Sunday, June 16, 2013

Holding pain at arm's length (Books - Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy)

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy is a love story, or more than that, a connection story.  The story of a connection between two men and a woman, each incomplete, in their way.  Rebecca, an artist who searches for her mother, George, a drunk, a lover of ancient languages, and Henry, an archeologist who escapes to the past.  They all end up in Athens and, in a nutshell, try to become whole again.

Van Booy looks to Athens for a sort of seedy grandeur and tries to make of the connection between his characters something of (appropriately enough) mythic proportion, only it doesn't quite work.  He uses language to try to grace each character with a sort of specialness.

Her father is out calling the name she's been given.

But her real name is known only by the change in light that comes without sound, and by the worms pushing up through the soaked crust of soil...

His chronic drinking began when he was fourteen, and inspired long walks through Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he attended boarding school.  It was a stark gray town, with lingering fog at the windows of houses...

Like her, he was from a small cottage, but in Wales, on a hillside.

"It was like camping every day," he confessed.  "The house smelled of wet magazines and I shared my bed with a dozen animals."  
 But I found a manic desperation in his attempt to make them all so pleasantly quirky.  Trying to give the intersection of their stories a sense of magical coincidence - like the film The Double Life of Veronique - in the end it just came off twee.

At that moment, a French girl living in Paris called Natalie fainted in the supermarket.

These characters all really hurt and I was truly interested in their stories, but I felt like Van Booy's writing was a lot like George's drinking.
Booze washed all that nonsense away.  It shallowed his perception.  As a drunk, he was free to explore the earth without having to digest every moment, as if it were his last.
What he really wanted to write was an opera. Van Booy tries with the lyricism of his language to dull the pain or to encase it in a warm beauty, but what was most interesting about these people was their pain, and in the end, I didn't want to be held at arm's length from it.

No comments: