The 35 fiction pieces and 15 poems from The Sun magazine collected for this anthology deal with passion, longing, and romantic love. As editor Sy Safransky so aptly describes this work, “[It is] about the room upstairs at the end of the hall, shared by two lovers who’ve decided to stay – for a weekend or forever, no one can say. Sometimes they kiss, sometimes they bite. They dream they’re in heaven. They swear they’re in hell. That room.” This room is occupied by a range of men and women of various cultures, ages, and sexual persuasions, and, as with any and all relationships, the dynamics of each relationship portrayed here is as individual as its author could imagine.
The Sun magazine is known for its affecting prose and verse in a narrative mode. Safransky challenges readers of this anthology to read from front to back to be able to discern the narrative arc. While most readers likely browse through an anthology, as I usually do, I took up the challenge and was surprised that the arc was not the Bolero-esque one I predicted. Instead, it moves from the "impetuousness of young love through marriage and devotion, temptation and betrayal, divorce and heartbreak, and finally forgiveness and mercy," just at the editor warns.
With the exception of "Evening Voices" by Jeff Walt and "Marriage" by Lou Lipsitz, the poems fell flat to my ear, so it's fortunate that the majority of the collection is made up of prose works. Each of these stories has a strong enough narrative voice and plot that whenever I was interrupted by my life as I carried the book around with me for a month to read, I could immediately re-enter the tale without the need to reread. This staying power speaks highly of the writers' skill.
Of the stories, Leslie Pietrzyk's "Ten Things" is the most daring structurally in its mosaic-style and wonderfully lyrical, particularly when the husband compares his wife to an avocado, calling her "tough on the outside" and "a little intimidating." The husband continues, “But inside, you're soft and creamy. Luscious, just like a perfectly ripe avocado. That's the part of you I get. And underneath that is the hardest, strongest core of anyone I know." I'd take being likened to an avocado any day.
The lingering aftereffect of The Mysterious Life of the Heart is longing, that merging-on-painful wish to change the past, to uncover that indefinable something or someone to fill the aching emptiness. Since few are immune to the need to be in community with others, this quality will leave readers questioning their own lives and relationships. What more can a writer (or the editor of an anthology) ask than to somehow transform readers through the power of art?