‘The American Lover’ by Rose Tremain stories (2015) – 240 pages Grade: A-
‘The American Lover’ is a varied convincing group of stories by one of our world’s better novelists. I don’t want to oversell it. This book did not change my life. But this collection of stories did not disappoint at all, and that is a lot to say about any work of fiction. Rose Tremain is more a novelist than a story writer, and these stories are not the main point of her career. However each of these stories is well-written and has an impact of its own.
The range of these stories is wide in time and place. In one story the main character is Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper in Daphne DuMaurier’s ‘Rebecca’. In another story which takes place in a Russian village, one of the main characters is Leo Tolstoy.
The first story, the title story, is about a transgressive first love during the 1960s in which a young woman falls deeply in love with a guy who takes her to Paris where he gets her to have three-way sex with a transvestite. (These stories are not for the squeamish.) The affair runs its course, but ten years later she is still haunted by him.
One story, one of my favorites, is about a couple who escape their hell-raising daughter and her ‘crazy never-ending carnival of woe’ by retiring to a peaceful summer cabin in Canada along the waters of Lakes Superior.
Tremain is very good at mixing lighter moments with tragedy needing only a few sentences to separate them. That is one of the reasons I appreciate her novels as well as her stories. Both comedy and death are a part of life, and these stories have their share of both.
Another poignant story is ‘Lucy and Gaston’ about an English woman who lost her husband who was a pilot during the Normandy invasion, and a young Frenchman who lost his father. Somehow Tremain can conjure up a new time and place for each story using just a few words.
It is a good thing that Rose Tremain has not succumbed to the current fad of writing for a younger audience. Her stories are by and for adults, and she does not shy away from disturbing topics.
I was very taken with Rose Tremain as a fiction writer early in her career with my interest peaking about the time she wrote ‘Restoration‘ and ‘Sacred Country’. I thought she could do no wrong. However after that there were a couple of novels including ‘Music and Silence’ and ‘The Colours’ that did not work for me. I stopped following her work for awhile. However I happened to read ‘Trespass’, and I’m happy to say I consider that novel a return to form. ‘The American Lover’ is a continuation of her return.