A breadth of experience and setting distinguishes this somber first collection of 18 very short stories by New York-based Van Booy. "Little Birds" is narrated by a teenage boy of uncertain parentage who sketches his life with his devoted foster father, Michel, in working-class Paris: "It is the afternoon of my birthday, but still the morning of my life. I am walking on the Pont des Arts." In "Some Bloom in Darkness," an aging railroad station clerk's witness of a violent scene between a man and woman translates in his mind into an infatuation with a store mannequin. Other tales are set in Rome ("I live in Rome where people sit by fountains and kiss"), small villages in Cornwall or Wales, and in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Van Booy's characters are shipwrecked by fate and memory but tarry on, like the narrator of "Distant Ships," a lifelong Royal Mail loader who stopped speaking after the death of his son 20 years earlier, or the homeless man chased by ghosts in "The Shepherd on the Rock," who aims to "live out the last of my life" at John F. Kennedy International Airport. These tales have at once the solemnity of myth and the offhandedness of happenstance. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Lonely, vulnerable protagonists grieve in Paris, New York, Wales, Rome, Kentucky and other locales. The 18 brief, elliptical stories in this debut collection rely heavily on mood and lyricism. Their narrative strands are often gossamer. In "Distant Ships," a Welsh package sorter agonizes over his son's long-ago death, which chased away his wife and made him forswear speaking. "Apples" involves a Russian-born cobbler mourning his wife and daughter; he nurtures the apple seedlings indoors through winter, then plants them in a vacant lot year after year, creating an orchard that spawns Brooklyn's only apple festival. Young Edgar, bereft after his mother's demise, meets a mysterious turbaned man who teaches him how to reconnect to the sensory world in "Where They Hide Is a Mystery." Van Booy's clean, simple, delicate prose suits the material's sadness: It's hard to imagine a more arresting precis of isolation than, "Serge's only other friend was a blind tobacconist from Ukraine called Peter, who when not being beaten by his wife played obsolete military songs on the accordion." Yet for all their somberness, these stories exude an abiding sweetness. The characters cling to optimism, even to love, despite their frailties and straitened circumstances. Marred at times by sameness of tone and occasional lapses into preciosity, but lovely and genuinely touching. This talented author bears watching.