Saturday, January 20, 2018

News from Spain

I thought this book by Joan Wickersham was a novel, but it is not.  It is a string of thematically related, but not plot related, short stories. 

I’d seen the author's name on a site that listed writers with whom readers of a certain vintage should be familiar. I can't recall now the age bracket, but remember knowing that I was in the ballpark. So, I found the book in our library system.

About four of the seven stories are outstanding. Each has its moments of excellence. They are   thematically linked because all deal with love, often extramarital love affairs, and often love that has been thrilling but ultimately problematic.

All of the stories have the same name: "The News from Spain."  Those four words appear not only in the title, but somehow in each story.  On the surface when the words appear they do not mean the same thing.  In one story, a biographer asks an interviewee "how did you feel when you heard "the news from Spain."  In another there is a reference to a woman watching CNN or something of that ilk and "the news from Spain" on the report is not good. In a third a friend of a lothario is explaining to a distraught lover how many paramours this lothario has had throughout Europe.  The woman tells her lover's friend to stop.  He responds half in jest, "but you haven't yet heard 'the news from Spain'".

Until the end I thought the title of the collection, the same title for each story in the collection, and particularly the insertion of the same words into each story was a sort of literary gimmick which, while clever, did not work.    But in the last story, again about a woman in love in an extramarital romance, the "news from Spain" line comes at the end and makes the point.

In this story a woman falls in love with an office mate who appears to feel similarly but is unwilling to reciprocate.  It's a complex story but the gist is that the woman is distraught because she cannot connect with this co-worker.  She says that her experience reminds her of the line from the early days of Saturday night live. In a recurring SNL skit a character says "the news from Spain this week is that General Francisco Franco is still dead." 

With this I got it. The story of love and passion recurs. We fall in love often outside of marriage, and the pain of the experience--however exhilarating it had been, and worth it on balance it had been--will inevitably linger.  

While four of these stories are just great, there are a couple of dead spots in some of the longer ones so, I can't strongly recommend the collection. However, some of these are very well written and I am glad I read the book.