🙂 🙂 🙂
The first and title story in this collection of eleven is a first-person account of a man remembering a night he spent with a young woman while on a visit to New York. In numbered paragraphs, he lists the things she told him about herself – her job, her family, her previous boyfriends – and he felt he had begun to get to know her. But he hints throughout about a future event that turned everything he thought he’d learned about her on its head, leaving him wondering how much we ever really know about anyone. It’s beautifully written in a kind of conversational style, with some really excellent descriptive writing that brought the hot New York night to life, and it conveys a feeling of the transience of life. It’s a story of the possibility of love, a love that in this case never blossomed when she didn’t answer or return his calls. But it’s also a story of loss – a feeling that is harder for him to get over, because he feels that somewhere amongst what he found about her he should have found out that she would do what she did – an event that is only hinted at but which becomes clear to the reader nevertheless. An impressive story, well told, despite the rather pointless gimmick of the numbered paragraphs.
There was that aroma of the city, a little bit asphalt and a little bit exhaust and a little bit just the strong, flat metallic something that is New York, what speaks the whole hugeness of it, the whole importance of it, the whole uncontrollable rush of it, like nowhere else in the country, definitely, possibly like no place else in the world.
Unfortunately, as the collection unfolds, it becomes clear that the majority of the stories repeat a similar theme – the main character, sometimes first person, sometimes third, remembers someone s/he once knew who is now dead and wonders if s/he ever really knew them at all. Frequently the ending is foreshadowed but not spelled out, which works quite well in individual stories, but becomes annoying when it happens again and again.
To change things up a bit, LaSalle uses a variety of stylistic techniques, which I mostly felt added nothing and sometimes actually irritated me intensely. For example, one story has the paragraphs preceded by hashtags – if there was a deep symbolism to that, I fear it passed me by. Another is told in the form of one long sentence. Now, when Michael Chabon gave us an 11-page sentence in the middle of Telegraph Avenue, I described it as a virtuoso performance from a master wordsmith. But Chabon’s sentence actually is a sentence – beautifully constructed and perfectly grammatical. LaSalle on the other hand frequently resorts to merely replacing full stops with commas. The effect is not the same.
The language is, on the whole, much more successful than the structure – there’s a jazzy, improv feel to much of it which often ties in well with the settings. Sometimes it becomes almost stream of consciousness, which works better in some stories than others. He uses slightly odd sentence constructions at times, I’m sure deliberately, but again mostly I couldn’t see that it did anything other than break the natural flow of the words.
…and I can admit that before going I pictured just about every cliché of our living in Paris, sometimes I saw myself riding a wobbly black-fendered bicycle down a Paris side street, the cobbles lumpily purple, with a freshly aromatic baguette balanced across the tastefully weathered wicker basket in front, sometimes I saw myself actually sitting with a book and looking suitably and even existentially bored at one of those little round tables with a faux-marble top and a frilly cast-iron stem in the clutter of a café terrasse…
This is a collection where I felt the stories actually suffered from being together. Many of them would have stood out as strong entries in an anthology of different authors, but reading them all together made the similarities in style and substance too noticeable. When I reached the eighth story, I made a pact with myself that, if it involved a reminiscence about someone the narrator once knew who was now dead, written with some stylistic quirk, I would abandon the rest of the collection. It did, and I did. In fairness, I may go back to the remaining stories at some point, but to read them separately and far apart, rather than one after the other, and I’m sure they’ll work much better that way.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, University of Notre Dame Press.