Books: Unlikely Loves

by anneMoore on October 23, 2009

Should you trust the narrator? Depends on the book.

Two I read this summer set me up to believe that its main character, and narrator, was seeking to repair a significant love (a wife, a daughter). Each starts with a similar premise — I need to get her back — then widens in the telling, providing a much different, and far richer story than its initial pages suggest.

imagedb3In Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, narrator Hans is a Dutch energy analyst living in post 9-11 New York. His wife leaves him, taking their young son to her native England. Though he (implausibly) wins his family back in the end, they’re not his true love. Cricket, and the immigrant who brings Hans back to the game, are his chief interest.

Without the game’s green fields and international players, Hans is the walking dead. Indeed, when a woman picks him up at an art gallery, she expects to be whipped by his belt. He obliges.

Cricket is Hans’ lifeblood. With Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian immigrant, Hans seeks out places to build a cricket stadium in New York. When Hans finally bats in a winning style, the one he cares for most is witness: “Chuck had seen it happen…had prompted it.”

The writing is lush, but the story — about alienation — is cold.

25429432-1In Dear American Airlines, Jonathan Miles gives us Bennie Ford, the narrator understandably upset by captivity at O’Hare Airport, where his N.Y. to L.A. flight is grounded. Bennie is trying to get to his daughter’s wedding; he last saw her as an infant.

The letter is the book: Bennie’s howling screed to the airline contains the story of his sorry-ass alcohol-soaked life. He fails everyone except — his mother! The book’s sweetest passages give us their story.

Bennie is the only child of a Polish immigrant and a Southern schizophrenic in New Orleans. More than once his mother takes off with him, driving for days until the car breaks down; father drives out to fetch them.

Their relationship continues into his adult life; his mother, speechless from a stroke, lives with Bennie in New York’s Greenwich Village. She’s spoon fed, and communicates — furiously, hilariously — via post it notes.

The title is slight; this story has heft.

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