Rose Tremain is a writer who has an impressive trunk of material. In the collection of short stories, The American Lover, she is on absolute top form. Please do not be put off by the title, which sounds as if it could fall into the category of a Barbara Cartland or Mills & Boon style romance, or one of those popular eighties mini-series by the likes of Danielle Steele, complete with once A-list, now fallen off the hit-list and/or wagon, actors or actresses with ridiculous shoulder-pads and a badly permed weave. Far from it!
Title story, The American Lover, seduces and draws the reader into a doomed affair. Like falling in love you cannot do anything but ride the crest of the emotional wave, hoping you don’t drown. After reading the opening tale I realised that this experience would go one of two ways, it was either going to be an average gaggle of off-cuts of material, after this impressive first, or it was going to be something wonderful.
I soon knew that the book was something else, going beyond my expectations. Each piece dazzling, such a remarkable collection that I decided to ration myself to one tale a day. As I approach 40 this year, I have decided that if you are enjoying something it is better to keep the feeling going for as long as possible. Like at xmas when you are given a box of luxury chocolates, the temptation is to devour them all and then ultimately you feel sick and this can quickly overpower the initial reaction. Thankfully, I gave myself time to appreciate and enjoy the tales.
The Jester of Astapovo is light and philosophical,
…and look at the little bit of my leg showing between the top of the sock and the bottom of my trousers. How can we take anything seriously- anything in the world- when we catch sight of things like this? Life’s a joke, don’t you think so, Tanya? Every single thing in life is a joke – except love?
Sometimes writers can try and sound profound and their musings can be layered with sententiousness. Tremain hits the reader with profound insights into the complexities of being human through her characters’ astute little observations. This is very like the way in which among the everyday you often have thoughts that really sum up the situation in the moment. A fleeting idea of profound depth that flutters away. Captive is a tale of a lonely man who runs a dog kennel and his hostile new neighbour. A piece that will do for dog lovers what Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye does for cat lovers: totally unsettle them.
A view of Lake Superior in the fall is a beautiful ballad about letting go and freedom in which a couple who have an overbearing daughter find solace, like Walden did, in a cabin in the woods. The Housekeeper is a tale about Mrs Danvers, the inspiration for the character in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Here Danvers relays her story, a tale of obsession, bitterness and erotic awakening.
Each one of the compositions is crafted with calculated prose, rich imagery and language. The writer really uses the whole gamut of the senses to pull the reader into the sensual world of the page and to get to the very soul of each character. In The American Lover, we see human beings for all they are, qualities that can be admirable, embarrassing, adorable and sexy. Lives that are sometimes content, sometimes unfulfilled.
In her diaries Vivienne Westwood claims,
There is no progress in art: great art is perfect and timeless, original and alive… culture is necessary for human beings to evolve into better creatures/READ.
I feel that The American Lover is perfect and timeless. Tremain’s triumph is that she takes the short story format and successfully creates work that is original and makes the reader feel alive. I am with Ms Westwood in her thoughts on culture and, particularly in relation to this piece, it can be summed up in one sentiment from her statement: READ!