The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham

48 of 90
The News from Spain
224 pages; Knopf
A woman who's been married for 26 years—and whose husband has just had an affair—connects with an old friend on the eve of his wedding to a woman he doesn't love. The middle-aged owner of a bookstore tries to balance two deep and demanding attachments: a feverish reconnection with her elderly, ailing mother and a wild romance with a male customer. In each of these seven piercing stories, author Joan Wickersham reveals uncanny and complex parallels that occur when very different people love each other under very similar circumstances. What ostensibly links the tales is that somewhere along the line, the characters receive news from Spain. That news can be metaphorical (one twosome receives theirs via the wind rushing through a seashell on a beach) or realistic (a young bride is informed of her husband's death in Madrid). Furthermore, the stories all feature the same title, "The News from Spain," because each one is—in subtle, structural ways—a retelling of the previous tale. This tight organization displays a virtuosic control by the author, but the more compelling triumph is Wickersham's emotional cannonball into every single one of her characters. The masterpiece of the collection comes on page 79, when she explores the relationship between a paralyzed ex-ballerina and her gay caretaker, Malcolm. Malcolm's boyfriend is working in Europe, and so is the ex-ballerina's husband. Neither Malcolm nor his charge is sure whether his or her respective partner still wishes to be with him or her. The doubts and tenderness they share with each other as they stay at home, monitoring the mail without ever openly discussing their private feelings, are excruciating—in the best ways, ones that only the finest fiction can create, because you, the reader, feel as much or more than anyone on the page, be it the private, searing heartache or the over-the-top, sloppy happiness that so often happens in real-life love.
— Leigh Newman