- Print Length: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper (March 3, 2015)
A mesmerizingly powerful debut novel about the ways in which past choices can irrevocably define the present—and the bittersweet confrontation of what might have been
1962: It may be the Swinging Sixties in New York, but in Denver it’s different: being a single gal over thirty in this city is almost bohemian. Still, thirty-eight-year-old Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She was involved, once—with a doctor named Kevin—but when things didn’t work out the way she had hoped, she decided to chart her own path. Now she dedicates herself to the bookstore she runs with her best friend, Frieda, returning home each evening to her cozy apartment. Without a husband expecting dinner, she can enjoy last-minute drinks after work with her friends; without children who need to get ready for school, she can stay up all night reading with her beloved cat, Aslan, by her side.
Then the dreams begin.
1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They live in a picture-perfect home in a suburban area of Denver, close to their circle of friends. It’s the ideal place in which to raise their children. Katharyn’s world is exactly what Kitty once believed she wanted . . . but it exists only when she sleeps.
At first, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. Even though there is no Frieda, no bookstore, no other familiar face, Kitty becomes increasingly reluctant to open her eyes and abandon Katharyn’s alluring life.
But with each visit to her dreamworld, it grows more real. As the lines between the two worlds begin to blur, Kitty faces an uncertain future. What price must she pay to stay? What is the cost of letting go?
Buy, read, and discuss The Bookseller
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.
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Because I read quickly, it’s actually pretty typical for me to pick up a book and read it straight through in a matter of a few hours. Last weekend, in fact, I read four novels that way, because it was rainy and I wasn’t feeling well, and …well, you get the idea.
When I picked up The Bookseller (well, opened the file on my Kindle) at 3 AM on Thursday night/Friday morning, I thought, oh, I’ll just read a chapter while I sit here in the bathroom (oh, come on, you all do it, too). So entranced was I, however, by Kitty/Katharyn’s story that I found myself unable (once I’d returned to bed) to actually sleep. Instead I inhaled Cynthia Swanson’s writing, while my husband snored blissfully next to me. I was bleary by dawn, but I was bleary with a completed story settled into my consciousness.
Swanson has created a set of characters that are plausible in both realities depicted. In the reality where our protagonist is called Kitty, her life seems a bit lonely, but charming, and and she has a good friend in Frieda and supportive loving parents. In the reality where she is Katharyn, she has the perfect husband and three adorable children, though one of them isn’t quite like the others.
It’s obvious from the start that one reality has to go in order for the other to stay, but until the very end, I was not entirely certain which it would be, and I love that Swanson kept me guessing that long.
As someone who spent a chunk of her childhood in suburbs (Arvada, Golden) and relative exurbs (Georgetown) of Denver, CO, I appreciated the authors level of detail. As I told a friend, “There are scenes when she shops at May D&F! I remember my mom driving there to bring home the first ‘Patty & Jimmy’ and ‘Hello Kitty’ puffy stickers, when those things were brand new to America.”
I also appreciated that each reality was not without flaws.
Swanson has a knack for writing complex, interesting, human characters, and for writing a book that is both technically a period piece, but at the same time, completely contemporary. I really hope she has another book in process, because hers is a voice I’d like to hear more from.
Goes well with Hot coffee and a Navajo-style burrito (mostly because that’s what I remember eating as a kid in Colorado).
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Wednesday, April 8th: The Discerning Reader
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