Don’t read this book on a plane, or in any public place. I was embarrassed several times as I cried copious tears and my seat-mate wondered if I was some sort of crazy person.
Ed is a 20-year-old cab driver in some depressed town in Australia which is never named. He does not have much ambition and his life revolves around a circle of similarly unmotivated friends, with whom he plays cards, drinks, and shares very superficial interests. He is madly in love with one of these friends, but she has been hurt in the past and adamantly refuses to have any relationship where she might like or love her partner, so their relationship remains platonic. All lumbers along uneventfully for Ed, until one day the bank he and his friends are waiting in is robbed. Without knowing why exactly he does so, Ed helps to apprehend the bank robber and enjoys his 15 minutes of fame.
This fame attracts attention from someone and Ed receives a playing card in the mail with three addresses written on it. He assumes that he is supposed to go to these addresses, so he does – and in the process finds 3 people who need his help in some way. Without knowing why he has been asked to do so, Ed sets out to do the right thing. More cards with other clues follow, and the book becomes beautiful, brutal, wrenching, and satisfying by turns. By the end, Ed has learned more about himself and his friends and family than he ever suspected, and the reader learns to love them right along with him.
I read this book because I loved another book by this author called The Book Thief, which my book club read (and most of them enjoyed). This book is not like The Book Thief in content, but so like it in emotional tone. It made me cry not because it is sad, but because it is so poignant. Everything that happens to Ed and his friends and the people that they help is so touching that I couldn’t help wishing that more people would undertake a quest like Ed’s. I challenge you to read the parts where he reads out loud to an old lady without bawling like a baby. And when he discovers his friend Marvin’s secret, have a hanky. Seriously.
A lot of readers online have complained about the ending. I admit, it isn’t the best ending an author has ever dreamed up, but after the superb crafting of the story and characters I’m willing to give him a pass on the deus ex machina.
Read-alikes: Hmmm, this is tricky. It’s a lot like The Book Thief in that ordinary people are called upon to do extraordinary deeds for love. It’s kind of like John Green’s books where the boy longs for the impossible girl (Looking for Alaska, maybe). It’s also vaguely like Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, though the characters in that one never grow like Ed does. I guess the story it reminds me the most of is the Shirley Jackson short story One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts.