Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: "Lovers on All Saint's Day" by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Only three books into the year and already I have read one that has blown me away. Like most people on this side of the world, the first time I read any book by Columbian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez was back in 2013, when an English translation of his novel The Sound of Things Falling was published here in the Untied States. It is quiet yet brutal in in its devastation, and brilliantly recalls a Bolano less obsessed with inner thoughts and grand nightmares and more on the outer world, and how evil seeps into the contours of our lives, affecting our love of people and humanity and our desire to change things. It is not the most upbeat book, but it is masterful one, and also a very sincere one that is among the best of this decade. I liked his other novels, The Informers (not the Bret Easton Ellis short story collection) and The Secret History of Costaguana a little less than his English language breakthrough, but his most recent North American publication, his story collection Lovers on All Saint’s Day, is simply fantastic. It trudges some of the same material he does in The Sound of Things Falling, but here, in these seven stories, the settings and ideas are a bit more intimate, sometimes too intimate. They sneak up on you in a big way, and found myself, at different times, confused, scared, revolted and ultimately moved. They are linked by not only their ideas, but by their setting and a few disparate details, such as marriages on the brink, infidelity, mortality, and, oddly enough, hunting, which makes an appearance in no less than three of the stories. As with collections, I will give my opinions on what my favorite stories were. The first one that caught my attention was the second one here, called “The All Saint’s Day Lover’s” which begins with a hunting party of three tracking quail, two of which are a man and a woman whose marriage is pretty much over, and in an act of betrayal, the man finds himself in another’s woman’s bed, the circumstances, which I won’t reveal here, is what make it special. It’s a sort of spiritual cousin to the final story, “Life on Grimsey Island”, also about a hesitant couple, the man much younger than the woman, who meets as strangers and become harbingers of doom for one another by the end. The strongest theme of the boom rests in these two stories, where the central character, the man, catches a glimpse of his dower future in someone he does not know, and it is too late to change said future, something very similar to what is found in The Sound of Things Falling. Others here that I enjoyed were “The Lodger” about an aging couple whose quiet resignation is interrupted by the third member of their long ago love triangle, and “The Solitude of the Magician” about the sad life of a magician, who is used by a bored housewife and discarded after a massive tragedy. These stories are treats in the classical sense: well written, breathtakingly intimate and more revealing the more you think about them.
Rating: 5/5

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