The American Lover
The stories in Rose Tremain’s collection, THE AMERICAN LOVER, are short but in no way small. Each examines love in one variety or another: the obsessive, the pure, the sexual, the familial. And each one gives readers a glimpse into the intensely personal emotional life of its characters.
The title story belongs to Beth, once the young and beautiful muse of an older married American lover named Thaddeus. Their affair was brief and incredibly sensual and now 10 years in the past. Recovering from a devastating car accident and sharing the story of her painful continuing love for Thaddeus with a Portuguese maid named Rosalita, Beth’s story unfolds. When Thaddeus returns to California, she tells Rosalita, “I died there. Right there, between the two suitcases. That’s when the real Beth died.” Yet Beth, in actuality, lived. She married, wrote a bestselling book, lived a wealthy and famous life, and even regained the use of her legs. The tale ends abruptly and enigmatically with the reappearance of Thaddeus. However, Beth’s glimpse of him is bittersweet. As soon as she sees him, he is already, once again, moving away from her.
"All 13 stories are sad and insightful. Tremain’s writing is both delicate and powerful, giving readers moments tender and moments violent.... THE AMERICAN LOVER is an engrossing and smart collection."
An equally heartbreaking story about loneliness is “Captive,” which tells of a man named Owen Gibb living on his family farm with only two dogs for companionship. He designs and builds a set of state-of-the-art dog kennels and begins a brisk service boarding the dogs of the wealthy, not caring if they are actually ever retrieved. But a brutal winter storm blankets the farm with snow and ice, and he is unable to warm the kennels or the farmhouse once thieves siphon off the last of his oil.
Both “The Jester of Astapovo” and “The Housekeeper” take the themes of love, loss and desperation and add to them historical writers of fiction --- Leo Tolstoy and Daphne du Maurier, respectively. “The Housekeeper” imagines the love affair that became the twisted inspiration for REBECCA, and “The Jester of Astapovo” finds the great Tolstoy dying, as he did, in the home of a rural Russian stationmaster. Here that stationmaster is the jocular Ivan Andreyevich Ozolin, complacently unhappy in his marriage and unable to consummate an extramarital affair. With the arrival of the dying Tolstoy, he finds an opportunity to be part of something great, though at a high personal price.
The very short “Extra Geography” is about the kiss between a teacher and a 14-year-old student that marks the beginning of adulthood for the teenager, Minna, and her friend and the story’s narrator, Flic. Juliet, the diarist-narrator of “21st Century Juliet,” is torn between her passionate love for a Moldavian construction worker (named Romeo, naturally) and the very rich Perry Paris. She becomes engaged to both men --- one out of love and one out of a sense of obligation to her family whose own wealth is rapidly dwindling.
All 13 stories are sad and insightful. Tremain’s writing is both delicate and powerful, giving readers moments tender and moments violent. Though the tales span diverse times and geographies, they are unified by Tremain’s ability to be both economical and evocative, and by the idea that love is not just lovely but often disastrous and always life-changing. THE AMERICAN LOVER is an engrossing and smart collection.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 6, 2015