Byzantium (Stroud)

This collection of stories, a winner of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless prize, is an unusual one. Stroud takes us to a variety of places (Cuba, Texas, Berlin) and times (modern, Byzantine era). His stories unfold slowly and build to poignant climaxes. The plots are not operatic; they are built out of small moments, which is the approach I prefer. Stroud has a refined sense of the telling detail and, taken together, the collection, seems interested in characters who don’t fit in with their own time and place.

I hope Stroud has a novel in him.

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Swimming Home (Levy)

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012, Deborah Levy’s novel seems familiar on the surface. 2 English couples (one of which has a teenaged daughter) rent a place for a holiday. Shortly after they arrive, they find a very much alive naked woman floating in their pool. This woman, one Kitty Finch, becomes the piece that upsets and reveals their lives.

By keeping her cast (she is also a playwright), Levy can develop her characters well. Writing about one, a foreign correspondent, Levy says (31):

Yet even without witnessing first-hand the terrors of Rwanda, she had gone too far into the unhappiness of the world to start all over again. If she could choose to unlearn everything that was supposed to have made her wise, she would start all over again.

Levy’s writing can often come of as a sketch, with enough enticing details to provoke the imagination and leave you wanting more. This is a slight novel – just 157 pages – and sad. The epilogue (generally not my favorite technique) works well here.

I finished it in one day, but it will stay with me much longer.