Love Begins in Winter is a collection of five short stories written around the theme of love. Yes, love. In today's cynical world it is hard to find many talented writers who can celebrate love without making it sound like a bad Hallmark card. Van Booy not only succeeds, he excels. These are exquisitely written stories which show us a writer with the ability to see the many shades of love through a variety of fully drawn characters with a variety of experiences.
The title story is a short masterpiece of writing. We meet a world famous musician who is cut off from the world and people as he remembers the loss of a young companion. We are also introduced to a woman who lost a beloved brother at a young age and has struggled with companionship since then. If you hope for love at first sight, you find it in this story in a way which is remarkably above any lustful look. Instead, kindred souls recognize one another and begin what is the process of loving. Van Booy knows love can happen quickly, but even a loving relationship takes time to develop. This does not give away as much of the plot as it sounds since the story's constant progress is its plot.
"Tiger Tiger" shows the surprising places and way love appears, even across generations. A young doctor and her boyfriend see the dissolution of his parent's marriage as they work on their own relationship. When she receives a book her boyfriend's family doctor had written years before she passes on reading it, but when she looks over it a few years later she realizes he had written about children with an insight and love not expected from a single man. In other words, love shows up in unexpected ways.
"The Missing Statues" is a beautiful short story about how the power of love from years before can move a young man to tears with a simple reminder. Van Booy explores the many ways love appears, and in this story we see the simple caring of the stranger as a gift of love. Love's intensity is seen most clearly in "The Coming and Going of Strangers," where the love of a Romany Irish gypsy for a Canadian girl he does not know is beyond reason. The end provides a unique twist, and while Van Booy is never above the surprise ending, upon reflection they are never as surprising as they seem.
He ends Love Begins in Winter with "The City of Windy Trees" in which years after the fact a man finds a one-night stand has given him a child. As he seeks out to reconnect, the power of love to transform a person is nearly overwhelming. And here we see one of Van Booy's clearest themes as his characters move from isolation to love, seeing the gift of love for what it is — an act of grace beyond our control, but open to our reception.
The fact that Van Booy pulls all this off without becoming sentimental is a testament to his understanding the topic he addresses. He avoids the idea of lovesick strangers staring longingly into one another's eyes. Instead, his characters often resist the idea of love until the reality hits them, which emphasizes the power love has in our lives. How wonderful to find a writer who intelligently celebrates what so many of us do experience even in a world seemingly devoid of love.