Few books have left me as emotionally devastated as Van Booy's knockout first novel, Everything Beautiful Began After
. While it leans a little towards the side of precious, the book explored what it means to give yourself to someone else and to survive loss with the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking prose. The book was published just a few days before one of the most difficult heartbreaks of my life and the line "To love again, you must not discard what has happened to you, but take from it the strength you'll need to carry on" became something of a personal epigraph for me.
So I leapt out of my seat when I learned that Van Booy had a new novel coming out.
Van Booy was initially a short story writer and he revisits the form here, as this book reads more like a series of connected short stories that explore the idea that we are all connected to each other through small threads. It's not a particularly original idea, nor a particularly original means of exploring that idea. Something about the way Van Booy does it, though, is quite special.
The book takes it time, despite its relative brevity. We start with Martin, who is preparing for a new resident in the nursing home where he is employed. Then we rewind to see that resident, Mr. Hugo, in 1970s Manchester. Having lost a significant portion of his head in the Second World War, Hugo is an outsider in his community when he is asked to watch a neighbor's son. We also see John, a fighter pilot whose bomber goes missing during the war, and his blind granddaughter Amelia, who creates exhibits for blind patrons at MoMA.
This is a three and a half star book. I actually read it twice. Once was during a trans-Pacific flight to my best friend's Australian wedding. I found that I had trouble focusing on the story and decided I would need to revisit it at a later time. I returned to the book post-jet lag and found myself better able to concentrate on the small details that link the characters together. There were times, though, that the story felt a little too forced and I found that I wasn't connecting to it emotionally the way I had with his previous novel. Still, the writing is lovely and I definitely think the book is worth reading for Van Booy's way with words.