Have we readers become a bunch of bookstore fetishists? How else to explain the popularity of the bookstore trope in contemporary fiction? You know what I mean — a main character who hits a roadblock with either relationships, career, or both, suddenly finds the key to happiness by working in (and reinvigorating) a dusty old bookshop. I feel like I keep seeing this pattern in books lately… not that that’s not my own personal fantasy!! Me, a bookstore, piles of books, a cup of coffee or two… bliss!
Author Shelly King addresses this idealization of bookstore ownership toward the end of her fine new novel, The Moment of Everything:
Bookstores are romantic creatures. They seduce you with their wares and break your heart with their troubles. All great readers fantasize about owning one. They think spending a day around all those books will be the great fulfillment of their passion.
Of course, she goes on to point out:
They don’t yet know about the sorting of what comes in, the tracking of what goes out, the backaches from carrying and shelving, and the little money that comes from any of it. All those readers just think about the wedding without giving much thought to the marriage. Books make for a heavy load, and there’s no getting around it.
What’s it all about? In The Moment of Everything, main character Maggie has come unmoored. After being laid off from the Silicon Valley tech company that she helped start, Maggie spends her days lounging in a big comfy chair at Dragonfly Books, consuming romance novels by the armload. She doesn’t really want to put any effort into a job search, and definitely doesn’t want her overbearing Southern mama to interfere either. Maggie coasts along, until the day she encounters a beat-up old copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and discovers love notes written in the book margins by two mysterious souls named Henry and Catherine.
Suddenly, Maggie has a mission. She decides to track down the book-loving lovers, using her best social media strategies, and coincidentally backs into a supposedly temporary job at Dragonfly. Meanwhile, she forms a family of sorts with store owner Hugo, a 50-something mellowed hippy, and Jason, her prickly coworker (and ardent D&D player, among his other nerdy habits). And then there’s sexy Rahjit, who breezes into Maggie’s life and may (or may not) have the key to her heart.
The Moment of Everything has romance, true, but it’s also about connections, friendship, and finding a place to belong. The weird and off-beat folks who prowl the Dragonfly stacks form a community of sorts. The more deeply involved Maggie becomes, the less appealing a return to a shiny corporate career seems. Ultimately, Maggie has to figure out what truly makes her happy — and that involves making decisions about work, love, family, and friends.
I enjoyed The Moment of Everything very much. True, I wasn’t particularly surprised by much that happens here. Wanna guess whether Maggie takes a new tech job or sticks with the bookstore? The romantic subplot takes a twist that I hadn’t seen coming, and that was probably the nicest unexpected element of the book — the fact that the Henry and Catherine mystery doesn’t have the neat and tidy answer that we’d most likely predict. (I did think the Lady Chatterley’s Lover piece of the story was mostly unnecessary; as plot device, it was a tad clunky at times.)
The writing is funny and fresh, with enough honesty to make even the more clichéd plot elements feel new and engaging. Even in the more serious or even sorrowful moments, the writing keeps it all human and down-to-earth — and in the lighter moments, the prose crackles with wit, humor, and unusual descriptions. Some prime examples:
I spotted Gloria’s porthole glasses scanning the titles as if we weren’t there, like one of those dinosaurs who could see you only if you moved.
I hooked my fingers into the neck of his T-shirt, pulled him to me, and kissed him. It was a soft thank-you kiss at first, full of a certain compatible comfort. But then there was more. We held each other tighter, leaning back on the ladder, and I felt my cells fly in the air like confetti.
Like everything in Avi’s home, the room felt feminine, but powerful. It was the room of a woman who knew exactly who she was and her place in the world. A chenille-covered Fortress of Fuck You. Someday, I told myself. Someday.
And finally, a long one but a good one, an ode to fanboys everywhere:
Because they actually did read the books they bought, instead of skimming over the trivial stuff and getting to the good parts like I did. They remembered impossibly complex names, alliances, languages, cultures, and family trees… They were in a constant search for that one, that special book that would satisfy their desire for mind-blowing plots, jaw-dropping wizardry, and emotional knife-twisting all at once. And when they found it they treated the author like a god, traveling across the country and sometimes oceans to attend conventions to meet anyone attached to the stories they loved. They lived in fear of sequels being scrapped by the nonbelievers running the publishing houses, or the author dying before finishing the series. Laugh if you like. Call them pathetic even. But I’d like to see Jonathan Franzen inspire that kind of passion.
Do I recommend The Moment of Everything? Yes, absolutely. It’s a sweet and thoughtful contemporary romance with enough nitty-gritty, dusty book love thrown in to appeal to all book lovers… especially those who nurture that not-so-secret fantasy of quitting their day jobs and opening up a cute little used book store, preferably with a big comfy armchair and a cranky cat meandering through the stacks.
Title: The Moment of Everything
Author: Shelly King
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: September 2, 2014
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy via NetGalley