The Wednesday Review: The Bookstore

The Wednesday Review is my pick for the book you absolutely, positively have to read this month. They run the gamut from literary fiction to romance, but they all have something in common: beautiful language and a story that sinks its claws in and won’t let go.

Sometimes it seems Seattle is overrun with used bookstores. And after a while, they all start to look (and smell) the same on the inside: dim, slightly cramped, books slotted onto shelves willy-nilly, with an odor of stale…something. There’s usually a cat, or if there isn’t one, you walk inside expecting there to be a cat. The fantasy and sci-fi section is usually full to bursting, the spines broken a thousand times over. The proprietor leans toward an unkempt look, with flyaway hair and baggy clothes. I rarely find anything of interest on the shelves. Yet I can’t stop myself from wandering into those shops, because if you look hard enough, you can find a gem of a book.

That’s why I read The Bookstore.

Esme is pursuing a PhD in art history at Columbia. Her lectures intrigue her, she adores her new boyfriend, Mitchell, and stops into a used bookstore called the Owl on a regular basis. Or as regular as you can get for having been in the city for a mere number of weeks. She discovers she’s pregnant, but before she can tell Mitchell, he dumps her, and he dumps her in a rather harsh manner: he tells her he has no lust for her.

With typical British reserve, she determines to not tell Mitchell about the baby, keep it, continuing pursuing her PhD, and find a job. She thinks the job search is the hardest part, because her student visa prevents her from working at any non-Columbia sanctioned jobs, but in the end, the hardest part is really putting Mitchell behind her.

She gets a job at the Owl, and we’re introduced to George, Luke, Bruce, DeeMo, Dennis, and a few others, who flit in and out of the store. Some work there; some don’t. She sets up a new routine of lectures, preparing for the baby, working at the Owl, and trying to forget about Mitchell.

Then Mitchell comes back.

Esme loves him with all the fervor and stupidity of someone seriously in love for the first time. She acknowledges she’s making stupid decisions and makes them anyway because what she desperately wants is Mitchell’s love, and she figures as long as he sticks around, there’s a chance he’ll love her back, with the same ferocity she feels. As a result, she has a number of TSTL moments, some of which made me want to throw my Kindle at the wall.

But that’s what made her genuine. She fumbles despite her intelligence, she makes smart remarks, and she struggles to understand why everything is happening and what her place in the chaos is.

Her coworkers are an interesting lot, and you wonder if maybe Esme will see the error of her ways and get rid of Mitchell all together and go after Luke, who at first says maybe two words to Esme and always seems to be slightly uncomfortable around her. Mitchell is often cruel and tactless, and never once does he come off as sincere. Everyone else can see it, but Esme believes him, and that’s kind of amazing, that Deborah Meyler managed to create a character that appears one way to the reader and another to the object of his shallow affections.

The truly remarkable thing about The Bookstore, though, is the Owl is a character as much as the people are. It’s tiny, yet seems huge, full of books that you’ve never heard of and will likely never want to read. It’s a miniscule labyrinth that if you’re lucky, you can find the exit. Otherwise, you’ll need to call for help.

I loved every minute I spent in the aisles of the Owl with Esme, George, Luke, and the others, and I especially loved the ending. Nebulous enough to make you wonder what’s going to happen next, you still have the satisfaction of knowing that Esme’s growing up, and everything’s going to be okay.

Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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