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Likely Stories: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss


Mystical story of a young girl obsessed with finding out about her father

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Nicole Krauss has written an intriguing and mystical novel. The History of Love.  I am always happy to review a young writer on the first or second publication.  According to the jacket, she was born in New York in 1974.  Her first novel, Man Walks into a Room, was named book of the year by the Los Angeles Times.  Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, and American Short Stories.  She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

As an intended spoiler, I will warn my readers that this novel is ethereal and mysterious.  It involves several of the characters in various states of living.  Furthermore, there is some overlapping of names, and on occasion, some of the characters have gone missing.  But, do not let any of this deter you from delving into this amazing story.

Here is a sample of Krauss’ work.  She writes, “Once upon a time there was a boy. // It remained there, staring up from the otherwise blank pages for days.  The next week I added another.  Soon there was a whole page.  It made me happy, like talking aloud to myself, which I sometimes do. // Once I said to Bruno, Take a guess, how many pages do you think I have? // No idea, he said. // Write a number, I said, and slip it across the table.  He shrugged and took a pen out of his pocket.  He thought for a minute or two, studying my face.  A ballpark guess, I said.  He hunched over his napkin, scrawled a number, and turned it over.  I wrote down the real number, 301, on my own napkin.  We pushed the napkins across the table.  I picked up Bruno’s.  For reasons I can’t explain he had written 200,000.  He picked up my napkin and turned it over.  His face fell. // At times I believed that the last page of my book and the last page of my life were one and the same, that when my book ended I’d be ended, a great wind would sweep through my rooms carrying the pages away, and when the air cleared of all those fluttering white sheets the room would be silent, the chair where I sat would be empty” (9).

Krauss also uses some peculiar methods of writing and revising.  She decides to work on her book.  Two-thirds of the way down page 26, she writes, “I got out of bed and went to the kitchen.  I keep my manuscript in a box in the oven.  I took it out, set it on the kitchen table, and rolled a sheet of paper into the typewriter.  For a long time I sat looking at the blank page.  With two fingers, I picked out a title:” Page 17 has only ‘LAUGHING & CRYING’ // ‘I STUDIED FOR A FEW MINUTES.  It wasn’t right.  I added another word’ // Page 29 read ‘LAUGHING & CRYING & WRITING’ // Page 30 reads, ‘Then another: // Page 31 reads, ‘LAUGHING & CRYING & WRITING & WAITING’ Page 32: ‘I crumpled it into a ball and dropped it on the floor.  I put the water on to boil.  Outside the rain had stopped.  A pigeon cooed on the windowsill.  It puffed up its body, marched back and forth, and took flight.  Free as a bird, so to speak.  I fed another page into the machine and typed:’ Page 33, ‘WORDS FOR EVERYTHING’.”  Believe it or not, I suffered the same difficulty beginning a new sheet of paper on quite a few instances.

Prepare yourself for a ride, because few novelists can boast such a tangled story and end up with a serious and thought-provoking work like this.  The History of Love by Nicole Krauss will have you sharing this terrific story of love.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.