I cannot, in good conscience, consider this my good book

I loved Simon Van Booy’s short stories. I distinctly remember loving the prose in his collection The Secret Lives of People in Love, give or take a few nausea-inducing missteps of the purple category; I distinctly remember loving how he put his characters in situations that showed best their hearts. These are the things I wanted him to bring to his first novel, Everything Beautiful Began After. And Everything Beautiful Began After fell short on so many levels. So many disappointments in me right now.

I don’t have the energy—or the patience—to rationally talk about those bedamned disappointments right now. How to say that the prose had me rolling my eyes more times than it made me breathless? How to say that I didn’t feel as though Van Booy respected his characters to give them room to grow—and not just mope for the purpose of displaying the author’s dubious skillz with the language? How to say that I am certain that a chunk of the book could have been ruthlessly chucked out, because that would make this better? How to say that this could have been about love, but it wasn’t? How to say that this aimless novel made worse by the most egregious usage of deus ex machina I’ve read in recent years? [Doesn’t mean that if you’re novel’s set in Greece, ye have to use good ol’ Poseidon’s fury, dammit.]

[SPOILERS AHOY!]

I want to pull out all the spoilers here and say that there’s this girl, and she’s French and young and beautiful. She goes to Athens, because that’s what lost French and young and beautiful women do. In Athens, she meets a George. And then she meets a Henry. And then Henry meets George. And things get weird undercurrent-y, like Henry saying, “I will take care of you, George, you’ll never be lonely again.” And me laughing. And then an earthquake comes out of nowhere and kills Rebecca—just when she tells Henry that she’s pregnant, just when Henry and Rebecca have to decide on something and stop sightseeing, at least. And me going WTF DUDE? That decision taken away from them by a random earthquake—yes, earthquakes are allowed to be random in real life, but, good lord, they have no place in literature if all they do is launch an unnecessary soul-searching shiznit and gah and gah and gah. And then and then, yeah, Henry breaks down, and George moves away, and then Henry and George meet again, and George is happy, and Henry isn’t, and a lot more blah, and then, and then, Henry brushes hands with this stranger and da-dum, is it happily ever after post-novel?

Desk, meet head. Repeatedly.

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7 comments

  1. I am sorry to hear this didn’t work for you, simply because I am selfish and I really really want to like this book a lot. I now van Booy is supposedly a master of the short story, but the thing is, I really don’t like short stories very much, so his first collection left me kind of bereft. Some of it worked for me, but a lot of it didn’t… and so I was hoping I would have better luck with this first novel. The man does, at least, know how to give things the most beautiful titles, no?

    1. I think, looking back, that I had the same experience with this novel. Some of it worked, but even if they did, they suffered under the book’s directionless everything–plot, characters, theme. And it’s not even a book about being directionless; that is, this wasn’t deliberate. At times I felt like Van Booy had a little too much room for himself. Although, yes, maybe my coming from his short stories–were everything is condensed and urgent–is an influence. So maybe our experiences will nicely contrast, given that his collection left you bereft?

      [That said, The Secret Lives of People in Love is a hit-or-miss collection. But his language, ugh, so inebriating! It’s the same with this novel, really. Friends who’ve read this tell me that they forgive the novel’s flaws because its language made them breathless–the same can be said of my reception of his collection.]

  2. I love that you read such different literature to me! It’s fabulous to read of your literary jaunts and despite your disappointment your audience is certainly enjoying you:)

  3. The contrarian in me loves me see a diverging opinion on a book everyone else praises endlessly. I still haven’t read it, and I do want to give his writing a try, but something keeps holding me back. Great discussion.

    1. I was actually a little weirded out that a lot of people praised this book to the high heavens. I understand people who liked it despite the flaws. But the readers who found no flaws? Perhaps it’s the fact that I liked his earlier work very much set my expectations too high? I wanted this book to be perfect.

      It must be said that I’m glad I offered a different, contrarian view. :)

  4. It always hurts to be disappointed by an author you enjoy. Love the strong reaction you have to it though, I try to think there’s something gained when we are passionate about books in both positive and negative ways.

  5. […] Everything Beautiful Began After, by Simon Van Booy. […]

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