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Summer Lies - Romantic and Raw

Not one for short stories, Anam Sufi was surprised to find herself drawn in by Bernard Schlink's romantic collection, Summer Lies.

Back on my bookshelf, I thought I’d kick back and opt for something light to read this week. Ideal for a beach or poolside dose of a light literature, Bernard Schlink’s collection of short (love) stories, Summer Lies, taps into the details of the everyday emotional peaks and troughs that we endure. Cynics and non-romantics should not be put off by the fact that the stories are about love, as Schlink manages to capture the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful through a series of romantic episodes that address the failed, the trying, and the successful facets of love.

The German author, most famous for his novel The Reader, will not disappoint his veteran audiences. A huge fan myself, what I love most about Schlink is his ability to express the inexpressible. While each of the seven stories in the collection are distinct from one another in terms of characters and setting, they all contribute to a single narrative on the palliative, and ironically, destructive capabilities of love. 

In each of the short stories, the characters (predominantly male protagonists) cradle a sense of nostalgia that borderlines regret for past transgressions. But this nostalgia is only heightened by their continued mistakes that, in some cases, serve to trigger their downward spiral. There are constantly two narratives at work; the tangible, and the psychological.

The details that separate the stories are so independent that I feel any attempt at providing a generic and umbrella summary of them would undermine the spectacular simplicity that makes them so wonderful. For this reason, I will elaborate on only one of them; my favourite of the seven.

The story is called The Night in Baden-Baden. A man who has been in a committed long distance relationship with his girlfriend (whom he loves) travels to another city with a woman. The woman is clearly interested in something more than what he wants to offer, but he straddles the line of what is appropriate by sharing a bed with her, without actually making love to her (I guess it’s okay, in that case *rolls eyes*). The matter does not weigh on him in the slightest, that is, until his girlfriend discovers that he shared a room with another woman. Naturally, she doesn’t believe that he did not cheat on her. After an explosive fight between the two, the man, upset at his girlfriend’s inability to believe him (what a joker), actually does cheat on her with what might as well be the first woman he sees. 

For the sake of keeping the suspense, I won’t continue on what happens next. But the summary should allow you to see how Schlink uses the relationships (or lack there of) between his characters to outline the very real and very common pitfalls that surface in real-life relationships. In The Night in Baden-Baden, the man’s inability to see that it does not take physical consummation to be unfaithful and his egotistic need to live up to a punishment that he is being dealt highlights the perceptive gap between many men and women.

I’m not usually one to indulge in short stories, but if your anything like me, Summer Lies should definitely be an exception. I like to believe that almost every literary work teaches its reader something, and in the case of Schlink’s latest collection of short stories, it is a Master's in coaching emotional intelligence. 

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