The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The BooksellerThe Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cynthia Swanson’s debut novel brings a new twist, deftly written, to a well worn familiar theme: What would my life be like if I had made a different choice?

Kitty, a contentedly single bookshop owner, dreams every night that she is married to a perfect husband and raising triplets. Her dreams are detailed and realistic, so much so that I immediately began to question which of the parallel story lines was “real life” and which was the product of Kitty’s rich imagination.

Even though the theme seemed familiar, I was drawn into the story and felt compelled to keep turning pages when my own real life clearly needed my attention. No dishes were washed today, no laundry was done; I started The Bookseller after breakfast and finished it shortly before the six o’clock news.

Swanson is a gifted writer. Kitty’s story is told in the first person, often in the present tense, and the reader is able to feel her confusion and fear, to live for a time inside her skin. You can ask no more than that from any novel.

The only jarring note, for me, was the author’s choice of time frame. The novel is set in Denver of the early sixties and references are made throughout to paint a picture of life at that time and place. A younger reader might find all the unnecessary details about green bathroom fixtures, fruit designs on the kitchen wallpaper, and the Cuban missile crisis intriguing. But I actually remember the time, and it sometimes seemed forced, and as I said, unnecessary.

Nevertheless, I’m giving The Bookseller five stars because it is so well written and entertaining. I recommend it to Book clubs – the story will spark discussion about women’s roles, parenting, autism, the rise of suburbs and loss of vibrant downtown districts, women’s friendships, mother-daughter relationships, and perhaps, even the Cuban missile crisis.

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