An eminently adult look at desire and attachment, with all the usual regrets and then some—but also with the knowledge that...

ENIGMA VARIATIONS

Love among the ruins—and with Ethan Frome, tennis, martinis, and Starbucks on the set as well.

As often in his fiction, Aciman (Harvard Square, 2013, etc.) immerses readers in a milieu that is achingly sensuous—and sensual, too—with not much regard for pedestrian ideas of what constitutes whatever normal behavior is supposed to be. Even so, his characters are often beset by moral agony over the choices they make in following their hearts. In the case of Paul, a definitively sensitive man of fleetingly passing years, just about everything is a Proustian madeleine: Greek and Latin, the glint of Mediterranean sunlight, “the cooling scent of coffee from the roasting mill that seemed to welcome me no differently now than when I ran errands with my mother.” Then there is music, so elegantly alluded to in the title, and the memories of men and women who have fallen in his path and bed and sometimes imparted wisdom along the way; as an early object of desire says, knowingly, “It could be life or it could be a strip of wood that refuses to bend as it should.” Paul bends easily in his pursuits, broadly catholic in his affinities. Aciman’s portrait of him and his world is thoughtful, sympathetic, and never prurient; Paul is very much, as a friend of his remarks, like Sicily in having many identities and “all manner of names, when in fact one, and one only, is good enough.” He is not at all reprehensible, yet he is not blameless, either; Paul’s quest for self-awareness, to say nothing of his quest for pleasure, carries plenty of collateral damage. Most of it he bears himself, though; as he says, with knowing resignation, “I think everyone is wounded in their sex…I can’t think of one person who isn’t.”

An eminently adult look at desire and attachment, with all the usual regrets and then some—but also with the knowledge that such regret “is easy enough to live down.”

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-14843-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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The book is pure fun, although slender. Another volume of Maud’s misdeeds would be most welcome.

AN ELDERLY LADY IS UP TO NO GOOD

Five connected stories about a murderous old Swedish lady.

Maud has a good thing going. At age 88, she’s lived in a large apartment rent-free for 70 years because of a clause in an old contract. Never married, she loves to travel alone and to be alone. In the first story, "An Elderly Lady Has Accommodation Problems," a rare event happens: Her doorbell rings. Jasmin Schimmerhof, a 40-year-old avant-garde artist who lives in the building, stops by to say hello. The daughter of celebrities, her past includes drugs, multiple divorces, and tragedy. Her current art project strives to “unmask the domineering tactics of the patriarchy,” meaning that her small apartment is filled with phalluses—some even hanging from the ceiling. She is delightfully overbearing as she constantly tries to weasel her way into Maud’s good graces. But Maud isn’t stupid or senile, and she knows Jasmin is up to something. Once Maud figures out what it is, her solution is drastic, funny, and final. Maud is a seasoned world traveler who once, at age 18, had been engaged to Lt. Gustaf Adelsiöö. He’d emphatically broken off their engagement on learning her family wasn’t rich. Now, in “An Elderly Lady on Her Travels,” she reads in the newspaper that he is a wealthy 90-year-old widower about to marry the 55-year-old Zazza, whom ex-teacher Maud knows as her long-ago student, a schemer and a failed soft-core porn actress. When Maud arranges to get near her at a spa and then overhears Zazza’s plans to take control of Gustaf’s estate, Maud devises an emphatic countermeasure. And then in “An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime,” she deals with “The Problem” in the apartment above her. Maud’s murders always have plausible motives, and she is a sympathetic character as long as one keeps a safe distance. Each story takes its sweet time to develop and concludes with a juicy dose of senior justice.

The book is pure fun, although slender. Another volume of Maud’s misdeeds would be most welcome.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64129-011-1

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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