Always Beside by M.R. Grand

Always Beside

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An ill-fated romance inspires a young man’s meditations on society, politics, and religion in this novel.

Florian, a newly minted lawyer, and his girlfriend, Oblina, a college student, meet for a drink. The young man is eager to embark on the next phase of his life, and he plans to settle down with Oblina and pursue a career with a prestigious firm in a foreign city. But Oblina unceremoniously dumps him, announcing, “I really want you to go away.” The breakup alters the course of Florian’s life; shaken by the change in his circumstances, he fails to show up for the first day of his new job, much to the consternation of his father. Instead, he decides to write a book for all the “superficial, stupid” people in which he will “try to put everything right, to point at their mistakes, to show them the solutions using the right examples.” The remainder of the book alternates between Florian’s and Oblina’s lives, with excerpts from the former’s book in progress. Both of their stories end in tragedy, although Oblina seems positioned for even more misery at the book’s end, while Florian has “surmounted the top” of a literal mountain and seems poised to tackle even greater challenges ahead. That’s not surprising, given the way Grand consistently emphasizes the differences between the young man and his ex-girlfriend. Oblina is said to have “limited mental abilities,” and is portrayed as a promiscuous, lower-middle-class gold digger, while Florian is shown to be an intelligent member of the upper class. In one of the novel’s more disturbing passages, Oblina picks up a guy in a bar who rapes her, and both the sexual assault and her subsequent pregnancy appear to be presented as just punishment for her rejection of Florian. The novel’s attempts at social commentary also fall flat. That said, the novel has some evocative details (“The wind drove autumn leaves along the moonlit pavement”) and clever observations (“Heaven seemed to be sort of a library to her from which you could borrow books on only one boring subject”).

A somewhat unfocused lesson on the diverging paths that life can take. 

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5172-0250-7
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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