Canadian writer Merilyn Simonds's first book is an exquisite, beguiling collection of interlinked stories. Rendering one woman's life from childhood into motherhood and middle age, The Lion in the Room Next Door begins in Brazil where the narrator is living in the Hotel Terminus with her parents and sisters, waiting for her father's new factory to be finished so they can move into a house. She spies on the other guests, even on her own father as he eats his breakfast alone, and is preoccupied by a sound she hears beneath the hotel's life, at night, a rumbling that "moves through the wall by my head," then "recedes like the tide." She goes searching for the source of the sound, slipping out of her bedroom at night, or dreaming she has slipped out. It is the sound of childhood enchantment, where everywhere you look you see a buried life.
As the book progresses, the narrator travels the world and crosses the threshold into her erotic life. Foreign places are full of the promise of sex and the threat of predatory men: the leering porter, the soldier with a gun on the beach who eyes her as she swims. Throughout she is involved in various complicated affairs, and sex moves more and more to the forefront of her story, becoming the thing that hums below the surface, the big mystery, the same mystery over and over. Alas, the narrator's preoccupation with her sexual power becomes a little tiresome--like a girlfriend who talks about men all the time, sometimes I wished Simonds would change the subject. Nevertheless The Lion in the Room Next Door is a formidable debut, full of shining moments and careful lyricism. --Emily White
From Publishers Weekly
Keenly observed, the stories that make up Simonds's second book (after the nonfiction The Convict Lover) chart the course of one woman's life, from her earliest apprehension of sex to her midlife intimations of mortality. Divided into three sections ("Saudades--Yearnings," "Lipes--Sorrows," and "Milagros--Miracles"), the 11 narratives take the unnamed Canadian narrator through several familiar rites of passage, including escape into an early marriage and a later decision to leave her husband. But in its particulars, the existence described is unfamiliar, even exotic. The narrator spends her '50s childhood in Brazil, lives her first years as a wife and mother traveling by van around Europe, raises her children on a subsistence farm in northern Canada and, breaking out of her marriage, travels to Mexico and Hawaii. Simonds writes about this life with a poet's attention to language and metaphor. In the exquisitely wrought title story, for instance, a leashed lion takes nocturnal walks through the halls of a Brazilian hotel, leaving "a faint scent of feline. A memory of topaz eyes." While the image captures a child's presentiment of sex, the story subtly suggests both the privilege and the loneliness of expatriate life. Indeed, Simonds masterfully juxtaposes her narrator's discordant feelings in all the richly layered narratives. At times, the resemblance to memoir grows irksome, as when information is withheld that might be too personal or when events are summarized that might be dramatized. More often, Simonds is brilliant in her silences, showing just enough and nothing more. Writing lapidary sentences, she has crafted stories so solid they seem sculpted, yet so delicate they remain full of mystery. (Feb.) FYI: The Convict Lover received the Arthur Ellis Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award.
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