Everything Beautiful Began After.
After what? you may ask.
Rebecca, George, and Henry are all in Athens for different reasons, each isolated in his or her own way – Rebecca, lost and trying to sort herself out, claiming to be an artist but in truth, not working that much. George, the American, leaving behind boarding school and a lonely childhood. Henry, a young archaeologist, digging among the dead and trying to bury a family secret.
The trio drink too much and have intimacy problems, but in one another, they are no longer alone, and they traipse around like college kids on break, desperate to forge a life with meaning and some happiness.
But just when Rebecca, George, and Henry are discovering what life can be like with friendship and love and generosity, it is snatched away, cruelly reminding each of where he or she was before stumbling blindly into the others.
When I first opened the pages of Simon Van Booy’s debut novel, I was worried. I love beautiful writing, I do. However, I am also a fan of Hemingway and his “show, don’t tell” method. His succinct, often-spartan writing can affect me much more than voluminosity. The more I read, though, I thought how odd it was that a man with a writing style so different from Hemingway would remind me of the iconic writer so very much.
Hemingway has the ability to put me, dizzingly, into smoky bars, sitting with boozy boys who feel so much without any comprehension of what it is to feel anymore. Van Booy, too, made me ache with loneliness, the deep loneliness these characters have used as a shield and a comfort, finding moments of beauty but unable to fully appreciate it without someone else to confirm that life is, in fact, beautiful.
And then, oh the grief. I was mourning for and with these characters, the deep kind of mourning where you can’t cry, where tears have no place but where you are hyper alert, and Van Booy describes Henry, alone with his despair:
“Occasionally a dog wanders up the fountain, looks around for a moment, and then turns away without barking.
Newspapers blow across the cobbles like small snails.
Everything you do is a secret because nobody sees or knows.”
Right? Because no one knows what you’re going through, but at the same time everyone does because that kind of pain, at its base, is the same no matter who you are or where you come from.
So – After what? Just “after,” and there’s a good bit of it in this book because you may hurt, and you may rail against life moving on with your grief tucked into your front pocket, but you. are. human. And as Henry finds out, though our grief may be unoriginal, the way we deal with it is not, and
After every chapter of devastation, there is rebuilding.
It happens without thought.
It happens even when there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.
And that, my friends, is one damn bittersweet thought in a book that left me bereft and hopeful all at the same time.
jenn aka the picky girl
P.S. A couple of you expressed on Twitter that you plan to read this. PLEASE come back and share your thoughts. No one I know has read this, and it’s like torture. Ok, I exaggerate, but you get the picture.