Love Begins in Winter, by Simon Van Booy.
And then suddenly an arm of sunlight reached through a high window and opened its hand upon her face. I saw her eyes as clearly as if we had been pressed against one another in a very small space. - from Love Begins in Winter, page 41 -
Simon Van Booy's five story collection, Love Begins in Winter, explores the lives of ordinary men and women who stumble upon love in all its many forms. From the lonely and grieving cellist who literally bumps into the woman who becomes his lover, to the young gypsy boy who lingers outside the home of two girls who have lost their parents ... Van Booy's characters take the reader on a journey of the heart. Threaded through these simple stories are the themes of self identity, grief, longing, and renewal.
Van Booy is a poet and a journalist who has lived in London, Wales, Greece, Paris and New York City -- and these experiences are apparent in his writing. Lyrical and stylistic, Van Booy's prose is a bit like listening to a complicated musical performance -- at once beautiful and elusive. He sets his characters in places like Montreal in the winter, and in St. Peter's square in Rome, and along the steep cliffs of Ireland -- places that invite introspection.
One story in this collection baffled me. Tiger, Tiger is disjointed and confusing, a story about a pediatrician and her boyfriend which draws on childhood memories and behavior. It is the second piece in the collection which, had it not been for the wonderful title story, I might have put the book down. I am glad I did not.
My favorite story in the collection is the title story: Love Begins In Winter. From the first, the reader understands that Bruno Bonnet, a cellist, holds grief in his heart from the loss of his childhood friend. He carries her mitten in his pocket at each of his performances.
If only one of them recognized me, I could slip from the branches of my life, brush time from my clothes, and begin the long journey across the fields to the place where I first disappeared. A boy leaning crookedly on a gate, waiting for his best friend to get up. The back wheel of Anna's bicycle still spinning. - from Love Begins in Winter, page 4 -
Van Booy captures the loneliness of the protagonist, even when Bruno is in the bustling city of Los Angeles.
Further north, approaching Hollywood -- hot dog stands with neon arrows and faded paint; tattooed women with chopped black hair buying lip gloss at Hollywood pharmacies; a homeless man pushes a shopping cart full of shoes but he is barefoot. He keeps looking behind. His stomach hangs out. Sometime in the 1960s he was delivered into the trembling hands of his mother. If only it could happen again. Los Angeles is a place where dreams balance forever on the edge of coming true. A city on a cliff held fast by its own weight. - from Love Begins in Winter, page 50 -
It is only when the cellist meets Hannah, a woman who still mourns the loss of her brother, that he realizes he is no longer alone in the world. Love Begins in Winter is a touching story about the healing power of love.
I also was delighted with The Coming and Going of Strangers which revolves around a lovesick gypsy boy named Walter living in Ireland.
Walter wheeled his hot, ticking motorbike up and down the muddy lane, breathing with the rhythm of a small, determined engine. Fists of breath hovered and then opened over each taken-step. He would soon be within sight of his beloved's house. - from The Coming and Going of Strangers, page 135 -
In this tale about first love, Van Booy provides a wonderful surprise ending that lifts the story a notch above excellent.
In The City of Windy Trees, a character named George Frack receives a letter which completely changes the course of his life. I loved this story about the renewal of the human spirit through our connections with others.
Van Booy captures the essence of what makes us human, and how love can be found in the most unexpected places. Readers who love poetry will enjoy this collection of stories which often feel like long, narrative poems.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".