February 21, 2010

Love Begins in Winter

Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories by Simon Van Booy
Fiction - Short Stories
2009 Harper Perennial
Finished on 2/16/10
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
Winner of the Frank O'Connor Prize 2009

Product Description

On the verge of giving up—anchored to dreams that never came true and to people who have long since disappeared from their lives—Van Booy's characters walk the streets of these stark and beautiful stories until chance meetings with strangers force them to face responsibility for lives they thought had continued on without them.

I've been hearing about Simon Van Booy's writing for a few years now. Bookfool is a huge fan and has mentioned Van Booy in over a dozen blog posts. (It's probably closer to 16, but I stopped counting when I hit a dozen.) She also has a marvelous interview with Simon posted on Estella's Revenge that I encourage you to read.

Being the romantic fool that I am, I chose to start Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories during the week prior to Valentine's Day. I was happy to see that this collection is comprised of only five stories. I like to spend as much time as possible with each character, plus I find it a little difficult to remember the details of the individual stories if there are too many in a single book. This was just right. Each story stood alone and I have no trouble visualizing the setting or the elements of each plot now that several days have passed since finishing the book. As Bookfool mentioned in one of her posts, this is the sort of book that calls out to be picked up, thumbed through for a re-read of a random passage or story. And I have to agree. The writing is exquisite.

I think music is what language once aspired to be. Music allows us to face God on our own terms because it reaches beyond life.


Grief is sometimes a quiet but obsessive madness.


If there is such a thing as marriage, it takes place long before the ceremony; in a car on the way to the airport; or as a gray bedroom fills with dawn, one lover watching the other; or as two strangers stand together in the rain with no bus in sight, arms weighed down with shopping bags. You don't know then. But later you realize--that was the moment.

And always without words.

Language is like looking at a map of somewhere. Love is living there and surviving on the land.

How could two people know each other so intimately without ever having told the old stories? You get to an age where the stories don't matter anymore, and the stories once told so passionately become a tide that never quite reaches the point of being said. And there is no such thing as fate, but there are no accidents either.

I didn't fall in love with Bruno then. I had always loved him and we were always together.

Love is like life but starts before and continues after—we arrive and depart in the middle.

And so I ask myself: Why didn't I fall in love with this book? I was easily drawn into each story. And the writing truly is quite poetic.

The billowing sail of a faraway boat holding the last of the day like a nugget of gold.


The beach was dark, and the sand had been packed hard by the outgoing tide. Rain lingered; like something said but not forgotten.

Maybe this is the sort of book that requires multiple readings. I can see myself taking the book on vacation, reading one story while flying to my destination. Reading another while lounging by a pool and reading yet another while sipping a cup of coffee in a bookstore. Perhaps it's not the sort of book to read cover-to-cover. So, yes, I'll keep the book, full of its quiet, spare prose, and come back to it again sometime in the future.

Read what other bloggers have to say about Love Begins in Winter:

Simon's writing is unflinchingly honest, an exploration of the flaws of humans and the love that binds them together. Unlike a lot of readers, I enjoy short stories but am well aware that very few people know how to do them right. Simon's stories never leave you dangling or drag on long after they should end. They vary in length and each is paced with perfection. (Nancy, of Bookfoolery and Babble)

Van Booy captures the essence of what makes us human, and how love can be found in the most unexpected places. Readers who love poetry will enjoy this collection of stories which often feel like long, narrative poems. (Wendy, of Caribousmom)

Both Wendy and Nancy have done great jobs summarizing each story, so be sure to click on the links to read their reviews.


  1. Les,

    Funny you should mention that it's not a book to be read straight through. That's exactly how I feel about short stories, in general, but particularly really great ones. I like to read one, let it roll around in my head for a day or two and then move on to the next.

    I've read the stories in Love Begins in Winter twice and those in The Secret Lives of People in Love three times because they keep calling out to me. Sorry you just considered it a "good" read. I found that I liked my favorites from Love Begins in Winter even more, the second time (that would be 4 out of 5 of the stories) and the one story that didn't thrill me . . . I just got confirmation that it wasn't for me and I'll stick to my 4 favorites when I reread, again! :)

  2. Nancy - I think I've learned a valuable lesson: Read short stories slowly. Savor them individually. Yep, I'll read this again. I really enjoyed The Missing Statue. It was probably my favorite. Tiger, Tiger was my least favorite.

  3. Les,

    It's a good thing to know. I feel like I've gotten a lot more out of the reading of short stories since I realized it's better to stop and savor. The Missing Statue is wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Tiger, Tiger was also my least favorite.

  4. Thanks for the link-love, Les!

    I read this one straight through as well, but I think had I read it slower I would have loved it even more. Short stories are funny like that - I think they are meant to be savored and thought about...they take a lot of patience!

    Glad you mostly enjoyed the book :)

  5. No way! I honestly did not know that you were reading this. I just pulled it off my shelf the other day when I finished my Grisham short story collection. I haven't started this one yet, but was excited to. I didn't read your review, but I think I'm going to now. I have soooo many collections that I want to read that I'd like to pick something that may give me a higher rating than 3.5 (good). We'll see. :)

  6. Okay - just read through your review (minus the quotes) and the comments above. I think I'm going to go ahead and read it. Other than "because I want to" (grin), I read most short stories in-between other reads, so they stand solidly alone. However, when there are a lot or they are short - towards the end of the book I clump some together. I also figure that there's no rule that I have to continue after the first story or even after the first page, right? :)

    Now that I'm on your actual blog, I see that you are listening to Maisie Dobbs! That was another very good book! Enjoy.

    Oh, oh, oh - I see that you finished Await Your Reply. What'd ya think? That's one is on my TBR list.

  7. I haven't read this one yet which is a complete shame because I LOVED The Secret Lives of People in Love.

  8. I think if a book 'requires multiple readings' to make a reader love it, then it just isn't the book for that particular reader. Good writing, as always Les.

  9. Wow--where have I been? I haven't even heard about this author. I did learn, when I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, that short stories should not all be read as a collection even if that's the way they were put together.

  10. Wendy - Yes, short stories require time and patience. Otherwise, they tend to blur amongst each other. I'm tempted to raise my rating on this one. I really didn't dislike it! I just didn't love it. It's one I want to hang onto and read again, so that's saying something. :)

    Link-love. I like that! :)

    Joy - You and I are definitely in sync with our reading, aren't we? I like the way you review short stories on your blog. Maybe that's what I should do. Treat each individually. I'm glad you decided to go ahead and start this book. I hate to think I'm turning people off of a potentially awesome read just because I gave it a middle-of-the-road rating. Be sure to read The Missing Statue, even if you decide you don't like the first few stories. It's the best in the bunch, imho.

    Yep, I'm listening to Maisie Dobbs. I read it when it first came out and I decided to listen before moving on to the next in the series. I'm getting hooked on audio books! Wish I had a longer commute.

    Umm, Await Your Reply wound up as a DNF. I'll post something brief, but I really didn't like it. At all.

    Andi - And now, in spite of the mediocre rating, I want to get my hands on The Secret Lives of People in Love. You and Nancy have raved about it forever and I'm curious to see if I'll like it better than this one.

    BTW, if you missed my blogiversary contest, head over. You have until March 1st if you want a book. :)

    Nan - There are a few gems in this collection and one in particular that moved me to tears. As always, it could've been a timing issue. February, ya know?

    Lisa - Yep. I need to be patient and read each story slowly. Wait a couple of days and read the next. I hope you give Simon a try.

  11. Hey Leslie, I just talked to you at B&N and came home and checked and Mudbound went down in price so I downloaded it to my nook! I will let you know what I think after I read it, have to finish another book first!

    Sara H

  12. Sara - Yay! You found my blog. It was nice to finally meet you today. I've seen you in the store for what, two or three years now?! You seem like such an enthusiastic reader, so I hope you find some good recommendations here. When you finish Mudbound, pop over here to read my review.

    See ya at B&N!


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