Love Begins in Winter

05/27/2009 4:00 AM |

Harper

Available now

Simon Van Booy’s second collection is frustrating not because the
author is incapable of insight or because he can’t write a fine
sentence, but because the familiarity of his images, observations and
metaphors make it a laborious read. While occasionally vivid, Van
Booy’s narrative passages are longwinded, and his reliance on stiff
figurative language prevents these stories from being much more than a
hodgepodge of occasionally pretty, occasionally cliché
sentiments.

The title story is problematic for precisely this reason. Its
protagonist — an acclaimed cellist named Bruno Bonnet —
describes loss quite poetically: “Grief is a country where it rains and
rains but nothing grows.” Sadly, most observations in the collection
aren’t nearly as economical and fresh as this one. Early in the story,
Bonnet describes performance as something powerful enough to raise the
dead, which is a fine metaphor for how he simultaneously loses and
finds himself during performances. But the descriptions of his
specter-like, long-dead childhood friend strip the moment of its
seriousness and conjure images of Princess Leia as a hologram. Van Booy
writes “…Anna’s form appears… She flickers because she is made of
light.” Other observations are just as mundane, as when Bonnet
describes what it feels like to perform: “When I play it feels as
though I am flying. I circle the auditorium. I am anywhere but inside
my body,” he says. The sentiment reads like a student’s entrance essay
to a music conservatory.

The four other stories in the collection — of which, the
voice-y “Tiger, Tiger” and the quiet “The City of Windy Trees” are the
best — frequently stumble as a result of similarly unsurprising
descriptions and under-developed metaphor. In “The Missing Statue,” a
Polish priest attempts to console an American who is weeping at the
edge of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. When the priest coaxes the man into
telling his troubles, the priest says, “‘I like stories very much […]
They help me understand myself better,'” and one can’t help but feel
that Van Booy is attempting a meta-commentary on the nature of
storytelling. As is too often the case, the literal reading here is
straightforward enough, but the metaphoric implications of Van Booy’s
words sprout promisingly only to die as saplings.