Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Borrower - A Perfect Antidote to the History of Cancer

Once again I've had my socks knocked off by a debut writer! Rebecca Makkai is no stranger to fiction, her short stories having been published in highly respected anthologies like Tin House and Ploughshares. Nevertheless, how does a young wife and mother find the time to write such a hilarious, insightful, original novel and then get it into the hands of a publisher at Penguin?

The first friend I want to share this with is Kathleen Wells. I could think of no one else but her as I followed the antics of Lucy, the bra-burning, left-leaning children's librarian who runs the youth services area of a small public library in Hannibal, Missouri. Ms. Makkai, through Lucy, touches on all the crazy goings on that people outside of the library world would never imagine in a million years actually happen on a daily basis in public libraries.

Lucy is kind of a loner. She has acquaintances, dates a bit - no one serious - and lives in a run down apartment over a theatre where an avant-guard troupe of actors rehearses and performs. But Lucy has a passion, for truth, justice, and freedom for all individuals and an equally passionate antipathy for the U.S.A. Patriot Act and what it means to librarians in particular. Lucy wasn't raised by Russian immigrants for nothing!

Lucy has some young patrons who stand out in her mind because of their quirky personalities or their sophisticated reading choices. Ian Drake is head and shoulders above the rest. The two seem to be soul mates despite the twenty year difference in their ages. Lucy can recommend anything to Ian and he gobbles it up. The further she stretches him the more he loves it, until the day Mrs. Drake arrives to lay down the law. There are certain books she believes are anathema and she hands Lucy a list of all the types of books Ian is no longer allowed to read. No witches, sorcerers, goblins, hobbits, in other words none of the great childrens' literature, you know, the books that expand your mind and help you soar.

Censorship is not in Lucy's vocabulary but even more upsetting is her new found knowledge, through the small town grapevine, that Ian's parents expect him to spend Saturdays with their evangelical Pastor Bob who specializes in "repatriating" young men who may be questioning their sexual orientation. Lucy seethes with rage. I feel her pain. Just read the article about Michele Bachmann's husband in today's New York Times and  you'll see how prescient Ms. Makkai is.

So when Lucy comes into the library early one morning and hears the shuffling sounds of a mouse perhaps? she finds, instead, Ian Drake, backpack full and ready to run. What does she do? Of course, she thinks about doing the right thing, for a minute or two, but what is the right thing? The rebel in her decides she should save Ian from his family and off they go on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens along the way? Not telling. I read The Borrower in just 24 hours. I suggest you do the same.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

I can't wait!