This is the fifth in a series of 52. For more information on this personal project go here: 52 Reads Project
Eddie is one of my mother’s many nicknames. I wanted to write this first paragraph obscuring this fact. I thought it might be clever. But, it’s difficult to even begin to describe my feelings for her without establishing that she is, in fact, my mom. Sometimes it’s difficult to see where our genetic code matches up. Eddie is tidily knit where I am frequently unraveled. But, both the nurture and nature are there—most strikingly in her voice which I often hear as it exits my own mouth.
My mom is why I love reading. Even in leaner times, I was always afforded the luxury of owning my own books. Whether selected at a mall store or circled in a Scholastic flyer at school, it was the only kind of consumerism I took to. As my appetite for words increased, I swallowed whole the books she was reading as well. My mom continues to read more than I do. And though I’ve always been smitten with her, she once again stole my heart a few weeks ago by describing rereading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad just to chart out the characters.
This week’s read, Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love is also a mea culpa. Eddie says, “I tried to get you to read this before so you could answer my questions, which I gave you, but I don’t think you ever read it.”
She did. She got me a nice hardcover copy and tucked a 3×5 card with a few handwritten questions inside. I didn’t read it. Well, I must have read the first chapter or two, because the opening scenes were familiar to me. For some reason, I never finished. Doing some detective work: the book was released in 2005—late in the year I got married, discovered roller derby, and then, early the next year, moved to Columbus. I also know somewhere along the way I lost the 3×5 card and felt bad about that. These are just excuses. I’ve had plenty of time to read it in the following years, but needed to start a blog to do it. World’s greatest daughter!
Unable to locate the original copy, I picked up a ratty, used paperback. And read it.
The History of Love is a beautiful book that I should have read thirteen years ago.
On the bright side, my delay in reading it only amplified the story. The book The History of Love is about a book titled The History of Love, and Krauss’s tale follows this mysterious book across time and continents. My copy only made it from Saint Louis to Columbus back to Saint Louis… and maybe somewhere hidden in storage in Oregon.
The book follows two main characters. The first is Leo Gursky, a retired locksmith who tries to overcome his feeling of invisibility by posing nude for a life drawing class. Leo is crass and comedic, but also carries the burden of bad timing and lost love. I could spend an entire novel shadowing Leo as he purposely creates calamity in order to be seen.
Our second narrator is Alma Singer, a clever young teenager hung up on survivalism and finding her widowed mother someone new to love. Alma is named after all the Almas in a book called The History of Love; a book Alma’s father gave to her mother before he died. Alma’s mother works on translating this book from Spanish to English on commission from a mysterious man in Venice. The mystery of this man transforms Alma from amateur survivalist to amateur detective.
Krauss’s writing is deeply beautiful and the book jumps from Leo’s story to Alma’s journal to the elegant magical realism of the novel within the novel. Often these sort of character jumps create imbalance in a story, especially if you prefer one character’s voice over another’s. I’d be disappointed to leave Leo at the end of chapter, but so happy to pick-up with Alma on the next page.
Krauss also does a lovely job of gathering all the unraveled bits of the story and knitting them together tightly at the end. There’s something so human about the ending that my cheeks got a little wet.
I’m ready for those questions now, Mom.
While I enjoy genre writing, sometimes it feels like science fiction and YA and crazy wife murder-twist-turny suspense are all anyone wants to read these days. The History of Love manages to present a compelling, funny, and elegant story by stacking one beautiful sentence on top of the next and providing characters whose superpowers are their own curiosities.
Next week: Planet X by Michael Jan Friedman recommended by Ryan.
You probably haven’t read this book, so read it sometime in the next thirteen years.
For more knock your socks off writing: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy