Saturday, April 04, 2015

Cynthia Swanson, Guest Author

I reviewed Cynthia Swanson's remarkable debut novel, The Bookseller, on March 21. She took the
time to write a guest post for us. It's my pleasure to welcome Cynthia to the blog.

Blog Post: The Butterfly Effect: How Chaos Theory Provided Inspiration for the Bookseller

By Cynthia Swanson, Author of the Bookseller (Harper, March 2015)

In real life, we don’t get to experience “the butterfly effect.” We can’t know what might have been, had a single small circumstance been altered. While this theory is generally applied to science and math, potential outcomes are also intriguing when the idea is associated with human interaction.

It’s impossible to know truthfully what our parallel universe might be like. We may speculate on where we’d be now if we’d majored in Biology instead of English. We might wonder what would have happened if only we’d answered that one particular email, instead of sending it to our Trash folder. If we’ve faced anything like the determining moment for Helen Quilley (Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in the 1998 movie Sliding Doors), we may think about how differently things would have gone for us if the subway doors had remained open, allowing us passage, instead of closing just before we got on.

The mere suggestion is irresistible. Those simple “what if?” questions haunt us, and can make for compelling hypotheses within our minds.

The protagonist of my novel The Bookseller experiences firsthand her own personal “what if?”
parallel universe. It’s 1962, and Kitty Miller is in her 30s and has never married. Kitty owns Sisters’ Bookshop in Denver with her best friend Frieda, and enjoys complete autonomy over her day-to-day existence. Other than fretting over the lack of business at their city-centered bookstore (because suburban shopping malls are taking away customers), Frieda and Kitty have relatively carefree lives.

And then Kitty begins to dream. In her dream-world, she goes by her given name, Katharyn. She drives a station wagon and has a devoted husband named Lars, young children, and an elegant home. She wears expensive clothes, gets her hair done regularly, and has a maid who cleans her house three times a week.

But in Katharyn’s world, there is no Sisters’ Bookshop. Frieda is no longer speaking to her. And Kitty/Katharyn has no idea why.

Back in her Kitty-world, the bookseller does a little investigation - and this is where chaos theory, or the butterfly effect, comes into play. She learns that one small act, years ago, triggered events that led her on the path to living Kitty’s life instead of Katharyn’s.

So what would you do? If you’re Kitty - with bemused acknowledgement that it’s all a bit absurd - you’d simply accept the situation. You’d pour yourself a shot of whiskey at bedtime, eager to get to sleep and see where your parallel-reality dreams might take you this time.

But over time, Kitty’s dream-life as Katharyn begins to feel more and more real. And less and less ideal.

The Bookseller is about many things, but ultimately it’s about our options in life. It’s a story about how life takes unexpected twists and turns, and we might not end up exactly where we thought we would. Instead - no matter what our destinies - we must learn to take the bad with the good. The unexpected with the expected.

Readers often tell me that while turning the pages of The Bookseller, they find themselves cheering for both potential outcomes. They want Kitty to be able to maintain her carefree but tranquil Kitty-life. By the same token, they truly hope that Katharyn, despite some setbacks, will eventually find serenity in her Katharyn-life.

For this bookseller, we simply want the same thing we want for ourselves.

We want contentment. We want the hand we’re dealt to be the one in which we find the greatest joy.

Thank you, Cynthia.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson. HarperCollins. 2015. ISBN 9780062333001 (hardcover), 352p.


Kay said...

Enjoyed this very much and hope to read The Bookseller sometime this spring. Thanks for sharing it, Lesa! And for writing it, Cynthia!

Lesa said...

Thanks for the note, Kay!