Bookish People

Harper Muse. Aug. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9781400234097. pap. $17.99. F
PEN/Faulkner Foundation president Coll’s latest novel (after The Stager) is set in the immediate aftermath of the infamous 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, in which a counter-protester was killed. Readers meet the multigenerational staff at an independent Washington, DC, bookstore as they navigate personal and professional dilemmas. The bookstore’s owner, Sophie Bernstein, has just been widowed; the loss, in combination with the country’s political turmoil, is causing her to have a break with reality. Overworked and underappreciated events manager Clemi is an aspiring writer who’s struggling to find her footing in life. Throw in a busy and understaffed store, several controversial author events, pets running amok, and an impending solar eclipse, and you have a story where dark and comedic plot lines converge.
VERDICT Coll’s novel is a lot more serious than its cover communicates; it explores thorny issues such as the rise of neo-Nazism, career burnout, and the question of separating art from artist. Fans of novels with plenty of literary and political references or of relationship fiction will enjoy.
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