Love at Last Sight goes against the grain of most story collections these days, the majority of which are quippy and concise plot-driven adventures in minimalism. Bowering’s debut collection, which embraces a rich maximalism, is ultimately a poet’s work of fiction. It is concerned with contemplation, slight philosophical shifts in character, and intelligent women caught up in finite romantic entanglements. Bowering is an inventive and original writer, unafraid to be playful and take unexpected turns.
“The Cannibals,” one of the best stories, features Anna, a poet’s daughter and assassin, obsessed with finding the one true love who ditched her. She observes that lately all the women she knows are “done in by love.” As she sets out on her journey, she reflects that she “knew better than to be confessional. She knew that what worked for poets also worked for assassins: the good ones survive by (1) not discussing feelings; and (2) feigning their own deaths.” This is one of many knowing metafictional moments.
Each story is a collage of poetic and lyrical influences. Each begins with one or two epigraphs, and some contain song lyrics or text lifted from other sources. Nine pages of notes at the end of the book cite the sources that served as inspiration for the author. It is said that every book is an homage to the ones that came before; to see this principle acknowledged overtly is interesting, and only occasionally irritating.
Almost every character in Love at Last Sight is a rambler, and some are more engaging than others. Bowering prefers to let the action happen mostly off-screen, in the thoughts of her narrators. The result is a sense that each narrator is sitting beside you, recalling an important story in a breathless monologue. The more philosophical or poetic tangents slow the pace on occasion, but most of the stories offer rewards if you allow yourself to become immersed in their particular moods.