‘These are my friends. They died.’ –Michael Connelly, ‘The Burning Room’

She reached across her body with her left hand and Bosch tensed. But her hand went to her left wrist. She unbuttoned her cuff and violently pulled the sleeve up her arm. She turned her arm to reveal the tattoo on the inside of her forearm. It was an RIP list with five names on a tombstone. Jose, Else, Marlena, Juanito, Carlos.

‘I was in that basement when the fire started, okay?’ she said. ‘These are my friends. They died.’

—Michael Connelly, The Burning Room, Chapter 9

I honestly burst into tears reading this. The speaker is Harry Bosch’s new partner, whom he has caught in the files room reading up on the murder by arson of several children in day care. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for my son to lose five of his buddies from Ms. Nuñez’s Pre-K class.

The parent’s nightmare is that your kids will have it worse than you ever did.

‘It will be lovely, he thought ten times a day before he set off.’ –Maxim Biller, 80cm of Bad Temper

It had all been so easy in Cracow. Well, not entirely. The stout Jewish young man from Microsoft whom she had visited there was in love with her, but she didn’t feel the same about him. She was in love with Itai, but he didn’t feel the same about her. He knew that he was not in love with her, but she didn’t know it, so she’d said come and see me in Ljubljana sometime soon, it will be lovely. It will be lovely, he thought ten times a day before he set off. When he saw her in Ljubljana at the airport he thought, No, it won’t.

—Maxim Biller, 80 Centimeters of Bad Temper
(As a personal interjection, please don’t let this story dissuade you from traveling to European cities to meet dates. When I was single I preferred staging first dates in the Old World; the chemistry might not be right, but on the bright side, you’re in Paris, instead of stuck out in Brooklyn.)
Maxim Biller’s stories have been compiled into an austere-looking hardback collection called by the sprightly and opaque title Love Today. I’m reading the stories (there are 27 of them, most no more than six pages), and thinking that somehow the word “Grumpy” should have been shoehorned in that title somewhere. “Grumpy Love, Today,” perhaps, or “Love? Today, Grumpy.” This story’s title (the measurement refers to the width of the woman’s bed) is probably the most accurate in the whole collection.
The characters are always on the move from one place to another, inhabiting temporary roles in the sturdy cities of central Europe. This is the kind of book that has tram tracks running through its pages. The quoted story I like for its simple, straightforward nature that doesn’t rely on awkward tricks or character traits to be told. This guy, Itai, comes to Ljubljana to meet up with this woman, and just like that, it doesn’t work out. Dommage. J’en suis desolé. It’s not me, it’s you.
What redeems Itai from the ordinary strain of grumblecore characters (grumblecorporals?) is his optimism. He was genuinely hoping that he would fall in love in Ljubljana. The sudden clarity of mind he displays in the quoted passage is perhaps his realist streak coming out: the woman’s too-narrow bed just makes his plight more obvious. 

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John Le Carré, ‘The Night Manager’

Night Manager

“On it flows, back and forth, a checkered stream of puzzled reminiscence: at home as they sit dog-tired from the plow before their flickering television sets, on fogged-out evenings in the Snug as they sip their third beers and gaze at the plank floor. Dusk falls, the mist rolls in and sticks to the sash windows like steam, there’s not a breath. The day’s wind stops dead, the crows go quiet. On one short stroll to the pub you smell warm milk from the dairy, paraffin stoves, coal fires, pipe smoke, silage and seaweed from the Lanyon. A helicopter is plodding out to Scilly. A tanker is lowing in the sea fog. The church tower’s chimes bang in your ear like a boxing gong. Everything is single, everything a separate smell or sound or piece of remembering. A footstep in the lane snaps like a broken neck.”
John Le Carré, The Night Manager

In the endless stacks of dross paperbacks that pile up in corners of the secret city, there are one or two good ones. The Night Manager, for one, showed up in a box of junk fiction. The story is hackneyed: “Tough guy vs. evil mastermind.” But on a couple pages he’s got some nice bits of writing, including these lines above.