A man works to keep his California bookstore afloat while meditating on his relationship with Charles Bukowski.
Kastin (The Conjurer and Other Azorean Tales, 2012, etc.) returns with a novel about a West Coast bookseller. When bibliophile Nick Kastinovich gets married, his father, disappointed in his son’s life so far, lets him run the Little Big Bookstore, hoping that the small business will teach Nick a sense of responsibility. Nick settles into his new home and profession in San Pedro, home to poet Bukowski, who happens to frequent the restaurant across from the bookstore. The two build a polite familiarity, but San Pedro proves inhospitable to the book business. Try as he might, Nick can’t seem to jump-start the Little Big Bookstore, and his life begins to deteriorate as a result. He fights off creditors as he continues to buy books, and his marriage turns cold as he fantasizes about a beautiful customer named Katherine. Woven together, these threads form the novel’s central plot. Unsurprisingly, however, Bukowski is just as important as Nick. Less an active force than a constant influence, the poet, his work, and his occasional benevolence toward the bookstore prompt the protagonist’s reflections on life and literature. Bukowski is also a primary literary influence for Kastin. Presumably, Nick Kastinovich is Kastin’s version of Hank Chinaski (Bukowski’s literary alter ego), and sentences like “the bookstore, San Pedro, all was just as corrupt, all of it rotting from the inside” evoke the poet’s gritty nihilism. Sometimes, this makes Kastin’s prose feel derivative, but more often it feels like a successful homage. Indeed, much of the book honors Nick’s/Kastin’s literary heroes: Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, and most of all John Fante (particularly Ask the Dust). Kastin believes wholeheartedly in Nick’s mission “to uncover great poets and essayists, playwrights and historians, and to share these discoveries with others, to keep these writers from fading into oblivion.” This sincere devotion should speak to any reader but especially to booksellers, who will likely recognize themselves in the protagonist’s challenges and love of literature.
A novel about a life spent surrounded by books, heavily influenced by the grimy realism of a poet’s life and work.