Thursday, March 24, 2016

"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend," by Katarina Bivald

I always feel a sense of caution when a novel is billed as “HEARTWARMING and utterly CHARMING,” as is “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” (Sourcebooks, 2016, translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies), by Katarina Bivald. And the blurbs on the first page and on the back cover (which I always check when deciding whether to read a book) are mostly by relatively unknown or non-literary writers and reviewers. But the novel is about books, an unlikely bookstore arising out of an unlikely friendship, reluctant readers being turned on to books, small town America, an appealing main character who is in love with books, and --- yes, of course -- an unlikely love affair that encounters obstacles that are overcome with the help of the quirky, lovable townspeople. How could I resist? The writing is competent but not polished, those quirky characters are a bit too charmingly eccentric, and the story is quite predictable. Despite all this, I read the book and enjoyed it. The plot involves a young Swedish woman, Sara, who comes to visit her elderly American pen pal, Amy, in a tiny town in Iowa, called Broken Wheel; the town is -- at least outwardly -- as broken as its too-symbolic name suggests. When she gets there, Sara finds that Amy has just died, but this unusual visitor is welcomed, almost adopted by the local people, and improbably ends up setting up a bookstore with their collective assistance. And then the initially confusing, somewhat star-crossed romance begins, with its faint echoes of Elizabeth and Darcy’s initial misunderstandings. There are a couple of side stories of other romances and connections too. All are just too darn heartwarming for words. And sometimes there is nothing wrong with that.
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