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Beauty & Sadness 

André Alexis (Anansi)

In “Part One: Echoes,” the Toronto-based Trinidadian-Canadian reconsiders how authors such as Guy de Maupassant, Jean Cocteau and Yasunari Kawabata have shaped him as reader and writer. Alexis traces these connections through a series of short stories, creating fictional worlds that combine his and his heroes’ spirits and sensibilities. “Mylène Saint-Brieuc (Henry James/Carlos Fuentes),” an erotic and melancholic story told in the second person, best exemplifies this simple, imaginative way of literary autobiography. With the first two essays in “Part Two: Reconciliations” (“Ivan Ilych: A Travelogue” and “Samuel Beckett, or On Reconciliation”), the undercurrent changes, going from melancholy to disillusionment to, finally, dissatisfaction. In “Water: A Memoir,” Alexis writes: “Some will like a work, others will not. It’s the fate of any book to meet with acceptance and rejection.” But the thrust of his memoir is distrust. Reviewers, for example, fail to offer aesthetic (arguably called academic nowadays) judgment of literary works, but indulge in a form of “autobiography.” But gauging and explaining one’s emotional response to a book---drawing on one’s own experiences---is arguably a form of rational, critical thinking. It counts. This last piece almost discounts what Alexis achieves in the bulk of this book.

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