This book was recommended to me by a coworker as “a perfect story of a marriage”. I read it in one sitting and went through an emotional wringer while riding an emotional roller coaster while seriously needing a glass of wine and therapy. Trigger warning: if you have ever been disappointed, betrayed, disillusioned or in any way wronged by a lover/spouse and gone through the painful process of recovery from that trauma, this book is going to bring it all back in exquisitely excruciating detail. But you should probably read it anyway. It’s that good.
So, David Duchovny’s first book (Holy Cow, which I haven’t reviewed because…well, why?) was amusing, and I listened to him read it on audio so my inner fangirl enjoyed it. But this is a real book, and I enjoyed it even more. Duchovny, a novelist – who knew?
On the surface, it’s about a man who has squandered most of his opportunities and could be dismissed as a total loser. But if you read for just a few pages, you get hooked. By the end, you’ll realize the story is really about love. Love of family, of friends, of lovers – it covers them all, and when you finish the book you’re glad a) that you probably aren’t as fucked up as the protagonist and b) he finally got to express his love to the people he should have.
It’s not a happy book – people get together, break up for dumb reasons, lose other people they love, lie to each other, and make many poor life choices. You know, like life. And if you like baseball, there’s the added element of the whole thing playing out against the backdrop of the 1978 playoffs to spice things up for you. For an unremarkable hitter, Bucky Dent sure ruined a whole lot of people’s lives (including our protagonist’s) with one, stupidly lucky home run at the exact wrong moment. Of course, if you’re a Yankees fan, you probably see this the other way. But that’s life, too.
I didn’t expect to like this book, but so many people at work were reading it that when an audio copy turned up on the Bestseller shelf, I decided to give it a whirl. (I was between audiobooks, and growing a wee bit tired of the Stuff You Missed in History podcast. Which is excellent, usually, but one can only listen to so much history and I’ve been overindulging. But I digress. But wait, isn’t that what parentheses are FOR?)
I should have hated this book. It’s a mass of clichés – crotchety depressed widower hermit adopts an abandoned baby, meets a plucky younger woman and is forced to join the human race again, and in the process enlists and transforms his entire town (Silas Marner, anyone?) – but it’s still a good story, and the literary references (the main character is a bookstore owner and reading snob) make it worth reading. It’s like a love story for books, and an anthem for what librarians call “reader’s advisory” and booksellers call “hand selling”, which is essentially the art of matching up readers with books they will enjoy. As a person who really believes that there is a book for every reader and a reader for every book (well, except maybe Moby Dick or Ulysses, which no one should ever be forced to endure), I found it thoroughly charming. As a lover of most of the same books that A.J. loves, I was tickled every time he managed to talk his customers into reading something I myself might recommend to them (at one point he gets the police chief to read one of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, and the police chief LIKES IT).
Oh, and on the side you get some other subplots – A.J.’s rare copy of Tamerlane (which he was hoping to sell to finance his retirement) is stolen near the beginning of the story, and it takes until the end of the novel to figure out who took it. The parentage of A.J.’s adopted daughter Maya, abandoned in the bookstore by her suicidal mother, is likewise revealed along the way. Throughout the novel, A.J writes notes to his daughter (mostly book recommendations), which are especially heartbreaking when you find out why he’s been writing them to her.
The best part of this story is the community the author creates. After you are done reading it, you will miss the people you have met on Alice Island, and want to go and visit Island Books to see what’s new on the shelves.