"Books don't change people's lives, not like everyone thinks they do." With that opening sentence, Shelly King grabbed me and didn't let go until I finished her debut novel, The Moment of Everything. I love books about books, bookstores and reading. The Moment of Everything is all of that, with a twist.
At thirty-four, Maggie Dupres finds herself out of a job in Silicon Valley, laid off when her job was outsourced to India. Now, she's spending all of her time hanging out at the Dragonfly, a used bookstore. While she's supposed to be looking for a job, her landlord, Hugo, the owner of the store, lets her sit there reading three historical romances a day. Although Maggie has a degree in library science, she followed her best friend, Dizzy, to California, and ended up working in a start-up. But, Dizzy has a plan to get her back in the company. He's wrangled an invitation to a book club where one woman has money, power and connections. But, Maggie's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover isn't the same edition everyone else has. Her copy is falling apart, picked up at Dragonfly. And, she needs the notes inside to get her through the book club.
Maggie finds more than simple notes in the book. She finds a magical conversation between two people, Henry and Catherine, who left notes to each other in the bookstore's copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's Catherine telling Henry that it's only in the pages of the book that they can belong to each other. And, it's Henry responding that they're both afraid to meet. "Fear isn't real. It's just emotion mixed with memory." And, when Maggie tries to find Henry and Catherine, the two lovers who wrote in the book, she finds answers to questions she didn't know she had, questions about love, finding the right person in life, and finding the right place in life.
In some ways, Shelly King's novel is also a love letter to librarians, although Maggie never worked in the field. But, she was passionate about books, horrifying her mother when she was eight and announced she wanted to be a librarian. "The librarians I knew were superheroes of data. Like the Old World explorers, they navigated uncharted oceans of information, drawing maps to get anyone anywhere. And they were the keepers of things other people forgot, archiving the incidents of life and piecing them together." (Thank you, Shelly King.)
The Moment of Everything is not like other wonderful books about bookstores and books. It's a contemporary story about geeks and gamers, the same people who love and buy used books. It's Maggie's story, as she tells it, her story of disillusionment with life and love. There are books and bookstores, sex, and unusual meetings, and a grumpy cat. It's sad at times. It's also filled with hope and books. And, it's filled with beautiful writing, conversations between Henry and Catherine, and conversations between Maggie and the reader. King's The Moment of Everything is magic and tragic, and everything that a contemporary novel about a used bookstore should be, comfortable and a little dusty and shady at the same time. It's just perfect.
Shelly King's website is www.ShellyKing.com
The Moment of Everything by Shelly King. Grand Central Publishing. 2014. ISBN 9781455546794 (paperback), 274p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought my copy of the book.