Bookseller: A Novel, The

Cynthia Swanson
A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams.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?


Reviewed: 2019-06-18

There's no way for me to explain the one star without spoiling the book. I normally wouldn't bother, but I waited a week and I'm still angry at this author, so I'm going to hide my spoiler and spew some venom. 

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. 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: By the end my only interest was what the exact trauma was: head injury? Surely it wasn't her life, which despite all the "bad" things she perceives only as bad (including having a child who is different but alive, special and rather wonderful) and the tragic loss of parents, as an adult who is grounded and has a family of her own that needs her. I found the protagonist first simpering and self-pitying, then I forgave her and found myself increasingly angry at her creator: the book's author.

This is unrealistic to a point where I was pissed off. How could Cynthia Swanson not do even the basic research into how dissociation works? The protagonist's life and troubles would not cause a dissociative fugue so immense as the one told here. I normally wouldn't "rate" trauma like that, but this was just SO far out of the bounds of realistic that I was angry for the cheapening of emotions and trauma that causes real dissociation. It's a real thing, not a way to get yourself out of a poorly conceived book! The Bookseller is just another cheap "at the end we woke up and it turns out this was all a dream" cop out. 

Also, wtf with the family? Why had they gotten this woman no help? It lost me 100% at the end. We went from a good fantastic realism/dual lives to a story of bizarre mental illness(? -- it's just not explained or discussed. We're supposed to believe the whole thing is just the way it is.) It all happens very quickly and without any explanation. So I don't know what to call this book genre-wise, but fantasy it ain't. If "bad" was a genre, that would work.

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