“The Love We Share Without Knowing” by Christopher Barzak I was working in the shop one day, and Molly, one of the Buzzbin editors, stopped in and asked me what the next book review was going to be. She suggested that reviewing a love story, the month being February, might be the way to go. I was unsure, as I had read nothing but my usual obscurantist literature for several months (which I can write a two-word review of right now: “loner overdoses”). I had nothing, love being a literary topic best avoided by adults. Then I remembered what would easily qualify as the greatest collection of love stories I’ve ever read — and maybe, just maybe, I can get a soul or two out there to give this book a shot as well. “The Love We Share Without Knowing” is, according to its Ohio author Christopher Barzak, “a loosely connected collection of short love stories”. I would say that’s an apt description, but sort of like calling “Hamlet” “a ghost story about a prince”. There’s a little more to it than that — the stories’ connectivity reminds me of the classic postmodern film “Slacker”, where we meet each character for a few minutes, then randomly drift off in another direction with another, tangential character. Kind of like people-watching in the mall, but intellectual instead of pervy, and if everyone you saw was connected somehow, from the kids at Hot Topic to the white-sneakered, mallwalking seniors. The appeal, and difficulty, of the book lies in how it resists classification: it’s not science fiction (though it was nominated for the nation’s top science fiction awards) and it’s not exactly love- and relationship-based storytelling either. As the book’s first character, teen Elijah Fulton, writes: “Everything you think you know about the world isn’t true. Nothing is real, it’s all made up. We live in a world of illusion. I’m telling you this up front because I don’t want you thinking this story is going to have a happy ending. It won’t make any sense out of sadness. It won’t redeem humanity in even a small sort of way.” The book all takes place in Japan, and has a roughly balanced English and Japanese cast of characters. To give you an idea of some of the early ties, the first character, Elijah, is an American boy living in Japan because of his father’s relocation. He hates everything about the place, until meeting the spirit of a girl, Midori, who had committed suicide in that town years earlier. Midori’s best friend from high school, Kazuko, is the centerpiece of the second story, as she forms a Japanese suicide club about 12 years later. One of the other girls in the suicide club, Hitomi, has a boyfriend who suddenly goes blind on a subway train. He’s the main character of the third story. And so it goes, each relationship spinning out into the Japanese social space, kind of like Facebook friend suggestions, but with a much cooler algorithm. One of the central love relationships is between a young English teacher from Pennsylvania and the Japanese man he falls in love with. The relationship is beautiful, poignant and hopeful for the future. They struggle with cultural differences, most importantly the fact that they cannot get married in America and will never be able to move there (or here, I suppose). Before you think I’ve gone soft and sappy, rooting for the put-upon lovers to conquer all obstacles, it’s also possible that this entire relationship is an extended dream sequence during a weekend kidnapping. And the dreary opening paragraph I quoted earlier — it’s not completely true. Some characters rise, some fall, and in the end the love of family proves to be a very strong bond. You’d like this if you’re a manga fan looking to move up into more sophisticated literature, if you’re a fan of Murakami (“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” or “Kafka on the Shore”), or if you like your love stories dreamy, haunting, complicated and sweet all at the same time. I know I do. Pick it up at Backlist Books (39 Lincoln Way E, Massillon; 330-880-0334) and support a local author and a local store!