Monday, July 11, 2011

The Local Scene: The Other Side by E. Thomas Finan

The Other SideThe Other Side is a work of seven stories that comprise the debut collection from E. Thomas Finan, currently a lecturer at the University of Miami. Published by The Fieldnor Press in 2010, The Other Side treats various poignant moments in the lives of its characters. Finan experiments with a variety of voices and styles in bringing his characters to life and, because he is a strong writer with a talent for dialogue, he mostly succeeds.

My favorite story of the collection was, "Motley Black," which follows Jay, recently jilted and running from memory, as he leaves his home in San Francisco and travels by bus to Key West, where he hopes to begin the next chapter of his life. Anyone who has ever travelled by bus will appreciate the cast of well-drawn characters that Jay meets along the way, and it is obvious that Finan is writing from experience.

Others that scored points with me were the existentialist "Lucy di Sartoria," the obsessive "An Aria of Windrows," and the supernatural story, "The Other Side.". Overall, I found Finan's collection familiar and readable, with characters that elicit sympathy and make a connection with the reader. And I'm looking forward to more of Finan in the future.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Dreamlike Beauty of an Expatriate Life: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Everything Beautiful Began After: A Novel (P.S.)There is a dreamlike beauty to the expatriate life that Simon Van Booy captures perfectly in his debut novel, Everything Beautiful Began After, released today by Harper Perennial.

Rebecca, George, and Henry, have each come to Athens for different reasons, but all are content to become lost in its dusty streets and the hazy memory of antiquity. And it is a sandblown sort of fate that brings them together in that haphazard, thousand-causal-connections manner that typifies the joining of strangers in a foreign land and the binding of them together by common experience. But come together they do, and they eventually share an affection that is both real and enduring.   

When tragedy strikes, it is through these well-formed and emotionally-complex characters that Van Booy demonstrates how the intimacy of casual acquaintance and the despair occasioned by last goodbyes can hijack an entire life. Everything Beautiful Began After paints a portrait of a world almost outside of existence where affairs may capture the heart forever and the loss of a future once-envisioned can become all-consuming.

More than simply a painter of beautiful scenes, however, Van Booy is also a skilled professional. His prose is thoughtful and poetic as he describes Athens so vividly that the reader feels the dry heat of a noonday sun at the foot of the Acropolis. He cleverly plays with language, not just English, but Greek, French, Italian, and even Arabic, as a sometime reminder of how difficult it can be to communicate with one another, especially where the subject consists of our own pain. And though it takes some getting used to, the periodic use of the second person and the present tense allows the reader to share in the aimless wandering of Henry as he seeks some path by which to reenter the world that he once knew but has since lost forever.

Though it is sure to be enjoyed by the general public, in my opinion Everything Beautiful Began After is a must-read for anyone living abroad or with fond memories of having done so.