DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, in exchange for an honest review.
Guess what? You, too, can receive a free copy of this book from the generous folks at Grand Central Publishing! See details in the “Yay for Giveaways” note below.
The Moment of Everything
Published September 2, 2014
208 pages (ARC e-book)
I have a friend who is smart and funny, a little brash, and very Southern. She is a successful lawyer who loves Crossfit, cats, and college football. She also happens to be the only person I know who is OBSESSED with romance novels.
Let me be very clear about this: I’m not talking about chick-lit fiction (of the Sophie Kinsella or Emily Giffin varieties); I’m talking about mass-market paperbacks of the sort that feature Fabio on the cover and regularly employ words like “heaving” and “shaft.”
She reads these books constantly and voraciously. I once sat next to this friend on a plane flight from Las Vegas to Virginia and watched in awe (and with only a touch of judgment) as she plowed through a four-hundred-page bodice-ripper from beginning to end. She has been known to carry a romance novel with her in the car and read while she’s stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic (behavior no one condones, obviously). She reads as many as twenty romance novels each month. That, my friends, is a lot of “mounds” and “bulges” and “throbbing.”
Apparently, if you like romance novels, you really like romance novels. Maggie, the first-person narrator and protagonist of Shelly King’s debut novel, The Moment of Everything, has a similarly insatiable habit. She devours cheesy romance novels like they’re going out of style. Maggie has recently been laid-off from her job at a start-up (a start-up that she actually started-up) and now whiles away her hours (hours that should be spent looking for a new job) at the Dragonfly, a used bookstore owned by her landlord, Hugo. There, she can “knock out two to three of these romances [books with titles like The Redemption and A Duke of Her Own and The Pirate Queen’s Deceit and A Devil’s Heart] a day.”
But, one day, a real-life romance novel falls into Maggie’s lap. Maggie joins a new book club for women with advanced degrees so she can schmooze its high-powered organizer with the hopes of getting her old job back. The club is reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Hugo finds a tattered copy of the book in the Dragonfly’s stacks for Maggie to read. When Maggie opens the book, she realizes it’s not just any used copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. No, no, no. This book houses an epistolary love story in its margins:
At the top, someone had written a date—April, 1961. And then my eye traveled down the rest of the page, resting on what wasn’t supposed to be there. The entire title page was a patchwork of handwriting.
I turned on the lamp above the bar and looked more closely. It looked like a man’s handwriting, a mixture of script and print, utilitarian but with an elongated elegance. The t’s were crossed with bold strokes and the i dotted with a short upward dash, like the flame on a candle.
Love finds for us what we do not know we want.
And under that was a second bit of writing in a different hand, the letters full and looped together, flowing and feminine, and I thought of summer green grass and swirling skirts.
And I have found you here.
Almost every page “was tattooed with notes in the margins, written in the same two hands as the scrawls on the title page.” The notes appeal to Maggie (as they would to any fan of romance novels) for their overt flirtation, like this one that she finds on page 156:
You haunt me, tempt me, prickle my senses. I want to breathe you in and carry you around in my lungs, to make you essential to me. I want you to know what it is to feel my hands on you and to hear my voice say your name.
Maggie sets out to discover the mystery behind the Chatterley lovers (Were the notes written in the stacks at the Dragonfly? Or years before the book found its way there? Did Henry and Catherine ever meet? Who are Henry and Catherine?). And, meanwhile, she uses the Henry and Catherine love story to drum up business for the Dragonfly and, perhaps, find her calling.
This is another one of those set-in-a-bookstore books like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry that will be described again and again as “a book for book lovers.” And, like Fikry, it has a fun, light, breezy tone and is very quick reading.
Maggie’s unique, slightly acerbic voice works especially well for character descriptions, like this one of Jason, the nerdy guy who works at the Dragonfly (and painstakingly organizes the sci-fi/fantasy section):
I turned around the side to glare at Jason, his black Babylon 5 T-shirt billowing around his toothpick arms, his finger holding his place in a paperback the size of a hay bale with futuristic knights on the cover. He seemed colorless to me—dark wiry hair, skin like the underbelly of a catfish—and his head looked as though it had been pressed by a vise. Barely five feet tall with a slight limp, his appendages sticking out at odd angles, he had the look of someone who’d been half-trampled by a runaway horse and buggy.
The book has some great moments–moments that are fun and funny and touching. But many of the characters and their relationships are not fully developed, and the plot is a little too straight-forward and predictable.
That said, the book appeals to the romantic notions that a book can change your life, that you can discover a kindred spirit in the margins of a book, and that you can find your family in a bookstore. And what book-lover can resist that?
Who should read it: My friend, the lover of bodice-rippers (i.e., devourers of romance novels); Mom (i.e., people who enjoyed the fluffy, book-loving vibe of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry); bookish members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, fans of cos-play, and tech nerds (i.e., book geeks who will find kindred spirits among the pages of this book).
Random book-association note: The description of Maggie’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover brought to mind J.J. Abrams’s and Doug Dorst’s book, S., which The Chicago Tribune alternately describes as “a work of art” and “a literary experiment.” S. is comprised of a novel (Ship of Theseus) along with the hand-written margin scribbles and added doodads (post cards, maps, and various and sundry other items and trinkets) slipped between the novel’s pages by two students carrying on a conversation and attempting to solve a mystery in the pages of the book (that’s a picture of my copy with a sampling of the doodads sticking out). Although I can’t yet speak to the contents of the novel (as I haven’t yet finished reading it), I can safely say that the idea is pretty freaking awesome. Check it out if you haven’t already.
YAY FOR GIVEAWAYS! The kind and generous folks at Grand Central Publishing have offered to provide a free copy of The Moment of Everything (approximate value $15.00) to one lucky reader! If you’d like to win this book, simply leave a comment below no later than Wednesday, September 17, 2014. It doesn’t matter what your comment is/says. It can be as simple as, “Hey, I really want to get a free copy of this book.” But it would be much more fun for all of us if your comment were a creative, funny, or desperate plea for the book. From all of the commenters who post by midnight on September 17, I will choose one lucky winner at random, using http://www.random.org. I will announce the winner in my blog post next Thursday morning, September 18. For information on IKWYSR’s official giveaway rules/policy, click here.
Thanks again to Grand Central Publishing for their generosity! And good luck to all of you!
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- The Anatomy of Dreams by Chloe Benjamin (long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize)
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (last year’s winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and one of The New York Times Book Review‘s “10 Best Books of 2013”)