Saturday, May 21, 2011


"Pulse" (2011) is an apt title for a collection of short stories that has its finger on the pulse of the (mostly) contemporary, (mostly) English characters in these very readable stories by the esteemed English writer, Julian Barnes. Representative of these educated, liberal, witty, self-aware characters are those recurring in the four very enjoyable "At Phil & Joanna's" stories, which consist almost entirely of lively, entertaining dinner party conversations. But the stories that most appealed to me, and will linger in my mind, are contemporary but with roots in the characters' pasts. For example, the two aging female novelists in the story "Sleeping with John Updike" are both resilient and canny, and both support and are critical of each other; they help each other survive and prosper, in a modest, low-key way, with only a few regrets, bravely borne. The best and most touching story is the last one, "Pulse," with its portrayal of the narrators' parents and their long and loving marriage. Their undramatic but rock solid and tender love for each other is the narrator's inspiration, yet makes his own failed marriage a sad contrast. But also inspiring and lovely is his great regard and love for his parents, and all he learns from them about love, courage, and grace...truly the "pulse" of life at its best.

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