What do I want of summer books? In general, I want affirmative books: books that affirm genre conventions, books that affirm common sense, books that affirm my instincts about how to live. There are also practical considerations to keep in mind. I want books that I won’t feel guilty about dripping ice cream on or dirtying with sand and saltwater (or grimy subway hands).
Maile Chapman’s Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto contains all the ingredients for a splendid gothic mystery. It features a cast of strange and secretive characters, a setting of chilly natural beauty (the story takes place in rural Finland) and an air of implicit violence. It is too bad, then, that the book snuffs out every whiff of suspense hinted at in its premise, offering instead a plodding narrative punctuated by missed opportunities.
The stories all have a Seinfeldian quality, in the best sense of that adjective. The humor is observational, the plots are subtly intricate, and each piece is populated by monsters masquerading as regular people. An anorexic and kleptomaniac roommate prompts Crosley to consider moving into a former brothel populated by the ghosts of dead hookers.
If nature doesn’t distribute talents evenly across the population, it would appear that culture tries to correct this by regulating the number of models (zero!) allowed to moonlight successfully as musicians. Yes, it’s difficult to concede that a person with a steep allotment of physical beauty might also, on top of it, wield separate talents. And also: models have a poor track record of transitioning from one field to the other, both in terms of merit and commercial success. Athlete-musicians are an analogous phenomenon…
Too proud to request help, he performs some amateur corrective measures and gets back on his motorbike, groin stinging. Disaster strikes: Beard’s penis falls off and lodges itself above the kneecap of his snowsuit. (“The hideous object, less than two inches long, was stiff like a bone. It did not feel, or it no longer felt, like a part of himself.”) In a panic, still aboard the motorbike, he contemplates the possibility of microsurgery for reattachment.
The question of who Dupre is and how she wound up a prostitute does not, in the end, seem difficult to answer: She was a resourceful babe who wanted money and was capable of making cruddy decisions. This describes a lot of people.
Roman à clef doesn’t make quite as much sense as a form now that we have Gawker and Perez Hilton to provide us with the real names and humiliations of anyone involved in a scandal.