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Reunion - Barry Brennessel

3,5 starsWhen I was a student, I used to sit outside of a café with my friends (oooh, bad students!) and play at “grasping humanity”. The rule was to make a cup of coffee last as long as possible, to focus on passersby and feel as consciously as possible the fact that each anonymous face and silhouette was well and truly a being whose uniqueness crossed paths with ours for the blink of an eye, or longer if we chose to intervene. It might sound like a “duh” moment, but it was vertiginous, just like staring at a starry sky or thinking about infinity.Anyway, I kept from this game a strong liking for movies and books about intercrossed destinies, and “Reunion” is a collection of short stories written at different times, but composing a very coherent ensemble of interwoven lives.The book opens in France with “Ficelle”, a strange and short introduction that left me more confused than intrigued. In the next story and obviously a few years later, a young man is stubbornly chasing love from Tours in France to “Skin-Kiba Park” in Japan. Only a first name was needed to link this story to the first one, and I started paying attention to each character, even the most mundane, even the seemingly most insignificant passerby. Back to America, a woman wasted her life away, but a handsome “Marco...Polo” is enough to send her musing about body fluids and connection. “She watched this man-boy in her living room and wondered whose lips his had touched. The biology and chemistry, the animal urges that would cause this sweet, friendly but serious young man to kneel on all fours, his penis hard, throbbing; his need to both connect with and lord over another body for a mere few minutes of selfish passion, and to what end, other than to feel semen squirt out of him as he grunted like a primate?”Ow and eww! Is it all that there is to it? Is it what this is all about? Wether we’re with a rent boy in “Nagasaki”, make a detour by Czechoslovakia with “Unfinished”, get lost near the tube stop “Marble Arch” in UK, witness two former high school friends’ “Reunion”, or we cheer on a bullied boy learning to build a “Curtain Wall”, these stories of encounters, missed opportunities, lonely fantasies, all tell indeed of sexuality, of bodies and needs. They also tell of people seeking embrace, and this is what “Reunion” is about.Along the course, I’ve met many characters. I will never know what happens next to some of them, I would have liked to know a little more about others, but all took part to the story that “Brothers and Sisters”, “the Visit” and “Coda” bring to full circle. Why not 4 stars, then? I loved the concept of this book, but the stories didn’t all work for me on the same level. Some of them really touched me, others were too narrative - that is, telling too much and not showing enough - to my taste. In the end, though, they’re all proof of Mr Brennessel’s willingness and ability to tell stories and play at grasping humanity.