Reviewed by Piet Bach
The path from short story writer to novelist is frequently rocky and potholed. Many writers of short fiction find the road to a longer story arc difficult or impossible to traverse. If the novel in question is both modern and allegorical, the road becomes more difficult. Then consider the traps an author can fall into if the main characters are inanimate objects. The task seems daunting and the goal impossible, but from time to time the distance is conquered and a book appears that combines interesting, believable characters, the tension of a good story, and a lightness of touch that make the entire journey well worth the creative struggle.
David Pratt’s short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines and several anthologies. This novel won the 2011 Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction; the prize was advisedly given. Taking as basis the secret lives of books, their hopes and loves, the lessons they learn as they age in shops and on people’s bookshelves, he has woven a fascinating tapestry of love and loss featuring a dozen or so books – both hardcover and paperback – as they travel and meet other books.
Some years ago, I wrote a short story about books as performers, bound to silence until they are opened to read. Pratt has brilliantly succeeded on a different tack, allowing us to see how they live, how proximity and chance govern their affections as well as the effect they have on their owners, and imagining them as actors in their owners’ lives.
There were times when I simply had to sit back in my chair and laugh. How can you resist a copy of The Maverick Clitoris: Lesbian (In)visibility in Postwar American Culture, 1945-1964whose name is Lulu and who says, “I think you’re making some very phalloeconomic assumptions. I’m sorry, but this conversation feels toxic to me right now and I’m going to have to detach.” Or a description of one owner’s collection: “There were couples of books here in Duane’s apartment, straight and gay. They kept mostly to themselves. A copy ofMrs. Dalloway and a copy of Rubyfruit Jungle had gotten together to care for Duane’s complete set of Beatrix Potter.”
When Bob, an illustrated study of the gay pornographic imagery of the 1950s and 1960s, finds himself separated from his lover Moishe, an intense, scholarly book on the hidden lives of gay and bisexual Orthodox Jewish men, he comes close to heartbreak. His adventures and misadventures, the other loving couples he meets, the singletons who’ve lost their lovers for various reasons, take us into a world where gay life is reflected, by characters whose individual voices ring true at every turn.
Part of the books’ history, driven by their owners, is also mirrored by the owners. They learn important things about themselves under the books’ watchful eyes, in circumstances sometimes dramatic and sometimes quotidian, but unfailingly interesting.
Do not let the cute title mislead you. This is not a cute book. It’s a book that you may buy second copies of, to give as gifts, but you probably won’t want to lend to anyone for fear of not getting it back.
Bob the Book by David Pratt
2010, New York, Chelsea Station Editions, 192 pp., trade paperback, $16.00
ISBN 978-0-9844707-1-6 //