Meghan said...

What an amazing review. I'm not a short story reader normally (I fail every year too!), but it sounds like Van Booy's collection is just too good to miss.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I just downloaded his new collection as an eBook. I must get a copy of this one as well. Nice review:)

Ann Summerville said...

Short stories seem popular these days.

Athira said...

I have to read Simon Van Booy! Like you, I'm very hesitant to read short stories, because I feel it's very limited space to know a character. But this one sounds fabulous, and I love the way you have described his work!

Jenny said...

This sounds really good!! And I agree with Nomadreader that 5 sounds manageable. After reading this and Michelle's review of his latest book I am convinced I MUST read this author's books!

Unknown said...

Simon Van Booy's short stories sound deliciously wonderful! I recently finished his newest book, "Everything Beautiful Began After" and now I'm wishing I'd read "Love Begins in Winter" as well because I like short stories! But now I have it to look forward too! Van Booy does have a way with words and you described how he writes a man in love and makes us feel what he feels perfectly!

I enjoyed Deborah Willis' "Vanishing" collection, too! I always mean to read more short stories!

Anonymous said...

I avoid short stories because I think I won't like them but every time I do read them I end up loving them - go figure!

Thanks so much for the great review and for being a part of the tour.

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

Seems emotional and I love shorts!

Unknown said...

I am just like you - a rare reader of short stories. I so often gravitate to longer writing, I think because I find the scope of novels more satisfying. But, I've heard only good things about Van Booy, so I'm really looking forward to reading and reviewing his debut story collection in a few weeks! I loved everything you said in this review, and imagine I'll have as similar experience to you.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of this author until recently but now I really want to read his work! It sounds like these short stories are the perfect place to start.

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