Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pub. Date: August 21, 2018
My first thought, once I finished the last page of this connected short story collection, was that the author, D. Wystan Owen, manages to pen a book to the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” With its lyrics of, “All the lonely people, Where do they all come from? All the lonely people, Where do they all belong?” This mostly brilliant ten story collection follows the lives of characters who live in the same coastal English village. All are unhappy. All are desperately lonely. All are disappointed in life.
The title story is one of the weakest tales in the collection. Two women have lived together for twenty years. Neither the village people nor the reader knows if they are lovers or simply friends. No matter, they are passionately devoted to one another and inseparable. After the death of one, the other learns that years ago the deceased had a male lover. The living companion is devastated to learn this news. She is left feeling that she never really knew her partner at all. Reading of their longtime relationship is glorious. The tale is filled with pieces of the fine and playful life that they made together. The ending is a bit melodramatic.
“Housekeeper” is the stellar story in the collection. An unmarried woman cares for an old man with dementia. From the beginning, when she moves into his home, she is grateful that she is no longer alone in the world. She is pleased when he mistakes her for his deceased wife. She encourages his confusion and pretends to be the wife. She now feels that she too can say she has been in a marriage. She is very loving towards him. She is an endearing character. And yes, to be pleased with this fictional marriage and other actions I cannot mention for fear of a spoiler, also makes her very creepy.
Owen frequently changes voices within a story, allowing the reader different interruptions of the characters. This can clearly be seen in “The Patroness.” A widow of a wealthy man hosts elaborate bi-weekly luncheons to make herself feel special among the once-famous. At such an event, she purposely seats next to one another an elderly, once-beautiful film goddess and a young male student. This reviewer was surprised by the malice intentions of the generous hostess. There is darkness and devastation in the storylines, but there is also a dual sweetness to the characters that lingers.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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