Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review: "Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan

The first hundred or so pages of Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore are fantastic, making the last third of the book truly disappointing. It has a brilliant setup that eases the reader gently into this strange, mysterious world the narrator finds himself in that feel a lot like Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World (or at least the Hardboiled Wonderland part of that novel), but centered squarely on our shaky times of job security unfulfilled ambition and finding a sense of purpose and belonging in the strangest of places. But the book makes a fatal misstep and takes its premise one step too far, one step outside the realm of possibility it has skillfully created for the reader, and, for me at least, it never regains the momentum it had during the books wondrous first half. It begins with Clay Jannon, our narrator, finding himself in a position that many unfortunate few found themselves in in the latter part of the last decade: quickly out of a job and on the stale end of his twenties with little direction and no real prospects to get where he wants to go, wherever that may be. He finds a low paying job at a strange bookstore, run by the eponymous old man, whose jovial manner never quite hides his menace. The inventory is sparse, and most customers are of a strange variety, who only check out books from a heavily guard section in the back of the store. After a serendipitous romance gives him motivation, he sets in motion a strange series of occurrences that take him across the country, and to the bookstores true intentions. The first part is great, even the romance, which seems too convenient on second thought, but is still rather sweet and touching. But once the story, and a large cast of characters find themselves in NYC, the story lost me, and what didn’t bore me in this section also did nothing to please me. Sloan has a great imagination, and I’d love to see what he does next, if his intention is to move away from stories like this.

Rating: 3/5

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