Laura van den Berg's gorgeous new book, The Isle of Youth, explores the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and steals from the audience, the characters in these bewitching stories are at once vulnerable and dangerous, bighearted and ruthless, and they will do what it takes to survive.
Each tale is spun with elegant urgency, and the reader grows attached to the marginalized young women in these stories—women grappling with the choices they've made and searching for the clues to unlock their inner worlds. This is the work of a fearless writer whose stories feel both magical and mystical, earning her the title of "sorceress" from her readers. Be prepared to fall under her spell.
An NPR Best Book of 2013
If ever there was a writer going places, it's Laura Van Den Berg, who follows up her debut collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, with the ambitious, modular The Isle of Youth, whose seven stories are arranged along the themes of family secrets with noirish intrigue. "I Looked for You, I Called Your Name" concerns a couple's disastrous vacation in South America, where signs and portents stand in for the growing distance between them. These auguries are more literalized in "Acrobat," where another wife, jilted in Paris, takes up with the titular troupe of performers. The private detective sisters of "Opa-Locka" embroil themselves in other people's business, only to be dragged back into their father's criminal past. Meanwhile, the sisters in the book's title story switch identities and get the full Chandler treatment, trailed by sinister town cars and mystery men. And there's always the missing family member that can't be completely grasped. In "The Greatest Escape," it's a young girl's magician father, protected by her mother's lies; in "Antarctica," it's an estranged brother, incinerated in an accident on the Antarctic Peninsula, leaving his sister alone in the frozen wastes with the secret that could have saved him. The Isle of Youth can seem a similarly immutable landscape, but Van Den Berg's repetitions never annoy; they enchant.
Just so good! Buy it while it's on sale, such a steal.
Disjointed and uncompelling
The writing itself is good...if only it had actually formed a decent plot by even halfway through the book...