The Girl with the Wistful Eyes
The centerpiece story of this collection is also its namesake, and it is beautiful. It follows 64-year-old Paul Thompson as he grieves for his deceased lover while attempting to fulfill his promise of finishing her final book. In order to do so, he has moved to the neighborhood of her youth, a working class section of Philadelphia from which few escape, and he has rented a room to a very young woman and her daughter. As the story unfolds through memory, letters, dialogue, and narration, Paul gradually falls for this complicated woman. This is very much a spring-autumn romance, a theme that appears in several of the other stories as well, but here it is done perfectly. Paul and Nuala come together hesitantly, awkwardly, and naturally. The age gap is discussed both by the primary couple and by Paul’s lost love. In letters about her work, she discusses the idea of older men seeking younger women, and Paul reads implicit consent to his new relationship in her words. It is a lovely story about grief (Nuala also grieves, but in a much subtler way and for her own reasons), hope, love, and family in all its forms. This novella is perfection.
Most of the other stories live up to this level of beauty. They all deal with love or relationships of some form, and many of them are incredibly powerful. Some of them are downright stunning. “Fruit Cocktail,” for instance, tells a heartbreaking tale of a single mother forced to make ends meet however she can and of her daughter discovering her methods.
Unfortunately, there are two stories that I feel don’t fit in with the rest of the collection, and it really pains me that four pages (“A Simple Bog Girl” and “You Look Lovely Today” are both very short pieces) detract from an otherwise stellar book.
Still, four disappointing pages is a very minor issue, and the rest of the stories are excellent. David Appleby writes in a lush, delicate, sensitive manner that allows the reader to get inside the characters’ minds and feel exactly what they feel. He also paints beautiful pictures with his words, and many images from this book will stay with me for a long time. I will definitely return to this collection.
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