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Book Review

‘Paper Lantern’ tells tales of love


book 5.15.jpgCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

“Paper Lantern Love Stories”

By Stuart Dybek

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

June 3, 2014

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa


224 pp.

Reading like the lyrics from a sad love song with a surreal twist, Stuart Dybek has built an exquisite set of short stories for anyone with a lovelorn heart. Rendering romance into stories of despair, betrayal, ill-considered and frantically passionate relationships, Dybek shines a light into the dark, smoky, blistering bits of love from which so many of us try to hide.

In “Paper Lantern: Love Stories,” characters are drawn rich and taunt, wending their way through the travails of love that are oh-so familiar to adult readers — from the joyous pain of young love to the echoing loss of something that was only a moment in the sun. The characters are strong, as they sometimes float through more than one story just to reveal their truths in new ways, in a new context. Dybek shows his considerable skill for poetry, drama and all the grandness of high emotion. Gritty at times, soft as a feather at others, the variations boost the drama and create the kind of intimacy that love engenders. These stories seem to demand that a reader fade into his or her own memories of love and heartache.

The stories are different enough to offer distinct insight and revelation but similar enough to form a novel-length elegy for the whimsy of love. My favorite is Tosca, where love takes on an operatic quality — dramatic and crass, bitter and tender, vacant and ethereal. The scope of love, death and the mirrored quality of memories comes crashing to an abrupt end, asking the layered question, “After the ragged discharge, when the smoke has cleared, who will be left standing, and who will be shattered into shards?” CV

Julie Goodrich is a collector of pretty words, geeky T-shirts and obsolete college degrees. She lives in Grimes with two weird cats and an obscene number of books. She recently earned a shiny new master’s degree in Library Science and is actively looking for a job. Know of one? Call her!

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