A young woman embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery when she takes a job at a library that offers a unique service.
Alexis Tove, a quiet, reserved woman in Monroe, North Dakota, lives with her parents and works at the local library. Although her family hopes that she will marry and start a family, she longs to escape the confines of her small town, and one evening, she decides to pack up, get behind the wheel of her car, and leave for good. After she arrives in the town of Lake Wiishkoban, Minnesota, she notices a sign offering an apartment for rent. On impulse, she rents it and settles into a new life on her own. After losing a series of dead-end jobs, including a position as a vacuum-cleaner salesperson, she becomes desperate for work. Then she notices a help-wanted ad for a librarian position. With her past library experience, the job sounds ideal—until she learns the Lake Wiishkoban library is also a brothel and that the librarians there double as sex workers. However, despite her initial hesitation, she decides to accept the position, and she soon discovers a world that she never knew existed. As Alexis gains confidence working with her clients, she begins exploring her own sexuality and her new friendship with co-worker Vanessa, which soon turns romantic. Alexis comes to believe that she may have finally found love and acceptance, until a crisis threatens to expose the library’s secret.
Shannon’s (50 Critical Thinking Exercises for Humanities Classes 2, 2018, etc.) fiction debut is an entertaining, provocative bildungsroman that successfully turns an unconventional premise into a thoughtful exploration of freedom and identity. Alexis is a dynamic protagonist whose quest to find herself drives the narrative. When she’s introduced, she’s a shy and introspective bookworm who has a propensity for going along with things because she doesn’t want to disappoint anybody. For example, she was initially only planning to look at the apartment in Lake Wiishkoban, but she ends up renting it because the landlady was helpful to her; Alexis feels like she would “have that on my conscience” if she didn’t rent the place. Once she begins sex work, however, she’s forced to question her passivity. The author establishes this transition in a particularly powerful scene in which Alexis practices bondage techniques with Vanessa: “why bother fighting it?” Alexis’ discovery that she’s a lesbian unfolds at a thoughtful, methodical pace as her feelings for Vanessa go beyond mere friendship. Shannon’s supporting characters are also well-drawn—especially Vanessa, a librarian and aspiring fashion designer who feels conflicted about sex work, and Chet, who believes that he’s a bunny trapped in the body of a man. The sex scenes, while explicit, never seem gratuitous and are often about self-discovery. That said, there are some elements of the story that are slightly underdeveloped; for example, a woman named Greta Best first organizes the brothel, but her motivations remain somewhat mysterious.
A slyly subversive and nimble exploration of identity and love.