Thursday, May 21, 2009

Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy

Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy
Copyright 2009
HarperPerennial - Fiction/Short Stories
226 pages

Wait! Don't skip this review just because you don't like short stories! Please read on. Take in a few quotes and see if I can't change your mind because you really need to buy this book.

Children are the closest we are to wisdom, and they become adults the moment that final drop of everything mysterious is strained from them. I think it happens quietly to every one of us -- like crossing a state line when you're asleep.

--from "Tiger, Tiger"

"Every morning can be the beginning of your life -- you have thousands of lives, but each is only a day long."

-- from "The Missing Statues"

"This country is nothing but rain and songs," his father once said in his Romany accent.

A young Walter had asked if that was good.

"Ay, it's grand, Walter -- because every song is a shadow to the memory it follows around, and rain touches a city all at once with its thousand small hands."

--from "The Coming and Going of Strangers"

He remembered all those mornings out in the field beside his caravan, watching storms move across the fields below. Eyes glued to the sky until a fork of lightning hit the earth; wind ripping trees from soggy riverbanks; an early morning blizzard like pillows ripped open. Walter suddenly felt that such things were part of his very being. And that for his entire life, the countryside he'd grown up in was a form of self-portrait.

--from "The Coming and Going of Strangers"

I fell in love with Simon Van Booy's writing in 2007, when The Secret Lives of People in Love was offered to Estella's Revenge writers for review and I waved my little hand (my review of The Secret Lives of People in love -- note that the word "compendium" was substituted for "anthology" by the editor; I believe "collection" is actually the correct descriptive term and we were both wrong). I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. Simon's writing is utterly addictive. I nearly beat my copy of Secret Lives to death and probably should have bought stock in Post-its. I've read all of the stories at least three times and sometimes I just walk to the shelf, pull out the book and flip open at random.

Just a couple of months after reading Secret Lives, I had the privilege of interviewing Simon when I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Really, we just chattered a lot and I gleaned information from our conversation. I'll reprint the interview at Bookfoolery, soon; it was written for Estella's Revenge and I didn't cross-post, at the time, although you can read my interview with Simon Van Booy here, if you're feeling impatient. Simon actually was heading from Detroit to somewhere in Ohio and drove out of his way to meet up with me. He's that kind of guy.

We've kept in touch and Simon sent me an ARC of Love Begins in Winter, earlier this year. I gobbled it up way ahead of its release and just reread it, last week. I don't think I'm ever going to have any trouble at all with that promise I made to myself to read absolutely everything the man ever writes. In fact, I wish Harper Perennial would shove his books through the press a little bit faster. Love Begins in Winter is an anthology containing five of Simon's short stories, in which he once again mines the depths of the human heart.

Love Begins in Winter - The story from which the anthology derives its name, "Love Begins in Winter" weaves together the tales of two people who have spent their lives clinging to private grief but find love when they sense each other's stories through the mingling of their tokens of remembrance.

He looked surprised and I wasn't sure what to do. My hand began to shake and he reached for it. I let him. With his other hand, he took from his pocket a handful of acorns and put them in my palm.

From my pocket I took a large stone and set it squarely in his open hand. If there is such a thing as marriage, it takes place long before the ceremony: in a car on the way to the airport; or as a gray bedroom fills with dawn, one lover watching the other; or as two strangers stand together in the rain with no bus in sight, arms weighed down with shopping bags. You don't know then. But later you realize -- that was the moment.

And always without words.

Language is like looking at a map of somewhere. Love is living there and surviving on the land.

Tiger, Tiger - A slightly darker story in which the heroine shows her love in a most unusual and painful way, by biting the object of her affection.

The Missing Statues - A man notices a statue missing from St. Peter's Square and is reminded of a time when the compassion of a stranger turned a dreadful childhood experience into a moment of transformative beauty and hope. "The Missing Statues" was featured at Fifty-Two Stories with Cal Morgan. Dash over and read it if you're unsure about buying the book. It's an excellent example of Simon's style.

The Coming and Going of Strangers - An Irish gypsy jumps off a cliff to save a child who has fallen and is rewarded for the heroic deed that eventually will cripple him. Years later, his son develops a crush on an orphan from Canada. Throughout this story, strangers touch each other's lives and hearts.

The City of Windy Trees - A very lonely man finds it's still possible to fill gaping holes in his life when he receives a letter containing a photograph of a young girl.

When I opened Love Begins in Winter for a second reading, I had a rather funny experience. I read the first story (the title story) and thought to myself, "Oh, yes, this was one of my favorites!" As I read through the book, I realized that I actually had four favorites. Only one didn't thrill the socks off me. Simon's writing is unflinchingly honest, an exploration of the flaws of humans and the love that binds them together. Unlike a lot of readers, I enjoy short stories but am well aware that very few people know how to do them right. Simon's stories never leave you dangling or drag on long after they should end. They vary in length and each is paced with perfection.

Extra material in the book includes a "Meet the Author" section as well as "How to Find a Story" and "What I Do When I'm Not Writing Books," all written by Simon and each offering some additional insight into the stories in Love Begins in Winter and The Secret Lives of People in Love.

I was a little flabbergasted when Chris of Stuff as Dreams Are Made On informed me that my name is in the acknowledgments (Thank you, Simon!). If you still hate short stories and don't want to read the book, I can give you another excuse to buy it. You can say, "Hey, I know this chick in the acknowledgments!" There you go.

Simon is in the Seattle area today and tomorrow (the 21st and 22nd of May). You can find out if he will be visiting a city near you by checking Simon's tour schedule. Tell him Bookfool sent you!

Just finished:

Gossamer by Lois Lowry (loved it!). More on that, later, I hope. I do have a rather oppressive-looking calendar.

Off to pick up my teenager from school. He has suddenly become disinterested in driving himself to school in the morning.
Happy Trails!


  1. I love Short Stories and I think that this one sounds really nice! I think I will add it to my TBR. Thanks!

  2. Michelle,

    You won't regret it! Hope you love Simon's stories as much as I do. :)

  3. I hope you're enjoying your time away from the computer!

    Everyone should get Simon's books just to read his lyrical descriptive sentences, not to mention the stories.

  4. Hi Carrie,

    Actually, I spent the whole freaking day on the computer. I'm so critical of myself that I edit my reviews to death (I'm still not happy with the last two -- I just decided I'd reached a good point to give up). I'm seriously thinking about making this blog disappear so I can get a life.

    As to Simon's books . . . yeah. I was actually trying to avoid the word "lyrical", even though it actually is the truth, for once!

  5. Wonderful review Nancy! I have come to love a good short story collection and added this to my TBR.
    Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  6. Teddi Rose,

    Thank you! I hope you love the book as much as I do!

  7. Anonymous9:31 PM

    This looks beautiful. You're always exposing me to new and thoughtful books, Bookfool. I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on Lowry's newest as well. Number the Stars was my favorite work of hers.

    By the way, every time I visit and see the header picture I sigh; the bottom picture makes me smile. Those silly cats...could the one on the bottom be reaching for the bird on the top? :)

  8. I read The Missing Statues on the 52 Stories blog and loved it. Thanks for reminding me of this author - I'm adding his book to my wish list.

  9. Nancy,

    I started Secret Lives last night and it kept me up until past 11 even though I had to get up this morning at 5! I can't wait to order this one and see your name. How exciting!

    Thanks for the great peek with all the quotes. I can't wait.

  10. *digs through newly acquired book pile, finds this one, and starts reading it immediately*

    That first quote really touched me. I was working with a young guy today, a guy in his early twenties, who said almost that exact same thing. He told me a very sad story about something that happened when he was 11 years old and he said that's when he lost his childhood. That quote is so true. It's amazing how much emotion Simon packs into one sentence. I hope he knows how talented and gifted he is.

    Oh I'm so excited to start reading this one now!!! Like literally, NOW...I'm starting it right after I write this comment :)

    Oh, and so glad to hear you liked Gossamer too! Wasn't it just a perfect book?

  11. I recognized the author, but didn't know where from until you mentioned The Secret Lives of People in Love. Woo! I really want to read both of these collections. This one is being added to the list - the other one is already there! Thank you. :)

  12. I'm not really a short story person but you've intrigued me. I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

  13. Bellezza,

    Gossamer is wonderful. It has its darker aspects, but it's really a very sweet, fanciful tale of little creatures who bestow humans with dreams and try to strengthen them from nightmares. You'll love it, I promise!

    Hahaha! Well, now that you mention it . . . the cat on the bottom, Slim (but we call him "Slimmy") was watching a mockingbird on the fence in my backyard -- and then shortly after that photo, the mockingbird dive-bombed him. So, he really was looking at a bird, just not the same one! That fellow at the top of my page was a Costa Rican bird. Pretty, isn't he?

    Carrie K,

    I was about to say The Missing Statues is one of my favorites and then I remembered I have 4 faves. LOL I'm glad you loved the story. The book is well worth buying. I read mine to pieces. :)


    If I'd known you were going to start in the evening, I would have warned you. "Addictive!!" I'm glad you're enjoying it. I want everyone to love Simon's writing as much as I do, since he's such a great guy. I can't wait to read your review, when you finish!! :)

  14. Chris,

    Dig faster! LOL That's sad about your client. He's lucky to have you helping him.

    Simon's talented and brilliant and I'm sure he's aware of both, but he also puts his heart and soul into the writing. I think that really shows, don't you?

    Oh, good, you're reading. I'll try not to interrupt, then. Yep, Gossamer was absolutely perfect. I just loved it.


    I hope you love Simon's stories! I bopped around some google links, the other day, just reading various thoughts on Secret Lives. Nothing negative showed up at all. His stories would be great for book group discussion, now that I think about it. Anyway, I hope you get your mitts on his books, soon! I want to read your thoughts. :)


    That's what I used to say! There are so few authors who can handle shorter format, in my humble opinion, that you really have to get some solid recommendations or it's a crap shoot whether they'll be any good. I hope you love Simon's book(s)!!

  15. Short stories are kind of hit and miss with me--sometimes I am left feeling "huh?" and I don't really care for that feeling. But to read each story three times each because you love them? Gotta check this one out!

  16. Trish,

    I think most writers suck at short stories, to be honest. Simon is right up there with Nabokov and Chekov, in my opinion, in that they're among the rare writers who can tell a full story in short format (most of the time -- even with my favorites, I've found exceptions) so you're not left thinking, "Uh, what just happened?" "Tiger, Tiger" is the only one of the stories in Love Begins in Winter that I probably won't read 100 times. I really do like his writing that much. I hope you do, too. :)

  17. Can't wait to read it! Can't wait! It's one of the few books I'm willing to buy new. Woot!

  18. Andi,

    It's worth buying, I promise. I wish Simon was going to Texas. I don't see anything below Memphis on his tour dates -- well, unless North Carolina is farther south. I don't know my geography, apparently. I can't wait to read your thoughts. I just reread your review of Secret Lives, a few days ago, and it was totally awesome.


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