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The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 9, 2012
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Best Books of 2012, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus
"Wise and courageous and often brilliant… breaks new ground in our perceptions of what a short story can be. Wonderfully imaginative and original.” – Boston Globe
“An ode to heartbreak and regret…Wickersham's gift is for capturing the habits of mind that lead even smart people to deceive themselves…her book makes you slow down and listen, and then watch for people to reveal themselves.” – New York Times Book Review
“Elegantly structured, emotionally compelling…Short stories don’t get much better than this.” – Kirkus
“Do not mistake Wickersham’s exquisitely polished prose for good manners. Although she writes with a vintage grace…she is brutal and funny too…Divine.” – San Francisco Chronicle
“Virtuosic…Wickersham [takes an] emotional cannonball into every single one of her characters. The doubts and tenderness they share are ones that only the finest fiction can create.” – Oprah.com “Book of the Week”
“Wickersham makes a triumphant return to fiction…articulates subtleties of human behavior that ordinarily elude language altogether.” – Elle
“Munro's and Wickersham's books are at the top of this year's pile.” – Chicago Tribune
“So moving it will close your throat.” – Los Angeles Times
“The prose is beautiful, and you feel those characters like real people.” – Cheryl Strayed
“Wickersham…is a master of the written word and storytelling in all its forms.” – BookPage“Joan Wickersham has done it again: astonished, enchanted, and moved me…Like Alice Munro at her best.” – Julia Glass
“Gorgeous, completely original…As soon as I finished it, I began to read it again.” – Andre Gregory
“Poignant and insightful…Wickersham is as skilled as Alice Munro in maneuvering her characters, and the reader, through time…
Highly recommended.” – Library Journal --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2012: Joan Wickersham’s graceful new story collection explores the failings and desires of seven different sets of people, all of whom share a sense of longing and a single title: "The News from Spain." Each tableau fills a concentrated space with rich detail: the sickening smell of popcorn, crumpled tissues and crusted paintbrushes, a white breast in green water. Wickersham crafts intelligent and vivid narratives--the only two girls in an all-boys school build a delicate friendship; a bedridden wife takes comfort in brandy and her caretaker--but she is at her best in the realm of nuance, where a cardboard box gone unopened tells you everything you need to know. Human beings in a constant quest for kinship are nothing new. But in Wickersham’s hands, their journey feels entirely worth joining, even briefly, and the outcome is anything but certain. --Mia Lipman
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Top Customer Reviews
The stories all have two links. They are all entitled 'News From Spain' and consist of either very serious news occurring during the story or very funny news: think Saturday Night Live appearing in the story. They are also linked by love. Every story is a love story, either happy or sad, but a love story nonetheless.
My favorite story was the last one, about unnamed people. The man is either 'A' or 'a doctor' and the woman is either a 'well-known journalist' or 'the most famous woman in the world'. I could not help but think of Eleanor Roosevelt as the story went back and forth in time from contemporary events to the 1940's and 50's and the relationship 'the famous woman' had with her doctor and his wife.
There are stories of older women yearning for younger men, older women yearning for men their age, young women first finding the feelings of romance and lust, dependent love and independent love.
The first story is about a couple in their mid-forties and upper middle-class. The story is sensitively told of how they go through a rough period in their 26-year marriage. They go to an engagement party for people they've known more than half their lives. This party is an occasion for some poignant recollections. It is very well-crafted and there is not a word out of place.
In the second story, Rebecca and her mother, Harriet, have a very unusual relationship - at times very individuated and at other times quite enmeshed. Rebecca and Harriet are very different from one another. Rebecca owns a small bookstore and Harriet is in an assisted living home and enjoys listening to television shows about catastrophes around the world. The story juxtaposes their lives, together and separately, exploring their love for each other and the other loves in their lives.
The third story is about two teen-aged girls, the only girls in a boys' boarding school. One of them develops a close relationship with their female Spanish teacher who has them both over to her home on Saturdays. The Spanish teacher calls her favorite 'Marisol' though that is not her given name. Secrets come out about the Spanish teacher, Mrs. Sturm, which lead to disaster. Years later when married and in her forties, 'Marisol' goes to Spain and thinks about Mrs. Sturm.
In another story, Liza and Charlie, a young couple, travel to interview Alice about her marriage forty years ago to a race car driver who died in Spain from a disastrous car crash. Alice was elsewhere when she got the news of her husband's death.
The last story is about a two love affairs, one occurring in the present and the other in the past. Some of this story is supposedly true and some of it is false. The Spanish news comes from Saturday night live: "The news from Spain this week is that Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." No names of the lovers are ever given. The men are described as 'A' or 'the doctor' and the women are 'the journalist' or 'the famous woman'. One contemporary affair is unrequited. This story is reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1940's.
All the stories have the same title and all have similar themes, yet they are very different from one another. They are flawless and well-observed, almost a tromp l'oeil of words. There are no superfluous sentences and the stories read beautifully. Joan Wickersham is a wonder and I expect more work from her that will make me catch and hold my breath.
Most short story collections are linked by a theme, character, or plot point, and so it is here. In each of these stories, a character receives "news from Spain" - real news or metaphorical news. In the first story, old friends receive their news on the beach: "...my father would hand me a shell and say, "Want to listen to the news from Spain?" In another later story, the widow of a charismatic race car driver learns that her young husband has died while she is in Madrid, waiting to join him. And so on.
Some of the characters in these stories are meticulously-crafted figments of the author's imagination. Others are based on real people: the real marriage of George Balanchine and his paralyzed ballerina wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq, for example, or a fact-combined-with fiction story of a triangle love affair consisting of Eleanor Roosevelt, Martha Gellhorn and David Gurewitsch. That story begins with this line: "Some of this is fiction, and some isn't."
There are breathtakingly good stories in this collection, each of which is entitled The News From Spain. Perhaps my favorite is the one focused on the race car driver's widow, who is being interviewed by a young journalist and his younger wife. Eventually, it is the person on the sidelines - Lisa, the young wife who is along for the ride - who will reveal the greatest secret. Another favorite is the paralyzed ballerina story; she is cared for by a tentative gay man who is pining for a member of her husband's company. The parallelism of the two stories - both Tanaquil and her caregiver, Malcolm, fear being deserted - is beautifully accomplished.
In another favorite, a middle-aged daughter balances relationships with her dying mother (who was "always the one who wanted to talk about the news from Spain, or from the Vatican, or from some uncertain city where everything had collapsed...") and a compelling new man in her life. In a few short sentences, Ms. Wickersham nails the relationship: "You're so sad," he keeps saying It starts as sympathy. A week or two later it's cool, a diagnosis. Then it becomes a criticism."
All seven of these narratives are, in the end, love stories. "A love story - your own or anyone else's - is interior, hidden. It can never be accurately reported, only imagined," Ms. Wickersham writes. "It is all dreams and inventions. It's guesswork." It will end well or it will end badly. It will be witnessed be significant others who will view it from different angles. It will cause searing heartache or exhilarating joy. And, it will echo through the seas of time, like the news in Spain that comes through a seashell.
With astonishing psychological insights and deep compassion for her characters, Ms. Wickersham has written a lovely book reflecting human complexity. I can't wait to see what this writer does next.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Easy to pick up when reading is down for weeks on end
Recommend as light yet intelligent read