Thank you to Laura Sims for ending my post-graduation/post-Ulysses reading slump! This was a fun read, a “descent into jolly madness” as the cover blurb proclaims. The library setting is not just a backdrop to lure innocent library-loving readers, but an integral part of the story. Sims works as a reference librarian and the environment she creates in this novel feels authentic, natural, and not overdone with details.
In a small town library, two women warily observe one other. Margo works the circulation desk. She’s a nurse with a secret and dark past. Patricia, the new reference librarian, is a recent library school graduate and struggling writer. You can feel the tension zinging across the room from desk to desk. The new employee vibe is well done, both from the new hire’s and the existing employees’ perspectives.
One of Shirley Jackson’s novels plays a part in this novel. It is more than a mention and helps escalate the tension in a surprising way. (“Readers aren’t doers, are they?“) While there is death and murder, this is not a blood and guts story. It is psychological suspense that keeps a tight focus on the two protagonists.
I enjoyed both of these “unlikeable” characters so much that I didn’t even mind when they left the library for scenes set at a drab, boxy block of apartments. My only complaint is that it was over too soon! I read it in two sittings and did not want it to end.
How Can I Help You by Laura Sims is out today. Thanks to Putnam for the review copy.