Review by: Mark Palm
The Kindle is one of my favorite gadgets. With all of the digital libraries I have a huge choice of what to read. Barnes and Noble is an evil corporate giant to some, but it's a bonanza for me, and even the smallest public library has it gems. Nothing however, can seize my heart like an independent bookstore. Evidently, Deborah Meyler feels the same way. It shouldn't be a surprise since her novel The Bookstore is truly a love note to books, and the stores that sell them and the people that work and shop there.
In The Bookstore Esme Garland is a young English woman studying Art History at Columbia on a scholarship. When she discovers that she is pregnant by her boyfriend Mitchell she decides she needs more money to care for her baby. S ince she is on a student Visa there are very few jobs available, so luckily she lands one under the table at her favorite bookstore, The Owl.
All of the employees at this scruffy shop are well-drawn, from the laconic owner George, to the taciturn Luke, as well as Bruce, and the homeless men who help now and again. Under Ms. Meyler's hands the bookstore itself is a character, as is the whole of New York City. Rarely do you read a book that is so in thrall to its world and locations without being overly sentimental. If Ms. Meyler does not love NYC I would be deeply shocked. The same goes for books, and the people for whom they matter. I bet you could use this book a travel brochure for NYC, and as a fundraiser to keep that rare endangered beast known as the independent bookstore alive.
The story is not ignored either. Esme's struggles with her pregnancy, and coming to terms with the way that it will change her life are funny, and poignant. As she becomes a part of the bookstore crew their stories mesh with Esme's, making the book feel more open. Esme is observant, and witty, and Ms. Garland makes us cherish being inside of her head. In one tour-de-force scene Esme is forced to spend three days in bed after a miscarriage scare and Ms. Meyler manages to make it not only interesting, but emotional.
This book is not perfect, however. From his first scene to his last Esme's boyfriend Mitchell Van Leuven is a spoiled, egocentric, callous bully. I could not once see any sort of charm or attraction in him, and I don't know whether this was Ms. Meyler's intent, or a failure of characterization, but it makes Esme, who is such a smart and vibrant woman, seem simple to fall for the facile charms of such a vapid character. It certainly does not sink the book, but Mitchell's presence is like a black cloud.
There are some other sub-plots, about the death of one of the homeless men, Dennis, and Esme's academic career, and they are fine, but this book is at its best when Esme is looking at the city and its people, and just how her baby may or may not change her life. When we are deepest inside of Esme's heart, Ms. Meyler's prose sings. When dealing with the ups and downs of her engagement and day to day life with Mitchell I was interested, but certainly not captivated. My only other complaint with this strong novel is that the nearer we get to Esme's giving birth the story seems to run out of steam a bit, and becomes a bit condensed, as if Esme's fatigue were wearing the story as well as her down. It picks up at the end though, finishing on a cautious yet optimistic note. I felt that some readers wanting more of a romantic knockout may have been disappointed, but for me it rang quite true.