The Lion in the Room Next Door

Merilyn Simonds, Author
Merilyn Simonds, Author Putnam Publishing Group $23.95 (255p) ISBN 978-0-399-14591-9
Mass Market Paperbound - 272 pages - 978-0-425-17965-9
Paperback - 257 pages - 978-0-7475-5380-9
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Keenly observed, the stories that make up Simonds's second book (after the nonfiction The Convict Lover) chart the course of one woman's life, from her earliest apprehension of sex to her midlife intimations of mortality. Divided into three sections (""Saudades--Yearnings,"" ""Lipes--Sorrows,"" and ""Milagros--Miracles""), the 11 narratives take the unnamed Canadian narrator through several familiar rites of passage, including escape into an early marriage and a later decision to leave her husband. But in its particulars, the existence described is unfamiliar, even exotic. The narrator spends her '50s childhood in Brazil, lives her first years as a wife and mother traveling by van around Europe, raises her children on a subsistence farm in northern Canada and, breaking out of her marriage, travels to Mexico and Hawaii. Simonds writes about this life with a poet's attention to language and metaphor. In the exquisitely wrought title story, for instance, a leashed lion takes nocturnal walks through the halls of a Brazilian hotel, leaving ""a faint scent of feline. A memory of topaz eyes."" While the image captures a child's presentiment of sex, the story subtly suggests both the privilege and the loneliness of expatriate life. Indeed, Simonds masterfully juxtaposes her narrator's discordant feelings in all the richly layered narratives. At times, the resemblance to memoir grows irksome, as when information is withheld that might be too personal or when events are summarized that might be dramatized. More often, Simonds is brilliant in her silences, showing just enough and nothing more. Writing lapidary sentences, she has crafted stories so solid they seem sculpted, yet so delicate they remain full of mystery. (Feb.) FYI: The Convict Lover received the Arthur Ellis Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award.
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