Review

Fascination: Stories

by William Boyd



William Boyd is the award-winning author of eight novels, three
short story collections, and twelve screenplays. He has received
numerous awards for his work, including the Whitbread Award for
Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tait
Black Memorial Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for
Fiction. Clearly, Boyd has talent and has been recognized for his
accomplishments. His latest collection of short stories, however,
doesn't live up to his usual fare. Instead, some of the stories
fall short of their original intentions and fail to leave a lasting
impression on the reader after the story has concluded. Despite the
occasional richly envisaged character, brilliant plot twist, or
light-bulb moment shared between Boyd and his audience, FASCINATION
reads like a loosely linked set of character studies and nebulous
idea sketches in desperate need of fine-tuning, plot development,
and meaty endings.

In most of the fourteen stories that Boyd has included in his
latest anthology, explorations on love and all of its relentless
effects are peppered throughout the pages. Bawdy flirtations are
offset by blatant sexual infidelities. Blind trust is thrown up
against secret betrayal. Need, desire, shame and humiliation are
all emotions Boyd's characters feel as they slog through their
daily existences, and more than a few of these characters are in
danger of being destroyed --- or at least affected --- by some form
(or product) of passion. By glaringly investigating acts of
flagrant behavior and breaking down noble, everyday human feelings
into complex situations and clandestine encounters, Boyd has
capitalized on a dynamite formula in literature that would normally
guarantee an unadulterated, bewildering, yet ultimately satisfying
read straight through to the last line.

In some of FASCINATION's offerings, Boyd does manage to deliver
what he promises. In "The Women on the Beach with a Dog," Boyd
creates a Chekhovian drama between two strangers --- one male, one
female, both committed to other people. They meet, as the title
suggests, on a beach with a dog and immediately develop an
attraction to each other. The spark ignites, of course, and thus
the affair begins and carries on until it stalls when talk of
husbands, wives, and other obligations arises. In spite of it all,
the two irrationally attempt to parry their respective obstacles
and it is here that the story ends, with the question of what to do
with each other now that real life and real responsibilities have
clouded the picture. Do they try to stay together and meet in
secret once a year? Do they deny their feelings and terminate the
affair? Boyd supplies no ending to the story and doesn't need to as
that unrequited, unfinished feeling is precisely the point. Readers
are left feeling as the characters must feel --- Boyd's
successfully captured moment.

In "Adult Video," Boyd presents the first half of what perceptive
readers will realize is a two-part tale of a young writer (Edward)
and his dance with infidelity while on the brink of proposing to
his soon-to-be wife. In a series of vignettes set apart from each
other by various VCR command headings (play, pause, slow motion,
freeze frame, and so on), events from Edward's life flip back and
forth from the past (rewind) to the present (play) to the future
(fast-forward) and finally, back to the present again (freeze
frame), with a few moments of reflection in-between (pause). While
this stylized gimmick could be seen as a little too clever for some
readers' tastes, Boyd's decision to use it is ultimately a good one
because it allows him to cover the most ground in the shortest
amount of space. At the story's conclusion, we are left with a full
understanding of the most significant moments (and choices) in
Edward's life because we have successfully digested (and bought)
Boyd's scattered formula.

Unfortunately, Boyd's ingenuity only travels so far until it peters
out. "Beulah Berlin, an A-Z" reads like a college writing class
assignment, with each paragraph beginning in chronological order
with a letter in the alphabet and ending with a word or letter
that, in turn, appears at the beginning of the following paragraph.
This sounds interesting, if only we could ignore the fact that the
paragraphs themselves don't appear to be thematically connected for
any reason … and if they are, we aren't made to care.
"Notebook No. 9" is laid out in journal form as a film director
obsessively chronicles not only his passion for directing, but also
his love for the starring lady. Unlike the record of a character's
most intimate musings, these entries come across as bland logs of
daily events and the final words of the story, "The notebook
concludes here", reeks of the dreaded finale cop-out.
"Incandescence" is a maddening journey into a man's psyche as he
visits his ex-girlfriend's family estate for the weekend. Told from
each character's perspective, the plot progresses and thickens as
various jealousies and regrets are played out on the faces and in
the actions of each participant. Quickly, this once-simple yarn
becomes muddled and confusing as the characters vie for the
readers' attention --- a surefire case of too many cooks spoiling
the stew.

Taken as a whole, William Boyd's FASCINATION surely will entertain
for the time being. Pregnant glimpses of scandalous affairs are
promised and delivered, as are the required cursory musings on
life's Big Issues. But if you're searching for something that
accentuates William Boyd's ingenious flair for writing a compelling
narrative packed with full characters and profound, lasting
impressions, I would suggest picking up ANY HUMAN HEART --- now
that is fascinating literature.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 21, 2011

Fascination: Stories
by William Boyd

  • Publication Date: January 4, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 1400043204
  • ISBN-13: 9781400043200