Read by Cassandra Campbell
Published February 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
Publisher's Summary:Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization.
As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you've seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience—but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she's learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in—funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.
Y'all (I don't know why I said that, I'm not Southern), this book got great reviews when it was published last year. The New York Times called it "brilliant" and named it one of the ten best books of the year and NPR called it a "tour de force." Cassandra Campbell is the reader and she's brilliant. It's a satire and I love satire. So it stands to reason that I loved this book, right?
Hmmm, not so much.
One reviewer on Barnes and Noble says this is "not exactly a novel." And maybe that was my problem; it wasn't what I thought it would be and I could never get my head around what it was. The other issue was that I was listening to it as a possible choice for my book club and, as I was listening, I was certain that it wouldn't work for my group. I wasn't sure I could get everyone to finish it, which made it hard for me to get through it.
The story is told in fragments and I couldn't help but wonder if I would have actually enjoyed the book more if I had been reading it rather than trying to listen to it as I drove or cleaned. My attention would get pulled away and when I refocused, I frequently had no idea what was going on.
There was a lot here that should have appealed to me. With the 2016 election as a background, it was no surprise to me that Lizzie began to feel like the world was coming to an end (imagine what Offill might have made of the novel if she'd written it a year later, with 2020 as a capstone!). A family member with addiction? Dealing with that should have been another selling point for me, as should have the balancing of marriage, parenthood, job, and anxieties. I'm left thinking that my reaction to this book was more a matter of wrong book at the wrong time, rather than a fault of the book itself. Don't take my word on this one. If the summary interested you, read some other reviews before you make up your mind.