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The Bookseller: A Novel Paperback – March 22, 2016
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“Cynthia Swanson’s novel will make you think about the paths you could have taken—but even more so, what you can learn from them to make your reality richer.” (Redbook Magazine)
“What if? These words tantalize and haunt us. In The Bookseller, writing with a sharp-tinged empathic pen, Cynthia Swanson takes us on a startling journey where a woman is thrust into the alternative world that might have been, had she made different choices.” (Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents of Marriage)
“Cynthia Swanson’s The Bookseller is both a delightful and haunting exploration of identity, love and loss. With great style and compassion, the author asks the age-old question: ‘What if my life were different?’ The answers in this affecting debut novel are truly surprising.” (Joanna Hershon, author of A Dual Inheritance)
“I inhaled The Bookseller. I loved both of Kitty’s worlds, and refused to put the book down until I saw how the tension between the two worlds resolved. A deeply satisfying read.” (Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look)
“Swanson masterfully crafts both Kitty’s and Katharyn’s worlds, leaving open the question of which of them is real until the final pages. Swanson’s evocative novel freshly considers the timeless question, ‘What if?’ ” (Publishers Weekly)
“The novel delivers on its fantasy scenario like a modern-day fairy tale…. proves highly satisfying.” (USA Today)
“Dexterously traversing past and present, fact and fiction, Swanson’s clever first novel ingeniously explores the inventive ways the human spirit copes with trauma.” (Booklist)
“This is a stunner of a debut novel, astonishingly tight and fast paced. The 1960s tone is elegant and even, and Kitty/Katharyn’s journey is intriguing…. This will especially resonate with fans of the movie Sliding Doors and the authors Anna Quindlen and Anita Shreve.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“Swanson’s debut novel is slightly mysterious and thoroughly engrossing, one of those books that will stay with the reader long after it is complete.” (Romantic Times)
“This is the story of a woman coming to terms with who she is; both woman and novel are beautiful.” (Shelf Awareness)
From the Back Cover
1962: It may be the Swinging Sixties in New York, but in Denver—as in many other American cities—it’s different: being a single gal over thirty is almost bohemian. Still, thirty-eight-year-old Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional life. She was involved, once, but things didn’t work out. Now she dedicates herself to the bookstore she runs, returning home each evening to her cozy apartment.
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, the ideal place 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. But with each visit, Katharyn’s alluring life 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?
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To explain that, Kitty Miller lives in 1962 Denver, Colorado in a nice, cozy apartment by herself. She is 38 and unmarried and works in a bookstore that she and her best friend, Frieda, own. Kitty did have a serious boyfriend, but it didn't lead to marriage the way she hoped it would. Now she works and goes home to her apartment and reads in the evening or watches TV. Kitty starts having dreams that she is married to a very handsome man in 1963, lives in an expensive house and has two very lovely children. It is a perfect life with a family who loves her and things couldn't be more wonderful. Then Kitty wakes up and she's back to her life at the bookstore. As the story goes on the lines between her dreams and her real life begin to blur until she doesn't know which one is reality. I got a bit confused at this point because I didn't know, either. The author, Cynthia Swanson, makes the transition between the two worlds very smoothly throughout the book as she heads toward the ending.
Kitty Miller is a character that I liked very much along with her friend, Frieda. They are interesting and while alike in some ways, they conflict in others. This is the author's debut novel and she did an excellent job with it. I intend to read her next one when it is released.
Kitty and her best friend Frieda are concerned that the little bookstore they own together may not be long for this world. Once a thriving place that could depend on walk-in customers served by the city's public transportation system, the bookstore is becoming more and more isolated every day because walk-in traffic has all but disappeared along with the city buses that used to service the neighborhood streets. Worse, new malls are springing up on the outskirts of the city to service suburban customers who no longer even need to come into town to do their shopping.
Perhaps that is why Kitty lives an entirely different life in her dreams, one in which she is known as Katherine, a name more suitable for the young mother of three children that she is in her dream world. These dreams, though, are no ordinary dreams. They are so real, so detailed, and so happy that Kitty looks forward to visiting Katherine's world more and more - especially to spend time with Katherine's completely devoted husband, Lars. Things are definitely better in Katherine's world than in Kitty's - at least for a while.
But are things ever that simple? At the realization that neither of her worlds is perfect, Kitty finds it more and more difficult to live in either of them. If she could only blend the two, she thinks, picking and choosing what she likes best from each, her life would be perfect - but Kitty knows that is impossible. Then she begins to wonder which of her worlds is the real one, and more importantly, which one she will choose to inhabit.
For the most part, The Bookseller is a well-written and intriguing novel, one in which the author slowly provides clues and revelations that will keep the reader guessing right along with its main character. The problem is that all of that tension ends when Kitty very suddenly figures everything out, and more unbelievably, immediately accepts what she has learned about herself. The abruptness of the plot resolution left me feeling that The Bookseller may have been edited with a bit too much zeal. That said, The Bookseller does offer an intriguing psychological puzzle that readers will enjoy trying to solve as they turn its pages. In the end, it is not a particularly difficult problem to solve, but novel offers a fun ride along the way.
This book starts nicely. It's not earth shattering, but seems like a good mysterious fantasy for the reader to invest in, and it continues that way for 90% of the book. We don't know if these are dual lives or how those dual lives would work out, and if they aren't dual lives which one is real? How will they merge if they do? We're led to believe at first that the bookseller is one helluva dreamer, though it quickly becomes clear that's not the case. I was interested to see how this would all shake itself out, and I had high hopes for realistic fantasy based in a time not that far gone where we could understand the cultural norms without a lot of work on anyone's part: author or reader. I didn't think it would be Pulitzer great, but a nice diversion.
Unfortunately none of my questions were answered because the author uses an unrealistic cop-out to get herself out of the hard work of writing a novel's ending. It's very much akin to "then we all woke up and learned it was a dream" except it's less realistic and does a disservice to the devices she does use. This is nearly impossible to explain without spoilers, but I at least I've exorcised my own demons.
I could tell how it was going to end long before the author finally started down the slow road to the ending. I expected more.