Copyright © 2000. All Rights Reserved
by Lachlan Mackintosh
Lovers for a Day: New and Collected Stories
by Ivan Klíma
translated by Gerald Turner
Grove Press, 229 pp.
Readers of European fiction will be glad that Ivan Klíma's English-language publishers have brought out a new collection of stories by the under-appreciated Czech writer. The dozen stories found in Lovers for a Day have been culled from three previous collections. Half of the stories date from the 60s, half from the 90s, and at the heart of the book, in a section called Intimate Conversations, are 35 pages of pure dialogue. In this section, Klíma displays the polish of his craft, turning private conversations into richly nuanced explorations of character and motivation.
Tracking his adopted territory the realm of longing and love Klíma's stories cover ground similar to that of some of his novels A Summer Affair, Love and Garbage, and especially, The Ultimate Intimacy. His characters have restless hearts and their loving never seems complete. In the 1960s section is first love, daydreaming love, misunderstood love, and love dislocated within an occupied country. In the stories written in the 1990s there is a shift in tone as humour is paired off with resignation, loneliness and longing balanced by a strange hope.
In "A Baffling Choice," from the latter section, a young housewife falls for a retired, crippled bookbinder who lives in the apartment below. She throws over her unremarkable marriage for an opportunity to love passionately. Klíma writes, "Fate offered everyone a moment when they could shine, the chance of some deed to transcend their own emptiness. But when that moment passed, what then? What should follow?" The author draws the reader in to consider ultimate questions such as these. He also has a gift for telling parable-like stories which resonate long after his book is set down.
Klíma's Lovers for a Day has the inherent inconsistency of covering 30 years in a writer's work, yet in the end is something of a gem.
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