Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada; New York, NY.
Raymond and Hannah: A Love Story (novel), Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.
Shining at the Bottom of the Sea (related stories), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Descant, Event, New Quarterly, and Malahat Review.
Raymond and Hannah was adapted for audio (five discs), HighBridge (Minneapolis, MN), 2005).
Stephen Marche's debut novel, Raymond and Hannah: A Love Story, was described by a Publishers Weekly contributor as a "page-turner prose poem." The novel is divided into short sections, some less than a page in length. The couple of the title, Hannah, who is Jewish, and Raymond, an atheist, meet at a party in Toronto. They are both graduate students, but she lives in an attic, and he lives in a basement. There are big differences between these two people, but passion pulls them together for the week before Hannah leaves for a previously scheduled nine-month trip to an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem.
They spend most of their time in her apartment, now empty except for the bed. They enjoy eating ethnic food, drinking, and exploring each other, both emotionally and physically. When the week ends, Hannah leaves for Israel. While she studies Torah "for North American almost-assimilated Jews … who are messed up about their Jewish identity and want to deal with it," Raymond tries to avoid working on his doctoral dissertation on Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. Toronto in winter is dark and gloomy, and he has few friends. The differences between Hannah and Raymond become more apparent when they are separate and in different surroundings. Marche describes his couple, saying that if Raymond and Hannah "were a cocktail [they] would be two parts absence, once part presence." Raymond and Hannah communicate by e-mail, and, as he promised to do, he flies to Israel during her last month there. She wants him to see Israel, and they both want to see if their relationship remains strong. The Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "love between Jew and atheist gentile resembles the divided city, simultaneously impossible and actual."
Mostly Fiction Web site reviewer Jana L. Perskie felt that Raymond and Hannah "is a most compelling read. It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. A quirky, original, bold, love story, it is certainly contemporary, combining physical lust, spiritual longing, and intellectual quests, as well as a search for emotional intimacy."
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Meghan Daum noted Marche's minimalist style, but added: "The language he uses is so dazzling, so unsentimental, that the bones of the story become almost irrelevant." Daum concluded by writing that Marche "has produced a work that is both beautiful and confusing. In other words, an honest love story."
Reviewing the novel in the Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Jon Kertzer concluded: "Fortunately, Marche really can write. When he abandons the bland email style of the lovers' correspondence, he offers some lovely lyrical moments, as in the unexpected conclusion. It suggests that beneath ethnic multiplicity lies the commonality of culture, but deeper still lies something more basic, and more primitive."
Marche next wrote Shining at the Bottom of the Sea, an anthology of stories about Sanjania, an island in the Atlantic that Marche created. The stories are by various authors written at various points in the history of the island, but although each author has a distinctly different voice, they are all Marche. He wrote more than one hundred stories before choosing the twenty that he ultimately included in the book. His writers have names that include Trinity Hopps, Octavia Kitteredge-Mann, and Blessed Shirley. Each reflects a literary style suitable to the period in which he or she writes. Collectively they describe the history of Sanjania from colonialism to dictatorship, as well as its many colorful personalities and events. Marche includes fictional dialogue by actual people, including George Orwell, who praises the pamphlets that describe Sanjania, an island with an enormous appetite for the written word.
"The complexity of the book—or rather, of the creative process behind it—is only one of its awing factors," noted Isa Tousignant for the Hour online. "The linguistic and temporal range, as well as the incredibly individual literary stylings of each character, or author, are at once impressive and pleasurable to consume. This isn't just a mammoth enterprise—it' a good read."
Robert Weibezahl reviewed the book for BookPage online, describing it as a "tour de force." Weibezahl wrote that "relying on my dictionary's definition of that phrase as ‘a feat of strength, skill or ingenuity,’ it is safe to bestow this overused distinction on Shining at the Bottom of the Sea. Not really a novel, not really a collection of stories, it is a bold book that does nothing less than reinvent narrative and the ways in which it can be used to tell stories large and small."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2005, Marta Segal Block, review of Raymond and Hannah: A Love Story, p. 820.
Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, summer, 2005, Jon Kertzer, review of Raymond and Hannah, p. 130.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2005, review of Raymond and Hannah, p. 141; June 15, 2007, review of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea.
Library Journal, March 15, 2005, Kellie Gillespie, review of Raymond and Hannah, p. 73.
New York Times Book Review, May 22, 2005, Meghan Daum, review of Raymond and Hannah, p. 33; September 9, 2007, Christopher R. Beha, review of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, April 4, 2005, review of Raymond and Hannah, p. 42; March 19, 2007, review of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea, p. 35.
Village Voice, May 17, 2005, Rachel Aviv, review of Raymond and Hannah..
Winnipeg Free Press, August 26, 2007, review of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 24, 2007), Robert Weibezahl, review of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea.
Hour,http://www.hour.ca/ (September 13, 2007), Isa Tousignant, review of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea.
Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (August 26, 2006), Jana L. Perskie, review of Raymond and Hannah.
Stephen Marche Home Page,http://www.sanjania.com (November 25, 2007).