Tuesday, August 10, 2010

#33: The Lovers

The Lovers is a short book. Perhaps author Vendela Vida intended it that way, or perhaps it just happened naturally given the relatively short period of time that transpires within its pages. Yvonne is a recently widowed woman in her early fifties; her husband, Peter had been killed in a car crash two years earlier. As her solitary lifestyle and dwindling social appearances in Burlington, Vermont begin to capture the attention of curious neighbors, Yvonne recognizes the need for a change of scenery.

As it happened, her now-grown children, Henry and Aurelia, were chartering a boat from Greece to Turkey; Yvonne and Peter had honeymooned in Turkey nearly three decades earlier. And so, after much reluctance, it was decided: Yvonne would travel to Datça, Turkey, to stay by herself for nine days before meeting her offspring midway through their journey.

In the meantime, Yvonne whiles away her time reflecting on her marriage -- "she had decided long ago that it had been good...and after his death, it felt unnecessary to question the storyline" -- and rediscovering the country she'd enjoyed with her new husband a lifetime before. During the course of her stay, we learn about her relationship with Henry and Aurelia; the former embodied the ideal of a perfect son and was virtually worshiped by his father while the latter stumbled into teenage alcoholism and suffered through her father's emotional absence. Yvonne's guilt is split in a million directions; following Peter's death, "she could not admit that she took a tiny bit of pleasure in the newness of certain things -- of eating breakfast food for dinner, of shoveling the snow on the front steps herself, of not having to talk about Aurelia with Peter, of not having to avoid talking about Aurelia with Peter."

Soon Yvonne is forced to abandon her solitary confinement when she makes the acquaintance of Özlem, a younger, Turkish woman whose tales of romantic entanglements initially bore her older counterpart. This unlikely friendship is complemented by a much different one, with a young boy Yvonne sees collecting shells on the beach. Ahmet, despite being unable to converse with her, manages to bond with his older female friend in an easy manner which even the English-speaking Özlem could never replicate. Yvonne becomes Ahmet's confidante; he, her friend.

From here, the story twists in strange and sometimes perplexing ways, as Yvonne's internal turmoil is matched by high drama in the external world. Vida is an intricate storyteller; but even so, I found myself waiting for something to happen more often than not. It is a significant challenge to compose a narrative in which climactic events have already taken place prior to the story's opening; and while the author makes a valiant attempt, the final product is somewhat disappointing. The Lovers ends on a curious note, leaving me with the same guilty sensation of relief Yvonne had once felt herself.

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