One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-224863
Trade paperback, $14.99, 480 pages
When Katie Couric anchored The CBS Evening News, one of my favorite segments was Steve Hartman's Everybody Has A Story. He would shoot a dart at a map of the United States, and wherever that dart landed, he would get a telephone book from that city and randomly choose a name. He would call that person and then ask to interview them.
Each person he interviewed was astonished that someone who want to do a story about them, but inevitably there would be a fascinating something about them. Irish author Cecelia Ahern's newest novel, One Hundred Names, has an intriguing spin on that same thing- that everyone has an interesting story.
Kitty Logan is a TV journalist whose last story was about a teacher accused of sexual misconduct. It is discovered that Kitty had been the unwitting collaborator of two high school girls who had a vendetta against the teacher. Kitty did not do her job properly, and ruined a man's entire career and life by broadcasting false accusations.
Her career in shambles, Kitty goes to visit her mentor Constance, the editor of a serious magazine where Kitty got her start. Constance is dying in a hospital and she convinces Kitty to finish a story she had been working on. She believes that Kitty is a good journalist if she just gets back to her roots.
After Constance dies, Kitty goes to Constance's home office and finds the file; it's just a list of one hundred names and nothing else. Kitty is devastated by Constance's death, but she wants to make Constance proud of her and so she sets out to find the connection among these names and what the story is.
Kitty manages to find six of the people on the list to interview, but none of them seem to have a connection to anyone else on the list. There is Archie, a lonely man whose daughter was murdered sixteen years ago. Archie killed the man he suspected of the crime and went to prison. Now he claims to hear other people's prayers.
She meets Ambrose, a woman who has a disfigured face and lives her life secluded from society next to a butterfly museum. Eva Wu is a woman who built a successful business as a personal gift shopper. She meets with a person, finds out whom the gift is for, and does extensive research to choose the perfect gift. There are the two immigrants who are trying to set a Guinness Book of World Records feat, and a young woman whose best friend 'fake proposes' to her in bars to get free drinks and good wishes from strangers.
The most interesting person on the list is a woman who lives in a nursing home. Birdie was a sickly child, and when she was a teen, she placed a bet with her hometown bookie that she would live to be 85 years old. The bookie took the bet, sure Birdie wouldn't live long.
Birdie is turning 85, and wants to collect her money. Somehow Kitty manages to collect all six of the people on the list, as well as assorted friends and family, for the trip to collect on Birdie's bet, hoping to discover what they all have in common and why they are on Constance's list.
Ahern takes what could have been a trite story and creates something beautiful. We don't like Kitty very much at first, she did a horrible thing to the teacher. But her project is sincere and whereas she initially takes it on to rebuilt her career, she eventually becomes the person Constance knew her to be.
The people on the list all have fascinating stories, and one thing this book will reinforce is that everyone truly has a unique, interesting story. After reading it, you won't look at people on the street in the same way, wondering what their interesting story is.
rating 4 of 5