Whether we care to admit it or not, the consuming public is fascinated with the high corners of society. There will always be an audience thirsty for information on the rich and famous, or simply the rich and pretentious. It’s a cultural phenomenon that colors leisure entertainment with movies, TV shows and books of this class cramming the popularity charts. No need to defend or apologize — just sharing the facts.
Some astute writers really know how to make it count, though, taking it beyond mere entertainment into the realm of insight and understanding with pain often trumping privilege. In my review earlier this year of Stanislas M. Yassukovich’s novel James Grant, I described the title character as a privileged yet troubled soul and a prisoner of his own family and social class.
It’s no wonder Yassukovich writes of the privileged — he acknowledges he is a card-carrying member. The author was masterful in getting inside James’ psyche as well as intricately dissecting society’s upper crust as its practitioners go about their jet-setting ways.
Once again, Yassukovich has brilliantly let us into a world that most have not entered, but he serves up characters, situations and emotions all too common, all too human and relatable in his wise new work, Short Stories (Austin Macauley Publishers). His magnificent writing and keen observations are center stage for several recurring themes, most notably an obsession with nostalgia that guides the way through his recollections of people and places with intriguing backgrounds and flawed outcomes.
LOST IN NOSTALGIA
He describes his fascination in a story aptly titled “In the Quicksand of Nostalgia.” The absurdity of the past, ironically, is one of its charms. He defines nostalgia as a vice rather than a disease with one of its side effects “a failure to appreciate the present.” As for the future, well, his only “forward-looking habit” is to draft his own obituary. “His life and career were adversely affected by a tiresome obsession with the past,” he ponders for effect.
Yassukovich’s collection of poignant vignettes paints a picture of a cosmopolitan universe that has indelibly shaped (often scarred) its inhabitants, many of whom are consciously or subconsciously trying to escape. This is never more pronounced than in “The Sand Bar,” in which Ichabod Bishop Fisch has built a life around high-societal routine — everything from the maid’s breakfast delivery to his laps in the club pool to his post-workout drink to his presence at his wife’s elaborate dinner party.
Yet he breaks this monotony with a walk out to a sandbar where he can distance himself from his rituals and see his life for what it really is: “The famous Island, on which stand all those desirable dilatory domiciles, on which is laid those luscious links, those en-tout-cas tennis courts and all the other appurtenances of a carefree life, itself nothing but a big sandbar.” He considers its people and yells back at them from the middle of the water, “You’re all boring!”
Much like Fisch in “The Sand Bar,” other characters find solitude as a break from their pressured if often not totally explained lives: Kemp in “In Tuscany” enjoys the pleasures of a scenic villa and avoids at all costs picking up a newspaper; Yuri, the Russian in “A Friend of the Family,” whose demeanor with the narrator’s children is too good to be true, if one avoids the reasons for his alcohol consumption and strained relationship with his son; even the author himself, whose writing is his means of escape and relief from the stress of an international investment banking career.
CAPTIVATING WRITING AND RICH DESCRIPTION
In Short Stories, Yassukovich has created a most entertaining work that taps into “the quirks of fate that move people from an apparently predestined course of life. I have drawn on a variety of conditions and personalities to color the stories with the shades and lights of human existence.”
The author is a gifted, insightful writer with beautiful descriptions of places and personalities, using a rich, dense approach to language that makes readers feel the true depth of characters, what drives them, and what guides their decisions. But all the while, here is a man devoted to the past: “When formerly we read, we now watch; when we discoursed, we now argue; when we dined, we now snack; when we dressed, we now clothe; when we played, we now work; when we resided, we now travel.”
“The modern world,” he says, “has little time or tolerance for nostalgics.”
Perhaps. Thank heaven for Stanislas Yassokovich.
“James Grant” Reckons With the Conflicted Upper Class