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.