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Reviewlet: Instant Love by Jami Attenberg

At the FGIBI party, I had the chance to meet Jami Attenberg, whose novel-in-stories Instant Love I recently read and admired.
Instant Love follows an ensemble of vivid characters whose lives intersect as they stumble upon, after, or away from romance. Whether the passion in question is fleeting or fundamental, each story sharpens to a fine narrative point–a moment of connection or dissolution. The effect of reading these stories together satisfies more than merely sampling one. Attenberg makes me believe in her characters’ lives beyond the page by offering scenes across shared history (spanning high-school romances to hasty marriages and anonymous one-night stands); the world between these stories feels vast and lonely, the loves within them small havens or misspent hopes. Shifting perspectives remind us that people are stars of their own lives, mere walk-ons in others; one woman’s lumbering fool is another’s ideal. Attenberg grants her characters the kind of narrative distance that elicits a visceral response. From a close-yet-cautious third person narrator, we often have easier access to these women’s feelings than they do — and yet, like our closest friends, they resist us; in moments, they turn opaque. As I read, I found it hard to think about the book as a piece of “writing” or to analyze its themes. Instead, I grew protective of these so-called fictional women; they had me curious, cautious, jealous, a little bit bursting with love I found hard to express. I look forward to reading her novel The Kept Man (hardcover currently available, paperback pubbing in January 2009).

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