This short novel found me a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting family in Denver. Wandering around downtown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, my cousin and I went in a little, used bookstore, packed floor to ceiling. Out of all of those spines, I spotted this one. When I asked to buy it, the bookseller pointed out that this volume had been on the shelf for more than 20 years, so it really should have been priced higher - this was on the old pricing system. (I contend that when a book hasn’t moved from the shelf in more years than my grown-up cousin has been alive, that’s not cause for a mark-up.) I mean no slight to this book or its author, only that this particular tattered copy must have been waiting there for me. On Sunday morning, I cracked the cover to read for a little while and ended up devoting the day to Spence & Lila. This is the kind of quiet novel that makes you feel like you’re spending time in an honest-to-goodness reality with honest-to-goodness people. The the plot and place are wholly imagined, the heart of the book feels emotionally true, and the characters are just like me and not like me at all. I’ve stumbled onto a new favorite writer. I can’t imagine how I’ve never read Bobbie Ann Mason before and feel grateful that I get to read her other books now. In a time when I’m trying to clear out my bookshelves, Bobbie is gonna get plenty of space.
I’ve been hearing about this book for a while now and it certainly lived up to the hype. Maybe hitting the 9-months post-chemo mark and starting a new job added to the effect, but I have to say that I spent the week or so it took me to listen to this audiobook questioning everything. Experiencing this splendidly executed depiction of the end of the world as we know it really makes you look at the inanity and frivolity of how we live now. Emily St. John Mandel had me wanting to stop everything and gather all the people I love together because you never know what’s going to happen to the world you’re in. (Again, see aforementioned cancer.) Anyway, this book has amazingly well-explored characters all webbed together in a way that is both surprising and inevitable. It’s a page-turner (or disc-changer) with literary prowess that very subtly allows the reader to think about the world in new ways. I highly recommend it.