Currently Reading: Pulse

Julian Barnes is one of those names that always pops up when I read about contemporary literature.  He is all over Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton, as a friend and a colleague.  Yet I had never read him.

My first foray is Pulse, a collection of short stories.  As with most short story collections, some stories stood out more to me, while others I found a bit lackluster.  Overall however, the stories were intriguing and made me want to seek out more.

There were four stories all showing different evenings at the same place, "At Phil and Joanna's".  These had several couples meeting for dinner and were entirely dialogue.  The couples discuss politics, growing older, and, with some of them clearly having had a few too many, sex.  There are recurring jokes, and overall it felt exactly like a dinner party between friends should.

Many of the stories centered on romantic relationships.  One followed an older man embarking on an affair with a waitress.  Another showed a couple arguing over how to use their outdoor garden space.  A third sent a man grieving his wife's death to the island where they had spent their holidays every year.  There is an undercurrent of sadness in all of these stories and a basic belief that love is not bottomless, not forever.

The most haunting, and my favorite, is the short story with the same title as the collection.  A young man watches as his mother falls ill and his father takes care of her.  It is a beautiful portrayal of love and marriage in the face of utter destruction.

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