Monday, March 30, 2015

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-233300-1
Hardcover, $25.99, 336 pages

Kitty wakes up and she's not in her bedroom. She is in an unfamiliar room, but the last thing she remembers is painting her bedroom with help from her best friend and co-owner of their bookstore. What has happened?

So begins Cynthia Swanson's compelling novel, The Bookseller. A handsome man comes into the unfamiliar room, claiming to be her husband, and reminding her that she has two young children who need her, one of whom is running a fever.

But Kitty is not married and does not have children, and why is this man calling her Katharyn, her given name, instead of Kitty, the name everyone calls her?

Kitty awakens from the realistic dream and it's still 1962 and she has to get to work at the bookstore, where Frieda will be waiting for her. Slowly we find out more about Kitty: she used to be a 5th grade teacher, she is very close to her loving parents, she was jilted by her long-time boyfriend and hasn't been dating much lately.

Things at the bookstore haven't been going so well since the bus line that ran right in front of the store changed routes, and Frieda wants to consider moving the shop to a better location in a shopping center.

But the dreams continue, where it appears that Kitty leads a completely different life. We find out more about her family, including the fact that her young son has autism. I found this fact very intriguing as I don't know how much was known about autism in 1962.

In her dream life, Kitty and Frieda no longer own the store together, and they don't see each other anymore. She has trouble dealing with her son, while her loving husband seems more capable in this area.

Some things are the same in her dream life and her real life. She has the same cat, and in her dream home, her photos are on the wall are the same ones in her real life.

As her dream life goes on, it appears that something traumatic has happened. Her husband is concerned about her and he references things that have happened that neither the reader nor Kitty seem to be aware of.

In her real life, Kitty begins to lose days. She doesn't know what has happened in the days prior, and things begin to confuse her. Fans of Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot will enjoy this page-turner of a novel, one that I finished in two sittings.

Swanson weaves a riveting story, one that will keep the reader guessing as to what exactly is going on in Kitty's life to cause these dreams. Her descriptions of Kitty's surroundings are particularly well done, and that is no surprise considering the author is also a mid-century designer.

I liked the characters, especially the relationships between Kitty and her parents and Kitty and Frieda. I found it interesting that the father knew how to better deal with the autistic son than the boy's mother, given that back in 1962 generally fathers were less involved with their children's daily lives than their mothers.

The resolution of the story surprised me a bit, and I'm not sure exactly how I feel about it, but the journey Swanson took us on to get there was a thought-provoking, emotional and compelling one.

rating 4.5 of 5


  1. I loved What Alice Forgot and need to pick this up soon!

  2. I recently read this and love it as well!