Readers of the Broken Wheel (NetGalley)
Katarina Bivald’s Readers of the Broken Wheel is a love letter to books I could have written myself. The reviews of this wonderful little nugget are plentiful, so I thought another wasn’t really necessary. There’s Sara, let go from her job in a book shop, who comes from Sweden to visit pen pal Amy in Broken Wheel, Iowa, only to find on her arrival that Amy has died just one week before. The cast of characters in this sad little excuse of a town bring out the heroine in Sara. And there’s also a book shop involved, so what’s not to like? Instead, here are a few of the highlights I marked on my Kindle, and my guess at why I was moved to do so:
Sara had never believed that you had to meet someone in person to be friends–many of her most rewarding relationships had been with people who didn’t even exist.
My own love affair with Book Friends started young. With Rummer Godden’s Little Plum, Miss Happiness, and Miss Flower to be exact. At age eight I was obsessed with the doll characters in her books–in part because, like one of the human characters, Gem, I moved often. Like every year often. So when the threat of a new school, new friends, and new neighborhood loomed over my rather timid little self, the friends I found in books were always a sure thing. I was never the new girl with Book Friends–and even better, I never needed to pack up and leave them behind … because they lived forever between those two hard covers.
All stories started with someone coming or someone going.
Oh-so-true, Sara. Children have come into my life. Friends. Lovers. Neighbors. Employers. Mentors. And, in my own experience anyway, they tend to leave just as readily as they arrive. Estrangement. Divorce. A new job. A disconnect. With stories there’s always another page to turn, another chapter to dog ear, at least for a time … until someone comes. Or someone goes.
Books had been a defensive wall, yes, though that wasn’t all. They had protected Sara from the world around her, but they had also turned it into a fuzzy backdrop for the real adventures in her life.
It’s true that books are often a happy place when there simply is no happy to be found. But on the flip side, oh the places I’ve been. I’ve lived in post-war England with Barbara Pym and Helene Hanff. I’ve raced across the savanna with Isak Dinesen and Elspeth Huxley. I’ve solved mysteries with Flavia De Luce. Run away with T. S. Spivet. Learned the ways of Southern gals from Fannie Flagg and the Ya Yas. Laughed, loved, and cried with Father Tim. Every page and chapter a new and glorious adventure that is often more real than my everyday.
There was something almost insulting about a woman who so clearly preferred books to people.
Loved ones don’t always deal with those real adventures so well. I even had one partner tell me I read too much–that books were the source of my discontent. Well then. You can probably figure out how that one ended, no?
You needed a heroine with a voice of her own–a funny voice, self-mocking, but with a whole load of inner ballsiness. And a proper ending.
The heroine, of course–but doesn’t Every Woman need that ballsiness to face life’s hard knocks head on? A good Book Friend allows us to try on a different size of Self when the present one no longer fits or even just pinches a little around the waist. She can put words in our (sometimes too silent) mouths and help us find our voice.
Life was full of happy endings.
My own, yours, or just someone, somewhere on the page of a book read long ago. Sometimes we just can’t carry on unless we know The End can be happy.