Monday, June 20, 2011

"The Lemon Table"

I am apparently on a bit of a Julian Barnes kick (see my posts of 5/21/11 and 5/26/11). I have now just finished another of his short story collections, “The Lemon Table” (Knopf, 2004), and am becoming more and more of a fan of Barnes. This collection is lovely but sad. It focuses on age and mortality; in the last story, we are told that in China the lemon represents death. The stories are not so much “about” aging and death as about how we humans think about those topics, and deal with their inevitability in our lives. The stories take place in a wide variety of times and places, and the characters are varied as well. These stories keep the reader’s attention, and there are a few surprises. One of my favorites is “The Fruit Cage,” about a long marriage seen through the son’s eyes; this story reminds us that no one, not even family members, really knows the true nature of any given marriage. One of the saddest stories is “Appetite,” in which a wife reads recipes from favorite cookbooks to her much-loved husband who is disappearing into his dementia; only the recipes still give him pleasure, but sometimes -- unpredictably -- at the cost of hurting his wife’s feelings with his harsh remarks. In another poignant story, “The Story of Mats Israelson,” missed messages and lost opportunities keep a pair of would-be lovers apart for perhaps 30 years. Each of these eleven stories is beautifully crafted; each character is both unique and somehow universal; the writing is evocative and beautiful.

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