In the faded industrial town of Riverton, New Hampshire, the local library becomes a beacon for lost souls.
Journalist-author Halpern (A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home, 2013, etc.) has written a sweet if mild novel with genuine charm. Prominent among the lost souls is the librarian, Kit, 44, a sardonic, highly secretive woman trying to recover from a bad marriage. Fifteen-year-old Sunny is working at the library over the summer—court-ordered penance for stealing a dictionary—and trying to figure out her oddball parents, latter-day hippies with a secret of their own. Then there’s Rusty, 39, a one-time Wall Street high roller, down on his luck but with an improbable scheme to collect money from an old Riverton bank account that belonged to his mother. Joining in are The Four, lovable old-timers who “treated the [library] like a clubhouse.” The book meanders amiably, filling in the back stories of the central characters, until about the last third, when the narrative kicks into high gear with a death and a fire that lead to various resolutions. If the book were a TV show, you’d call it a dramedy. It’s about recovering from loss and building a family with people to whom you’re not necessarily related. There are a number of affecting moments, but there are also missteps: the big reveal—i.e., what happened with Kit’s husband—is complicated and verges on over-the-top. The last part suffers from too many teachable moments, mostly involving Kit’s overly wise shrink, Dr. Bondi. And the switching back and forth between narrators is distracting.
Still, the novel is suffused with a love of books and reading—each section starts with a line of poetry from a noted poet—and in the end, the library’s endearing denizens prove to be very good company.