Tom Waits groveled profoundly from two Sony speakers as I sipped my chocolate milk from the carton. I wiped the remains of the drink from my upper lip with my right hand as with my left I turned the pages of the newest novel I was reading, “The History of Love,” by Nicole Krauss. It was hot. I flipped a switch and the ceiling fan above me accelerated, spinning quickly like planets revolving around the sun. Soon I turned another page, then another, then another. I opened a window. The pages seemed to be turning themselves, almost as quickly as the fan was rotating. I was oblivious to the heat, to the fan, to Tom Waits, to chocolate milk. I was in the world of “The History of Love” and I was sad to leave it when finally the last page turned and I saw only the book’s summary which hardly does it justice.
Like Tom Waits, ceiling fans on hot days, and delicious chocolate milk mustaches, Ms. Krauss newest novel made me glad to be alive.
It is the quiet, yet elegant, tale of a book called “The History of Love.” Yes, in short, it is a book about a book. But it is so much more. It is the story of the people about whom the book tells; it is the story of the hands into which the book falls; it is the story of the book’s author. But, ultimately, “The History of Love,” is about living.
Krauss guides us through the interwoven lives of several New Yorkers: young teenager Alma Singer, who is named for every girl in “The History of Love“(confusing I know, just read the book); Leo Gursky, an elderly, lonely man, who once wrote a book about his lost love from across the sea; a famous writer with a mysterious secret and a fascination with Spanish literature; and a young boy called Bird who thinks he is the messiah.
Each of the book’s characters are colorfully and carefully painted; clearly Ms. Krauss took great pains to not only make them believable, but also sympathetic and magnetic. The young Miss. Singer and old Mr. Gursky are particularly wonderful characters, each struggling to determine what their purpose is, at opposite points in their lives, and what it means to truly love someone, whether friend or lover. In my recent reading adventures I have found few characters to be as indelibly charming as these two protagonists. Leo Gursky is a new favorite character.
Amidst the mass production of Grishams and Creightons and Kings, books written with the bottom line in mind, it is nice to see young talent taking their art seriously, crafting works of fiction which call to mind the genius of an older generation, a generation of Kafka and Borge and T.S. Eliot. Nicole Krauss is in the class of other young writers like Jonathon Safran Foer who wrote the popular “Everything is Illuminated, and she surpasses the talents of writers like Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About a Boy”) and Mark Haddon (“The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time). “The History of Love” is the book to read if you have had doubts about modern fiction, it will restore your confidence in the possibilities of the modern writer. If you never doubted their possibilities the book will still a be an exciting and poignant piece of literature.
However, don’t expect the book to help you escape the world as you know it. Rather, it will likely set you down in the midst of that world’s confusion and then set out to make you know your own skin more intimately. In the end you will come out fulfilled. Krauss’s book reminds us, rather effectively, that this thing we call “living” is simultaneously full of pain and full of joy, full of hope and full of doubt, full of beauty and full of ugliness. And somehow, that’s why it’s worth enduring.
”The History of Love” is an emotionally charged, imaginative, and painfully real look at what happens when we allow ourselves to love. Like it’s main themes, the book is at once both heartbreaking and heart-mending. Out of 12 this book deserves a 9.5.
Coming next week: a look at current bestseller “Children of Men” by P.D. James, the inspiration for the highly acclaimed film of the same title.