Flash Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

by Sharon Browning

The BooksellerCynthia Swanson
Cynthia Swanson
HarperCollins Publishers
Release Date:  March 3, 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-233300-1

Thirty-eight year old Kitty Miller is pretty satisfied with her life thus far.  Sure, things could be better.  The bookstore that she runs with her best friend, Frieda, is struggling.  She’s still single with no real prospects in sight, and she lives with a cat.  A nice cat, but still – a cat.  But it’s 1962, and Kitty doesn’t feel like she needs a man in her life – unless she meets the right man, of course.  She thought she might have found the right guy (from a personals ad in the Denver Post, of all things!) but the jerk never showed up when they finally agreed to meet.  Who needs a man, anyway?  (Except for Patsy Cline, apparently.)  She’s got her best friend Frieda, her parents just a few blocks away, her cat Aslan, the bookstore…

Yup, she’s pretty content with her life.

But then, maybe deep down inside, she’s not.  Maybe the lack of a husband and a family is bothering her more than she realizes.  Because she keeps having these dreams.  Pretty vivid dreams.  Of an attentive husband with piercingly blue eyes, a nice, modern house, and two perfect flaxen haired children – twins.  She knows the dreams are pure fantasy because in them she wears pearls (Pearls!  As if!) and she makes a flawless dinner and knows how to sew – and that certainly is not Kitty Miller!

But then, in the dreams – those incredibly lucid dreams – she’s not Kitty Miller, she’s Katharyn Andersson. And there aren’t two children, there’s three, but the third is somehow … different.  And while Frieda is still there, somewhere, she’s … not there.  And in these dreams, Kitty feels like something is lost, something is missing, despite it seeming like everything should be perfect.  And they won’t go away.

Author Cynthia Swanson, who is making her debut with The Bookseller, keeps us guessing throughout this book.  As Kitty’s dreams become more and more real, we wonder if she is perhaps living in two different realities, or if it could be that there are parallel dimensions bleeding into each other.  We slowly watch Kitty become disoriented, confused on the idea of “reality”, how seeming to exist in both worlds impacts the decisions she makes in each.  Who is she, really?  Why is her reality shifting, and so vividly?  Her dreams seem to point to a “perfect” life – could they be exposing her insecurity with the decisions she had made in the life she is really living?  What if?  What if?

Small touches have a huge impact in this novel.  Not only the 1960s references (I laughed out loud when Kitty mentioned “Dippity-Do”!), but also in the moments that resonate quietly, such as when Kitty learns that her parent’s relationship wasn’t quite as fulfilling as Kitty had always assumed it was.  Kitty’s relationship with Frieda is especially engaging, in both realities; the way they relate to each other at all times rings as supremely genuine.  And then, the final pages are intense and emotionally wrenching – but still without hysterics or hyperbole.

The Bookseller is a highly commendable debut novel from a born storyteller.  It will be fun to see what Cynthia Swanson brings us next.

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