Next week, we’ll be talking about Valerie Trueblood’s novel-in-stories Seven Loves, my nominee for this quarter’s Read This! selection.
When I was in high school, I read Pride and Prejudice. I wanted to be Elizabeth Bennett (and thought I was well on my way) and marry Mr. Darcy. But when I read Emma, I blushed so fiercely my scalp tingled. I wanted to be Lizzie, but I was more like Emma: bossy, self-important, and headstrong. Austen had nailed me and I knew, to my discomfort, that she was great, a writer for me. I needed to attend to her: she did more than flatter me and feed my dreams; she taught me a truth about myself that I might not have seen otherwise.
Seven Loves had me blushing on the first page:
In the café, a white-haired woman is smiling at a little girl at the next table, who grins back playfully all during breakfast. The child’s mother, in a suit, silk blouse, and sneakers for the walk to work, has noticed the attention to her daughter. On the way out, she says to the older woman as they pass her table, “Should we keep her?”I have been that mother, alas, “bright” and “practical,” proud to be in public and presentable with a presentable child, oblivious to the worries and preoccupations of others. Trueblood had nailed me and I was hooked.
The woman, May, sits very still, blank. “She is pretty cute, isn’t she?” prompts the mother in the same bright, practical voice, turning the child by the shoulders now with her fingertips.
In this opening scene, the other, May Nilsson, is the book’s center. The competent working mother disappears off-stage and we spend the rest of the chapter with May: ageing, worrying about her health, and surprised to find that she has a crush on someone at work, a blowsy divorcee.
The great and original conceit of the novel is signaled by its title: we gradually learn about May’s life through the stories of seven people whom she has loved. Some loves are central, some, while apparently peripheral, are surprisingly powerful. The prose is beautiful without being ornate. The emotions are strong and affecting. The structure, clever and complex, does not feel like a trick but like a fresh and powerful way to explore one woman’s life and loves.
If you’ve already read Seven Loves, what was the moment when the book grabbed you?
If you haven’t, do pick it up. Either way, we’ll be talking about it all next week and we look forward to your stopping back by to hear more.