I’m all in for books about books and Sue Halpern has a new story centered around the public library in a small town and the people who rely, frequent and discover their way. Please read on for my review of
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library
I’m of two minds about this title: it started slowly and felt rather disjointed as two of the primary characters are introduced and some of their stories are revealed. It is much later in the book when the third character is brought in, and the points of view from memory and current thoughts flip between the three. This also wasn’t a ‘read in one siting’ title for me: it required time between sections and chapters to absorb the progress and find some of the wonderful bits that created simple connections in lives – the parallel between Sunny’s ‘troika’ family and the triad that she, Kit and Rusty became. The Robbers library – a Carnegie seed-funded library (one of 9 and one academic ) in New Hampshire (all still functioning in their original buildings from the early 1900’s with the exception of the academic library) and it’s conection to Sunny – in serving community service after a failed theft of a dictionary because “all the books that are or ever will be are in it”, and the transition from Rober’s (the surname of the French-Canadian mill owner who’s investment helped to fund and fill the library building after the Carnegie grant. Oh- there are more – and each comes to play in unique ways that are both quite clever and feel natural. But this isn’t a story of the library or the books within it, although the book has many literary and poetic references: it is a story of the community built around the reading tables and the people who come to socialize, research, work and rely on the constancy and solidity of a building and its purpose.
The three characters are Kit, the reference librarian, new to town, rather removed and isolated from jovial or even personal interactions with patrons. Sunny, a teenager raised in an unconventional way, ‘noschooled’ and serving a 12 week sentence by the court to work at the library as punishment for her attempts to steal a dictionary. Lastly there is Rusty, arriving in the little town of Riverton on a quest for ‘found money’ after he lost near everything in the financial collapse. The story starts and ends with Kit at the center, as her story and love of poetry and literature become the pivot point of the story. You have to be willing to go slowly through the story –memories of therapy and the lessons she took, mocked, questioned and ultimately relied on as she moves forward through her days all lead to her finally sharing her whole story – in bits and pieces until it feels as if the pressures are too much: both Rusty and Sunny shared worries, concerns and their stories – and there is a sense of quid pro quo from her – as if she’s sharing despite herself at first: surprising both her and those around her. Yet, the stories shared in different voices all come together like pieces of a puzzle: each of these characters comes together filling in edges, bits of the center, until they are whole. With secondary characters from both patrons and employees in the library, a bit of the run-down town and moments of community, and the loss of a library regular whose presence will be long-lasting in memory and act – the story does take some unexpected turns and twists.
Halpern’s writing style is intriguing here: from the three lives who intersect and provide support (grudgingly at first) to one another – and the little moments that bring the pieces together as these lives meet, correlate and bond are unlike any story I’ve previously read. From learning about the Carnegie libraries to spotting moments of description that could be any one of several different places in western New Hampshire, there were bits that surprised, like little Easter eggs, throughout the story. While not a breezy, read in one sitting book: it demands (and encourages) you to spend time and meander along, picking up steam and speed as the path is defined.
Title: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library
Author: Sue Halpern
Genre: Contemporary Woman's Fiction, Literary Fiction
Published by: Harper Perennial
Published on: 27 February, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 10 Hours: 15 minutes
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From journalist and author Sue Halpern comes a wry, observant look at contemporary life and its refugees. Halpern’s novel is an unforgettable tale of family...the kind you come from and the kind you create.
People are drawn to libraries for all kinds of reasons. Most come for the books themselves, of course; some come to borrow companionship. For head librarian Kit, the public library in Riverton, New Hampshire, offers what she craves most: peace. Here, no one expects Kit to talk about the calamitous events that catapulted her out of what she thought was a settled, suburban life. She can simply submerge herself in her beloved books and try to forget her problems.
But that changes when fifteen-year-old, home-schooled Sunny gets arrested for shoplifting a dictionary. The judge throws the book at Sunny—literally—assigning her to do community service at the library for the summer. Bright, curious, and eager to connect with someone other than her off-the-grid hippie parents, Sunny coaxes Kit out of her self-imposed isolation. They’re joined by Rusty, a Wall Street high-flyer suddenly crashed to earth.
In this little library that has become the heart of this small town, Kit, Sunny, and Rusty are drawn to each other, and to a cast of other offbeat regulars. As they come to terms with how their lives have unraveled, they also discover how they might knit them together again and finally reclaim their stories.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.