Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: "The Isle of Youth" by Laura Van Den Berg

While Richard Lange’s collection Sweet Nothing is the kind of short story collection I look forward to reading, The Isle of Youth, a collection by new (at least to me) writer Laura Van Den Berg, is a collection I look at with a bit more trepidation, since it promises a series of stories that don’t always offer what I want out of the form. On the back of the book, Dave Eggers compares Van Den Berg to Lorrie Moore, and reading these stories that is as good a comparison as any for this well-written, if dense collection of stories, since I am not a huge Moore fan. Like her stories, Van Den Berg is really good at setups here, telling old tales of desperate women caught in the webs of fate and circumstances in ways that are unique at best and harmlessly silly at their worst. The stories sometimes last a little bit longer than they need to, but their better qualities allow them to run smoothly. There weren’t any real standouts here, but luckily none of them were bad. Like I said, the setups here are amazing, with the first pages of each story easily grabbing your attention, like the duo of sister PI’s in “Opa-Locka”, the gang of female robbers in “Lessons”, and the Parisian acrobats that a scorned woman becomes infatuated with in “Acrobat”. These qualities are insightful enough to keep the story going, even when the narrative falls off the rails. If I had to pick a favorite story here, something to take away from this book, it would have to be the first story, “I Looked For You, I Called Your Name” which begins with a plane crash on a couples honeymoon, and goes onto to eloquently present a new marriage fraught with ambiguous feelings and motivations, with a tropical backdrop that juxtaposes beauty with danger. It’s a bittersweet accomplishment of the short story form that makes this collection worthwhile.  

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