Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On "Lust" by Susan Minot *****

I've now read this book at least three times in the past twenty years and assorted stories from it many times more. Minot's writing is spare, reminiscent of the What We Talk about When Talk about Love Carver and that ilk from the 1980s. Such spare writing is easy to read, but it is not necessarily easy to write if the work is to have much power. At times, Minot strains too hard at her endings, but when her stories work, they have real force.

The most memorable story continues to be the title story. It is unlike any other in the collection, and only a few tales I've come across use a similar form. The reason is probably that such a form is not easy to pull off. It's essentially a list, a set of discreet paragraphs, about different boyfriends that builds to a crescendo without any kind of overt plot. We get the sense of someone desperate for love or desperate for something, someone struggling to find her way past lust and sex toward something more substantive. It's a story that works well for the collections opener, since all the short, spare tales that follow essentially work off the same theme.

My favorites in the collection, beyond "Lust," include "Blow." This is a tale about a man who has just been broken up with and who is high on drugs, trying to deal--or it's a story about someone else, a woman friend, high on the drug of love and not realizing how much that too can distort everything you do and feel. Another one of the best is "The Break-Up," which revolves around a visit from another man who has just lost his girlfriend. In this case, he decides there, visiting a couple, that he will pursue the girlfriend again--but we get a sense that the couple he visits is also on the downslide. "The Feather in the Toque" revolves around a woman dating a man who has had lots of other women and how that makes her feel, to know she's just one of his temporary stays. The motif comes up in several other tales in the collection as well, as in "A Thrilling Life."

The very spareness of these tales, mixed with the similarity in theme across them, does cause them to begin to blur together. It is one of the unfortunate things about the collection, for a get a sense that, alone, many of these stories would shine much more brightly.

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