“The American Lover” is a collection of 13 short stories with certain common themes and moods. There are no happy stories in the collection and the commonality includes stories depicting parent child relationships, parental expectations and disappointments, misguided and disloyal love, the cruelty of nature, World War II and wasted and beleaguered lives. Yet despite the despairing nature of the tales, some of the stories are just so wonderful and powerful that when you finish you just have to sit back, take a breath and ask yourself, “how did she do that?”
My favorite story in the collection is “Lucy and Gaston”, which feels a little like Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See”, only much shorter and with a different twist. In this story we meet Lucy at age 36 sitting on a beach in England but refusing to enter the water. Lucy has a daughter and a husband, but she lost her first husband (and the father of her daughter) when he was shot down over the ocean while on a flying mission in France during World War II. His body was never recovered. Next we meet Gaston, a 50 year old farmer in France, who lost his father during the war. As the story unfolds, the interrelationship between Gaston and Lucy creates a moving and emotional story that draws the reader directly into their lives.
The title story, “The American Lover”, was perhaps my least favorite in the collection because it is so dark and hopeless. The story, however, reflects a recurring them that runs throughout the stories–bad choices, unrequited love and betrayal and parental expectations leading to inevitable disappointments.
One of the most interesting stories focused on unrequited love, disappointment and betrayal is “The Housekeeper.” In this story, Mrs. Danowski is the housekeeper for the wealthy and widowed Lord de Whithers, in his home known as Manderville Hall in Great Britain. Her life is going along smoothly until in the summer of 1936, she meets author Daphne du Maurier, who is a luncheon guest at Manderville Hall. Mrs. Danowski and du Maurier strike up a relationship and Mrs. Danowski’s life is forever changed. In fact, Mrs. Danowski becomes the inspiration for Mrs. Danvers, the evil, scheming and ultimately murderous housekeeper at Manderley in du Maurier’s 1938 novel, “Rebecca”. Mrs. Danowki is simply baffled about the portrayal, noting that Miss du Maurier “stole my name and my soul and made me bad.” The story is awful and wonderful all at the same time.
Rose Tremain has an amazing imagination and is an extremely gifted writer. If you like short stories (or even if you don’t), and you don’t mind a little tragedy (ok, a lot of tragedy), you should definitely pick this one up. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11129301__Sthe%20american%20lover__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold