IFL Book Club - The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison
The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison
Mattison's third novel (after Hilda and Pearl, 1995, etc.) is actually a successful graft of two tales: one written by a 1920s feminist and radical, the other about the woman who reads that 'first book' in the late 20th century. While Deborah Laidlaw and another mother, Toby Ruben, look after their children in the park, Deborah lends Toby a memoir, Trolley Girl, recounting the Lipkin sisters' involvement in a 1921 trolley strike. Miriam Lipkin writes of her two sisters; Jessie, a young radical determined to support the strike, participates in protests and stands in contrast to quiet, cheerful Sarah, who is killed in a trolley collision. Later, Jessie is implicated in what is seen as a murder, and though she's acquitted, she's alienated forever from her family. Miriam, meanwhile, changed her name to Berry Cooper and enjoyed modest success as a sculptor. The 'second book' deals with difficult, sometimes unpleasant people. Toby describes her friendship with Deborah from the '70s to the present, often behaving like a younger, respectful sister toward her. When she meets Deborah's husband, Jeremiah, in a drawing class, he tells Toby of Berry Cooper's career. After Deborah dies in an auto accident, Toby cautiously returns to the memoir she'd abandoned long ago. Berry then enters Toby's real life when her grown-up son Peter becomes a care-giver to the now-elderly artist, and Toby takes over when Peter disappears. Still grieving for Deborah, Toby also has to confront the possible loss of her son. It's through this ordeal that Berry serves as an oracular, nonsensical/wise guide. She's a wonderful creation, and Mattison writes her as a quirky, unpredictable spirit, simultaneously maintaining Toby's grave meditations on her best friend's death. A rich, textured exploration of misfortune and its consequences: a book that will reward any reader willing to go slowly and absorb its course. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews
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