"Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."
Nicole Krauss could have opened her book with this wonderful line, which doesn't come until a few pages later. Instead, she opens with thoughts from the wonderful old Leo Gursky: "When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT. I'm surprised I haven't been buried alive."
Right from the beginning as he talks about dying, he is immediately and fully alive. He says "All I want is not to die on a day when I went unseen.", so he makes sure that he gets out and gets seen. He makes a public display of spilling his coins and labouring to retrieve them, and of going in to a store to try on shoes and being a bit of a nuisance, even hilariously posing nude for an art class. He started to write again: "At times I believed that the last page of my book and the last page of my life were one and the same, that when my book ended I’d end, a great wind would sweep through my rooms carrying the pages away, and when the air cleared of all those fluttering white sheets the room would be silent, the chair where I sat would be empty."
Krauss's writing is wonderful -- she somehow dives through the surfaces straight into the core of being, and she doesn't waste time. She is just there.
Some of the passages are of such loneliness; she makes them poignant without being mushy. Yet others are brisk and funny: "...things went downhill when I entered adolescence and was abandoned by the pleasant attractiveness that all children have...As soon as the acne cleared my hairline began to recede, as if it wanted to disassociate itself from the embarrassment of my face. My ears, pleased with the new attention they now enjoyed, seemed to strain farther into the spotlight. My eyelids drooped—some muscle tension had to give to support the struggle of the ears."
So the characterisations, the voices, the prose were stellar. The focus, the tracking, of the shifting stories within stories and of parallel lines, wavered and flickered though. It felt a bit forced at times. But maybe with a re-read, and having the benefit on a second time 'round of understanding the structure, it would feel more right.
This is a history of the story of the history of love.