Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Lovers

Have you ever seen a book on the shelf that just screamed out to be chosen? One of the things that I absolutely love about the configuration of the reference desk at my library branch is that it sits directly across from the new book section. Not only does it make it easy for us to do double duty, shelving and answering questions as the same time, it also allows us to really examine all the scrumptious new novels that come in under the radar - the ones that don't go right back out to fill holds.

Long before the review appeared in the NYTimes book review I had spotted Vendela Vida's gorgeous little novel, The Lovers. It caught my eye for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the title has been used so many times before (one wonders why book titles aren't copyright protected) but also because of the simplicity of the cover art - the silhouette of the young boy wading into the becalmed sea - which doesn't become relevant until you're well into the book.

Upon opening the book the reader is greeted by a page of black and white intricate paisley kind of design reminiscent of Turkey where the novel takes place. These little things of beauty that a publisher accomplishes are missing to the reader of an ebook. One of the few drawbacks but, alas, there it is.

The story revolves around Yvonne, a young widow, a former school teacher, who hasn't fully mourned the death of her husband in an automobile accident back home in the states. She decides, quite courageously, to travel back to the tiny seaside town of Datca, where she and her husband spent their honeymoon. Readers understand that "you can't go home again..." and that memory has a way of being superior to reality.
This turns out to be the case as Yvonne walks the scruffy main roads, littered with trash and patrolled by stray animals. She realizes that she was blinded by love the first time she was there and that nothing is as she remembered.

In her loneliness she befriends almost anyone who will talk to her, including the spurned ex-lover of her mysterious landlord, a pair of tour boat operators, and a young boy who haunts the beach collecting shells to sell to tourists. She and Ahmet communicate using smiles and gestures while one gets the impression that she sees in him every student that she couldn't reach. Oddly, she yearns for his approval, paying him to paddle out on his surf board, scanning the ocean floor for the perfect shell.
Like many Americans Yvonne has good intentions tied up in helping this boy, but based on faulty information. When things go tragically awry, Yvonne is left to mourn once again.

The Lovers is a very unusual, haunting, spare novel. Things happen in this book that defy reality but, as a reader, I tended to just accept what Ms. Vida gave me, going with the flow. I don't normally do that. I usually talk to myself throughout a book saying "that wouldn't happen, that couldn't happen," but for some reason, the beauty of the author's prose forced me to suspend disbelief and succumb to the story.

Talk about suspending disbelief! I can't believe the wild book I just received from Library Journal for review. It appears to be a literary fantasy piece called Swamplandia and it takes place, you guessed it, in the Everglades. It doesn't appear at first glance to be anything like what I'd normally read, yet the author, Karen Russell, has accrued a daunting list of credits in her very young career so I will have to give it much credence. Eight days to read and review. Guess what I'll be doing this weekend?

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