13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Five lives--some struggling, some striving, all wondering at the end,
This review is from: A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Love Stories (Hardcover)
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"A Possible Life" is a collection of five separate novellas with only the occasional small connection between them. They are written in five time periods, although the dates given as chapter/story titles (1938, 1859, 2029, 1822 and 1971) are just place-holders for periods of time. If there is a central theme to the stories it is that life experience is more about the complexities of human relationships (or the lack thereof) than the experiencing of events. The book's/stories' perspectives seemed to me to be distinctly English, despite the setting of three of the accounts in Italy, France and the U.S. This is particularly important when the stories focus on relationships between children and parents, I think.
I found some of these tales moving at times: a man lives through the horror of a Nazi concentration camp in the service of the killers and returns to live out the rest of his years burdened with the immensity of that experience; another man is sent away as a child to a London work house by his parents but never repudiates his obligations to that family as an adult; a woman scientist participates in scientific investigation that proves that humans have no real souls; a peasant woman lives a life of unquestioning service to a loathsome bourgeois family after a profound religious awakening; and a musician becomes the enabler for a self-absorbed singer of prodigious talent at a considerable emotional cost.
But ultimately, their impact and interest are uneven overall. For the most part, these are not characters that you like very much--and you don't get the impression that the author really wants your love as much as perhaps your respect for them. These are people thrust into situations and relationships that are painful or tedious or bewildering. They all survive in one fashion or another, and sometimes their survival is a real triumph, but mostly it's just basic survival with a modest sense of satisfaction in that achievement.
While I think there is some good story-telling in these five mostly narratives, what I would have liked to see with greater generosity from the author, was warmth and even some joy in the characters. As it is, they have been given rather meager rations of both by him, which makes the book less than it could have been (in my opinion).