I cannot think of an uglier title, but there it is. This collection found its way from Rizal Library to my desk last month, to be finished only at the close of 2010. (Okay, to be fair, I did bring it home with me, but only because I had been looking for The Reader and found it lodged behind this and I thought, Why not?) While I do not begrudge the time it took from me (it was not at all unpleasant to read), the book leaves me no lasting impression. I finished it barely two days ago, and already the memory of it is fading.
Aside from “Girl with Lizard”, the obvious pick of the collection, the stories are largely unremarkable. Most interested me on the intellectual level, but I did not feel emotionally invested in the characters except for two: the boy in “Girl with Lizard” intrigued me from the start; and in “Sugar Peas” I recognized a much better example of what Marx Lopez once described as a “broken man” in one of my stories. The earlier piece caught my attention with its eerie atmosphere, the feeling that it’s showing me something without actually revealing, as if it’s only tracing edges and wants me to figure things out for myself. I enjoyed it a lot, though towards the end I felt it was doling out too much information, making the story more difficult to follow and veering it away from the central figure.
Things went downhill after that. Yet somehow Schlink managed to keep me reading his long stories (each around fifty pages). I was often shocked by page numbers, amazed at what I had plowed through already. Curious plots and premises (as well as the book’s attractive layout) persuaded me not to let go. I wanted to know what would happen next, so I kept reading until I reached the endings, even if they sometimes disappointed me.
Schlink shows an uncanny skill for depicting tiny details that make his stories seem real, accurately rendering the trivialities of existence. I admire this ability of his, and am sad to say that the same inconsequentiality applies to his book. My experience of it, while not terrible, makes up only a negligible notch in my reading history, and the next time I see it in the library, I would not pick it up again.
Girl with Lizard
The face was a child’s face. But the eyes, the full lips, and the hair, which curled against the brow and fell to cover her back and shoulders, were not those of a child but of a woman.
He went on lying there even though he was cold now; as if he could somehow shiver away his being with her, pursuing her, struggling conceitedly to win her these past few months, the way you sweat out an illness.
‘For a while you have a choice. Do you want to do this or that, live with this person or that? But one day what it is you’re doing and that person have become your life, and to ask why you stick with your life is a rather stupid question.’
A Little Fling
With your first new acquaintances, a city begins to be home.
But then, what was once strange and different and far away, was suddenly near, commonplace, and bothersome.
The Other Man
‘Did you know that a shared sin binds the two sinners for life?’
She had held nothing back from him. She had given everything he had been capable of taking.
You have to be happy to make others happy.
And so he trimmed his love smaller and smaller.
‘The secret of peace is exhaustion.’
The Woman at the Gas Station
He realized that their love had created a world that was more than the feeling they had for each other. Even when they had lost the feeling for each other, that world had been there.
No, that’s not how it’ll be. If we want each other now, we’ll want each other forever.