Tuesday, January 19, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

This book was hard-going, but I’m glad I stuck with it to the end. Fortunately, with the epistolary format, it was a pretty quick read because the protagonist, Fawn Birchill, is not someone I’d want to spend a lot of time with.

Fawn is a mid-fifties-aged woman who owns and runs a used book store in Philadelphia. It’s in a rundown old Victorian home and she lives above the store. The building is on its last legs and she doesn’t have the resources to maintain it. Her ongoing struggles with the building mirror her struggles with her falling-apart life.

Fawn had a difficult childhood. Her father was also in retail, running an unsuccessful general store, using his two daughters as his workforce. Fawn’s resentment of her “lost childhood” fuels a lot of her dissatisfaction with life. She refuses to visit her dying father, and avoids her mother and sister. Instead, she makes a family of her three salesclerks (or tries to) and spends time with the lonely, elderly woman who rents an apartment in her home. (The attention she gives to this woman is her most redemptive characteristic, even if she does rob her to pay the bills.) She also lavishes attention on cats.

So far, so good. But Fawn is a terrible businesswoman and her store is just eking by. When a new bookstore opens two blocks away, a modern store with coffee, book signings, and events, Fawn is unable to compete. Or, maybe it isn’t the competition. Fawn’s store was likely to fail all on its own.

The story is told through Fawn’s email correspondence with her staff, her family, and an old friend/penpal that she has never met in person. Through these epistles, we are introduced to a petty, self-aggrandizing, lonely, and essentially pathetic woman who lies, makes pitiful attempts at manipulating others, and whines. Her attempts to extort help from other local businesses are truly cringe-worthy. Her attempts at snark come across as desperate rather than funny. Just based on these bits of public persona, she is horribly unlikeable.

Fortunately, interspersed with these emails, there are journal entries that show a different side to Fawn. She is unhappy, drinks too much, and shows just enough insight and self-reflection to salvage the character. 

There is a character arc with some growth. It takes the death of her father for her to realize how similar she has been to him and how much of her life she has spent trying to spite him with her own success– success that eludes her. Redemption comes late in the book but patience is rewarded. As Fawn rides off into the sunset, I do hope she’s destined for something better.

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