Book Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

As a book nut, anything with “book” in the title draws me in. This title is not a unique one. In fact, when recommended to a friend, she had to confirm the author with me, to make sure she could find the correct version.

So though on the outside does not seem unique, it’s the story that is something special. I don’t know if I would say it was earth-shattering, but it made me think, it made me feel, and it had impact on my life outside of the reading.

From dear ol’ Amazon’s description:

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.

Then the dreams begin.

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

The first thing to strike the reader in this book is this character is one that I feel is so different than what we are used to reading. When we meet her, she is comfortable being single, has an amazing relationship with her parents, and only struggles with figuring out the next step for her business with her best friend. No part of you feels sorry for her, which allows you to jump deeper into her struggles with her dreams.

The greatest joy of reading this book is figuring out, not which life is real, but WHY she has two lives. Yes, it is fun to go back and forth thinking “This one is real! NO, this one is absolutely it!,” but it is when I neared the end of the book that my fascination with her stories crossed over into my real world.

So before going into spoilers, I recommend this book. If you have time to live deeply in someone else’s two worlds, jump in.

SPOILER SECTION:

 

 

 

 

As I read, I consistently spoke to my husband about the story that was unfolding. Early on, I felt like the memories/dreams of the family life were the real ones, but I couldn’t explain how the single life version felt so real. The moment I realized that her parents were not going to survive in one story line, I got it.

I have gone through grief (am always, as I don’t think it ever ends it just develops into new iterations), and I have studied grief. Your brain is overwhelmingly complex, and how your body and your brain reacts to grief goes beyond my comprehension.

So when Katharyn/Kitty loses her parents, her brain protects her from this grief. A new world is created. One where she still works with her best friend, where she picks her parents up from the airport, where she doesn’t have the guilt of having an autistic child.

Which, let’s go ahead and stop to talk about this. I never knew about this, once popular, idea that mothers were to blame for their children being autistic. Below from wikipedia:

The terms refrigerator mother and refrigerator parents were coined around 1950 as a label for mothers and parents of children diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia. When Leo Kanner first identified autism in 1943, he noted the lack of warmth among the parents of autistic children. Parents, particularly mothers, were often blamed for their children’s atypical behavior, which included rigid rituals, speech difficulty, and self-isolation. Kanner later rejected the “refrigerator mother” theory, instead focusing on brain mechanisms.

I am so flabbergasted that people allowed this to be a thing, and placed that guilt and shame on mothers (not far from what they do now when anti-vaccers blame parents of autistic children for giving their children life-saving vaccines). I am glad that science has evolved and continues to evolve to actually help parents and children.

So Katharyn, in her real world, had lost her best friend, had guilt of having an autistic child, had guilt of that child being abused by the nanny, and lost her parents, with whom she had an extremely close relationship.

I think I would have made up my own world too.

So, I hope you agree, that this book is most interesting because it makes us not only appreciate what Katharyn has gone though, but makes us look at ourselves. Makes us question how any of us would respond if we had lost so much. Or even, how would we respond if suddenly we were living in two worlds trying to figure out the real from the false.

 

 

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