This story had me at hello because the author and the narrator both borrow freely from every imaginable writer–Vladimir Nabokov to Eric Carle to JRR Tolkien and Roald Dahl–and they make no secret about it.; Also, it tells the story of a librarian who loves a kid, recommends books, and fights for the first amendment. The freedom fighter and English teacher in me was thrilled.
My relationship with the book got more complicated as it went on and began to caricature evangelicals. The author develops the rest of her characters with ingenuity and discretion, using old anecdotes and revelatory appositives. But the evangelicals are one-dimensional, uni-vocal and worthy of the reader’s disgust. I think a complex story like this deserves a more complex antagonist. It was too easy to hate Makkai’s version of Christianity.
Still, the journey is one worth taking, there and back again.
And while she does get up on her soapbox too much, the author succeeds in getting us to ask important questions about how we parent, how we love, and what it means to influence another person’s life. Most of all, she wants us to sift through our stories–the ones we read, the ones we tell, the ones we think we know, and even the ones we think we’re living. She dares us to try and find the glimmers of reality those accrued stories. This is difficult prospecting that has as much to do with our own crooked hearts as with the lives of those we touch. And I for one, am glad Makkai asked me to do it.