The Lovers is the third novel by Vida in what she has described as a trilogy about rage and violence. The first was And Now You Can Go, in which a young American woman, after being held up at knife point, heads to the Philippines; in Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, an American woman responds to her father’s death by traveling to Lapland to solve the mystery of her heritage; now The Lovers, where a grieving woman lands in Turkey. All three tales do involve rage and violence—in unexpected ways. What is also striking is how, in each, Vida employs unusual foreign locales with sensitivity to explore truths about those countries and cultures as well as her heroines.
This slim volume is remarkable for how much story it packs, testifying to the economy and skill of the writing. As Yvonne meets her landlord, Ali; his separated wife Őzlem; a surly waiter; Ahmet, a boy playing with shells on the beach; and others, she peals back the layers of her grief to face the betrayals (many from coping with their addiction-prone daughter Aurelia) in a marriage their acquaintances called ‘perfect.’ “I came to let go of grief and lies,” Yvonne says, and in the course of some odd and some terrifying events along the Aegean Coast, she does.
Vida is an unobtrusively skillful storyteller, building many small pungent scenes, including a standoff between Yvonne and the hostile waiter, or when Yvonne dances with the young Aurelia at a wedding and is flooded with love for her daughter. Dry humor lightens darker moments, as do wonderfully-written observations. As Ozlem hesitates before divulging a secret, “Even the air between them seemed to be dented, waiting to be straightened again.”
The Lovers reminds me strongly of Mary Lee Settle’s 1978 National Book Award winning novel Blood Ties, which explores the relationship of a group of ex-pats, particularly one American woman, with locals in a nearby town on the Turkish coast. In her ambitious work, Settle employs a bigger canvas and treats its Turkish characters more fully. But she shares with Vida a clear-eyed view of how Americans are often perceived abroad, and why. Both books deserve a wide reading.