Writing: 5/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 3/5
An interesting premise — in the first chapter, Alice Wein writes, and manages to publish, a deeply felt book, drawing on her own emotional experiences. It is titled “Theo.” Each of the next nine chapters (extending over a number of years) is a story about an individual who interacts with the book in a way that has a significant impact on his or her life: the Assistant who discovers the manuscript, the actor who narrates the audio book, a blocked artist, a driven diver, a deserted teenager, a bookseller, a ghost town caretaker, an intimacy coordinator (my favorite), and a book agent.
Each story is deeply personal; several brought tears to my eyes. While I didn’t find the book depressing, many were quite poignant. As the stories continue, we learn more about the book itself from it’s opening line — “wandering is a gift given only to the lost” — to succinct summaries of its development and denouement. Kind of clever embedding a book within a book without actually having to write it! I did find one story trite (I won’t tell you which — it may not feel that way to you!)
I greatly prefer novels to short stories, so I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t really a novel. On the other hand, I read them all (I often stop after the first few in a story collection). Bauermeister is a lovely writer, and the characters have real depth. And I have always liked the concept of books and how subjective each reader’s experience is. As an aside, I also really like the cover!
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 2nd, 2023