The Bookseller is the touching and intriguing story of one woman living two lives.
As the book opens, we meet Kitty, a single career woman in 1962. 38 years old, she and her best friend Frieda own a small bookshop in a no-longer-thriving neighborhood of Denver. Kitty lives alone with her cat Aslan, enjoys the sister-like company of her friend, and thrives in a loving relationship with her devoted parents. She’s happy, and really doesn’t regret the life choices she made that brought her to this point in her life.
But when Kitty goes to sleep, she wakes up in a strange bedroom in a lovely home, beside a loving man names Lars who refers to her by her full name, Katharyn. It’s 1963, and she appears to be married to her soulmate, living in a comfortable house in a newer Denver neighborhood, a stay-at-home mother to triplets.
Kitty is absolutely confounded by this dream world of hers. When she wakes up again, she’s haunted by how realistic this imaginary world seems, and is struck by the thought that she’s encountered the unusual name Lars before. She remembers that in her real life, she’d almost had a first date with a man named Lars eight years earlier, but he stood her up and so they never met.
Each time Kitty goes to sleep, she crosses from one world to another. Her dream world is vivid and distinct. She discovers an enormous depth of feeling for her husband Lars, and she loves her adorable children, despite being confused and somewhat frustrated by her son Michael, who is, apparently, autistic. Sadly, in this dream world, Katharyn and Frieda have fallen out years earlier, although she has no idea why.
Gradually, the lines begin to blur. Each world feels real and seems to want to claim her. The more time Kitty spends in her dream world, the more memories come back to her… but so much still remains elusive. Finally, Kitty has to sort out which is her real world, where she truly belongs, and which life is the one she must let go.
… And let me just pause here from providing plot summary and say — wow. What a book.
With hints of Sliding Doors as well as certain points that reminded me of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer, The Bookseller asks us to pass from dream world to reality and back to dream world right along with Kitty. Both lives are rich and detailed. Both are filled with people who matter to her. Could she really have forgotten a life in which she’s a wife and mother? But how can all of her memories be about her life in the bookstore with Frieda, if her other life with Lars feels equally real?
I loved the construction of this emotion-packed novel. We flow right alongside the main character as she shifts abruptly, never entirely sure of when or where she’ll wake up in a different life, sometimes in the middle of a scene, so to speak, already under way. The writing is matter-of-fact, yet startling at times, as when Kitty gazes into the face of her dream husband for the first time or is suddenly struck by the knowledge that she has children.
The 1960s setting works magnificently here. The author weaves in all sorts of small details that make the time period seem real, from the admiration of Jackie Kennedy’s fashion sense to the fears of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the simple joys of listening to Patsy Cline and checking out the newest books by J. D. Salinger and Katherine Anne Porter.
It’s also a marvelous tribute to the choices available to a woman at that time and the courage needed to chart her own course. Staying single, owning a business — these are not easy paths, and certainly not common or expected. Likewise, the challenges facing a young mother are daunting. Despite being well-off and with a supportive husband, dealing with three children is all-consuming. The medical world was only just waking up to the meaning of autism at the time, and the only resources Kitty can find on the subject pin the “blame” squarely on the mother, with no guidance available on finding ways to connect with the child or even how to provide him with an education.
The Bookseller had me hooked from the first chapter, and I truly loved the main character. Her two lives, as Kitty and Katharyn, each offer her something special — but each is missing some key element that makes the other life hard to turn away from. Her confusion and pain feel real, as does her love for Lars and her children, her parents, and Frieda.
I highly recommend The Bookseller. Its shifting reality twists will absolutely keep you guessing! With an engaging yet mysterious plot, a well-earned resolution, and emotions that ring true, this book should appeal to anyone who enjoys stories about strong women confronting unusual and unpredictable challenges. Check it out!
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About the Author:
Cynthia Swanson is a writer and a designer of the midcentury modern style. She has published short fiction in 13th Moon, Kalliope, Sojourner, and other periodicals; her story in 13th Moon was a Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and three children. The Bookseller is her first novel.
Title: The Bookseller
Author: Cynthia Swanson
Publication date: March 3, 2015
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours
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