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October 18th, 2006 Karla Starr | Books
 

Literary Threesome

The Mystery Guest, Laughter in the Dark, The Children's Hospital

     
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The Mystery Guest, by Grégoire Bouillier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $18, 128 pages): Bad breakups, at best, are invitations to suicide—the same fixative impulses that drove one to unspeakable lust and love implode on the jilted and suddenly single, devolving one's mental capacities into a seemingly endless array of neurotic behaviors. At some point, without warning, life will pick up and meaning will be restored. For Bouillier, that day arrives when—after hearing nothing from the love of his life since her abrupt, mid-meal departure five years prior—she calls and invites him to a birthday party, at which he'll be the unknown "mystery guest." Like the oft-mentioned Mrs. Dalloway, the party is the heart of this improbably delightful memoir, during which Bouillier downs champagne, caustically immune to the celebratory ambience, and, when asked, proclaims his occupation as "an expert in the cruelties of existence." As funny as it is pathetic, Guest is a ridiculously accurate depiction of a brokenhearted man searching for meaning anywhere, which should earn it the title of requisite breakup text and meditation on doomed love. There is, well after the party ends, cause for celebration.

Laughter in the Dark, by Vladimir Nabokov (New Directions, $12.95, 308 pages): You may not need another reminding kick-in-the-pants to read Nabokov, but nevertheless here it is. His fourth novel, Laughter in the Dark—originally published in Russian as Kamera Obskura in 1932 and translated by the author four years later—is often considered the precursor to his masterpiece, Lolita. The middle-aged art critic Albinus abandons sanity to take up a lover half his age: "Albinus' specialty had been his passion for art; his most brilliant discovery had been Margot." Though told with a more playful and less self-conscious tone than his later works, it's a timeless and delightfully cruel look at the follies of love, with a new introduction by John Banville. It's Nabokov, for chrissake!

The Children's Hospital, by Chris Adrian (McSweeney's, $24, 480 pages): Adrian, author of Gob's Grief, is a pediatrician and student at Harvard Divinity School. What he brings to the table seems like something you've heard before—a semi-post-apocalyptic tale, in which the only building remaining after a massive flood is a children's hospital, floating atop 7 miles of water. Its inhabitants, led by pregnant med student Jemma, encircle and bob around the earth as disease threatens to kill them off. Yes, there are more than two Biblical allusions (it's narrated by a "recording angel") and a bit of med-speak, but at heart, The Children's Hospital is a wildly imaginative tale of loss and redemption, its writing as varied and textured as the story it brings to life.

 
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