Love Begins in Winter

Love Begins in Winter

4.5 8
by Simon Van Booy

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On the verge of giving up—anchored to dreams that never came true and to people who have long since disappeared from their lives—Van Booy's characters walk the streets of these stark and beautiful stories until chance meetings with strangers force them to face responsibility for lives they thought had continued on without them.

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On the verge of giving up—anchored to dreams that never came true and to people who have long since disappeared from their lives—Van Booy's characters walk the streets of these stark and beautiful stories until chance meetings with strangers force them to face responsibility for lives they thought had continued on without them.

Editorial Reviews

Robert Olen Butler
“Simon Van Booy knows a great deal about the complex longings of the human heart, and he articulates those truths in his stories with pitch-perfect elegance. Love Begins in Winter is a splendid collection, and Van Booy is now a writer on my must-always-read list.”
Roger Rosenblatt
“Simon Van Booy seems to start with a story in mind and then to turn it into a poem without losing its narrative power. Love Begins in Winter is an exquisite show of force.”
Jamie Saul
“Love Begins in Winter” brings to life the wistfulness of youth and the possibilities of young love with clear and graceful prose.”
Binnie Kirshenbaum
“The stories of Love Begins in Winter are stylistically brilliant and emotionally beautiful. I found myself gasping, literally gasping, at surprises so perfectly attuned as to be inevitable. Simon Van Booy is an extraordinary writer, and this is a book to be read and reread again and again.”
Publishers Weekly

Van Booy's sentimental second collection deals heavily in the neuroses and personal traumas of his characters. The longish title story follows Brunno Bonnet, an emotionally debilitated cellist with a fondness for stones who encounters Hannah, a bird-obsessed shop owner with a fondness for acorns. In the beautiful "The Missing Statues," Max, a young diplomat is reduced to tears at the edge of St. Peter's Square in Rome as memories of childhood in seedy Las Vegas overwhelm him. In the excellent "The Coming and Going of Strangers," a multigenerational story of heroism, tragedy, love and family finds its roots with Walter, a Romany Irish gypsy who falls in love with a Canadian orphan girl. Though Van Booy's tendency to deliver a late-story surprise becomes predictable, each of these stories has moments of sheer loveliness. (May)

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Kirkus Reviews
Couples find surprising, if not downright strange ways to come together in a second romance-centered collection by Van Booy (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2007). The author has a pitch-perfect tone for writing about the tender passion. Instead of florid, melodramatic prose, the five tales feature hushed, patient storytelling that's deliberately abstracted; Van Booy's goal is to capture the ineffable nature of falling in love. The title story is a braided narrative involving Bruno, a famous concert cellist prone to musing on the death of his sister years ago, and Hannah, who similarly mourns the untimely loss of her young brother. Restrained without being icy, it recalls a Bergman film as it returns to such curious, ghostly characters as the nun Bruno sees writing on a frosted window, or the homeless man Hannah watches in a Los Angeles park. Van Booy has a taste for merging such gentle imagery with more violent moments, as when Hannah's father chops off his hand after the death of his son. "The Coming and Going of Strangers" opens with a gypsy man risking his life to save a child from drowning. Two decades later, the man's son seems to have inherited his father's nobility, which helps readers understand that he's more than a Peeping Tom as he obsessively spies on the girl he adores. Van Booy's gauzy characterizations can be maddening: Is the narrator of "Tiger, Tiger" unhealthily fixated on a pediatrician who had an affair with her mother-in-law, or is he truly amazingly wise, as she seems to believe? In this particular universe, emotion counts for more than motivation, so the hero of "The City of Windy Trees" doesn't seem especially odd for being so absurdly concerned with Raisinetsand David Bowie songs. His journey from New York to Sweden to meet his daughter comes to such a sweet, sensible resolution that it convincingly shows how love rights the world. Appealing and surprising takes on a subject prone to cliche. Author tour to Nashville, New York City, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle; upon request

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.48(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.64(d)

Meet the Author

Simon Van Booy is the author of two novels and two collections of short stories, including The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books and has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, and the BBC. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Read an Excerpt

Love Begins in Winter
Five Stories

Chapter One

I wait in the shadows.

My cello is already on stage. It was carved in 1723 on a Sicilian hillside where the sea is very quiet. The strings vibrate when the bow is near, as though anticipating their lover.

My name is Bruno Bonnet. The curtain I stand behind is the color of a plum. The velvet is heavy. My life is on the other side. Sometimes I wish it would continue on without me.

The stage lights here in Quebec City are too bright. Stars of dust circle the scroll and the pegs as I am introduced in French-Canadian. The cello belonged to my grandfather who was accidentally killed in World War II.

My grandfather's kitchen chair is also on stage. I can only put weight on three legs. The wicker at the center of the seat is ripped. One day it's going to collapse. When the chair arrives at the concert hall a day or so before a performance, a frantic music director will call with bad news: "Your chair has been utterly ruined in transit."

An eruption of applause and I take the stage.

Who are all these people?

One day I will play without my instrument. I will sit up straight and not move. I will close my eyes and imagine life taking place in the houses outside the concert hall: steaming pots stirred by women in slippers; teenagers in their rooms wearing headphones; somebody's son looking for his keys; a divorcée brushing her teeth as her cat stares; a family watching television—the youngest is asleep but will not remember his dream.

When I clasp my bow, the audience is suddenly very quiet.

I look out at their faces amoment before I begin.

So many people and yet not one single person who knows anything about me.

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.

For ten years as a professional cellist I have been raising the dead in concert halls across the world. The moment my bow makes contact with the strings, Anna's form appears. She is wearing the clothes from that day. I am twenty years older. But she is still a child. She flickers because she is made of light. She watches a few feet from my cello. She looks at me but doesn't recognize who I am.

Tonight the concert hall is packed. By the end of the final movement I can sense her fading. Perhaps a single hand remains; a scoop of shoulder; a shimmering mane of hair.

But she is turning inward quickly now—quickly drifting from the living world.

Some concert performers turn their backs to the figures that float upon the stage: figures that move with the confusion of sleep, with the grace of unfurling smoke, figures conjured by guilt, love, regret, luck, and happenstance. Some performers I've read about can't take their eyes off them. Some crack and fling themselves off bridges; others drink themselves into oblivion or stand in freezing rivers at midnight.

I think music is what language once aspired to be. Music allows us to face God on our own terms because it reaches beyond life.

I feel moments from the end.

The muscles in my bowing arm tighten. The final notes are sonorous; I steady my bow like an oar held in a river, steering us all toward the bank of now and tomorrow and the day after that. Days ahead like open fields.

And night pools outside the concert hall. The city is still wet. The concert hall is glassed in and overlooks a garden. Eyes of rain dot the windows and shiver with each breath of wind. Stars fill the sky, then drop to flood the streets and the squares. When it rains, even the most insignificant puddle is a map of the universe.

When the performance ends, I stand and raise my bow to the audience. I can hear things landing on the stage—flowers and small letters taped to the plastic.

The applause is deafening. I feel for Anna's mitten in my pocket.

I drip with sweat under the lights. Each drop holds its own tiny clapping audience. As always I want something sweet to drink. I hurry off the stage, still holding my bow. When I reach the steps, I feel again for Anna's mitten and suddenly see her face with terrifying clarity. Such straight hair and so many freckles. The only authentic memories find us—like letters addressed to someone we used to be.

I hurry to my dressing room. I find a towel, drink orange juice from a bottle, and fall into a chair.

Then I sit very still and close my eyes.

Another concert over.

I wonder how many more I can do. How many Annas are left. She was twelve when she died. Her father was a baker—and since that morning, every twelfth baguette he bakes bears the letter A. He lets children eat cakes in his shop for free. They talk loudly and make a mess.

A porter knocks, then enters my dressing room with a cell phone. He gestures for me to take it. He has the sort of square shoulders women like. There are deep lines around his eyes, but he doesn't look over forty. I give him my bottle of juice. He holds it at a distance from his body. I cup the phone to my ear. It's Sandy. She wants to know how it has gone. She couldn't hear because of the static on the porter's phone. Someone had given her the number so she could listen from backstage. Sandy is my agent. She is originally from Iowa. A good businesswoman; understands how creative minds work—in other words, she's pushy with everyone but her talent. I tell her it went well. Then I ask if I can tell her something.

"Like what?" she says.

I seldom volunteer anything. For most of my thirties, I have seen little point in telling people anything. But as a teenager, I loved passionately, spent whole nights crying (for what, I can no longer remember). I followed women home and then wrote sonatas that I left on doorsteps in the middle of the night. I dived into ponds fully clothed. I almost drank myself to death. In my youth, all conflict was resolution—just a busier form of emptiness.

Sandy knows only that I'm French and that I never forget to send her daughter a postcard from wherever I go.

I tell Sandy about a dream I had on the flight to Quebec City. Sandy says that dreams are either unresolved conflicts or wish fulfillments. According to Freud, she says. Then she doesn't say anything. I can hear a television in the background. Then she says her daughter needs to go to bed. I ask what she's done wrong. Sandy laughs. They are knitting and there's a film on. Sandy is a single mother. She went to a facility and had herself impregnated. I've always thought that if Sandy died, I'd want her daughter to live with me. I could teach her the cello. Though she'd be alone a lot because I go away.

Love Begins in Winter
Five Stories
. Copyright (c) by Simon Van Booy . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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