Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pairs by D. W. Richards

PairsThis book is about two (predominantly straight) couples. The men are cousins with little in common save blood; the women are from very disparate backgrounds. They are all (except maybe Adam, who seems to have his life together already but is conveniently unattached) relatively nice people who have had setbacks in their pasts. They are ready to pick up and move on to better things. Both couples meet cute, take ages to have sex, then go at it with enthusiasm. There is a lot of humor here, especially the character Kayley's grandmother, whom we never meet, but whose deftly sprinkled stream-of-consciousness phone calls are expertly crafted, and reminded me of the razor-sharp prologues to both parts of Angels in America.

The ongoing story is quite entertaining. Occasionally one realizes that the author is trying to run a subplot underneath all the conversations, flirting, sex, personal growth, and confessions. This arises awkwardly; Chapter 16 concludes “A cathartic sorrow overwhelmed Kayley, and she wept quietly.” The very next chapter ends with “A cathartic sorrow overwhelmed Alexandra, and she wept softly.” Am I missing something? I mean, I get the part about renovating the house.

There is something else about Kayley's departed ex-boyfriend and a poem they wrote together, but it gets so little emphasis that its infrequent mentions, and a recovered letter from the deceased, read at the end of the book, are somewhat anticlimactic.

Mr. Richards' prose can be awfully good: “A weak grin slid onto Kayley's face and led into a quiet pop of breath that Adam interpreted to be a distant and shattered cousin of laughter.” Some same-sex attractions, mostly fleeting, flow easily with the narrative. Inexplicably, besides the slightly-more-than-tolerable number of typos are some other quirks. One character owns a “Berber umbrella.” I have searched Google, thinking that there may be more drizzle in North Africa than I have been led to believe. All I could come up with was “...unless one is prepared to disagree with the whole concept of closely related Afrasan 'languages' brought under the 'Berber' umbrella...” Does he mean Barbour? Burberry?

The author pays the bills by being an accountant but I would have guessed he is an architect. I counted the word “foyer” ten times in the text. If I weren't so cheap I could have bought the Kindle version and found a few more with the search function. I checked the poem that is so infrequently mentioned yet so fraught with a meaning that escapes me: no “foyer.” Is it a metaphor for the birth canal? A critique of urban Canadian residential architecture? Wait; do Berber dwellings have foyers? A friend suggested that perhaps Richards is very fond of the author Jonathan Safran Foer and betrays this unconsciously in his writing; it's a reasonable theory.

Quibbles aside, I enjoyed the story and recommend it to those who are looking for well-rounded characters and overall good writing.

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