Sunday, September 27, 2020

Lives Intersect in ‘Summer Hours at the Robbers Library’

Book Remarks

“What you’re thinking of as the end of the story now, is only the end of the chapter.”

“Summer Hours at the Robbers Library,” by Sue Halpern, is about the intersection of three lives in various stages of anonymity. Head Librarian Kit chooses a life of anonymity as a way to cope with the jarring and unexpected end to her marriage. Fifteen-year-old Sunny has anonymity thrust upon her by new-age parents who like living off the grid. And then there is Rusty, an investment broker whose rolodex of associates and friends disappear after he loses his job and money.

“I don’t think she’s being mysterious on purpose. It’s like she can’t help it. She’s not shy–she’ll talk to anyone–and she’s not exactly distant, but even so, she’s unreachable, as if there’s an invisible fence around her, or a force field the repels whatever gets too close.” 

Kit is our main character and the most dedicated to maintaining her invisibility. She doesn’t just keep people at arms-length; she keeps life itself at a distance. Her apartment is sparse, her conversations short and her self-punishment constant. The one thing Kit loves is books, which is why she took a job as a librarian in a small, fading (anonymous?) New Hampshire town. Everything seems to be moving along as anticipated until Sunny arrives.

“But it was this thing I read someplace, and it really got to me. It said that a dictionary is every book ever written and every book that will be written, just in a different order. And it seemed magical. You could own every book just by owning one book. I loved that. And I just had to have it.” 

Home-schooled Sunny gets arrested for shoplifting a dictionary. So in typical small-town fashion, the judge orders Sunny to do community service at the library. Sunny’s effect on Kit is akin to snapping open blinds and flooding a dark, dark room with sunshine. Since Sunny has lived her life exclusively in campsites, trailers or commune type settings she is eager to connect with anyone in the real world, a world her hippie parents try to discourage her from learning. Sunny is smart, curious, and much more aware of the world than her hippie parents believe. With childlike abandon, Sunny gets a foot in the door of Kit’s closeted world enough so that Rusty can see in there, too.

“The operative equation was simple: money in, money out. That was the measure of success. Was he happy? Was that even a real question?”

Rusty is an unemployed and broke former investment broker, the only thing left from his flashy lifestyle is a Mercedes. But he discovers an old bank book from his mom that suggests there is some money stashed away at the Riverton National Bank. He’s just not sure in which Riverton he will find the bank. After some amateur sleuthing, he settles on Riverton, New Hampshire and sets up shop in the library in order to find out what happened to the bank and his mom’s savings. At first, he appears aloof and mysterious which naturally makes Sunny that much more interested in figuring him out. But all she needs to do is ask since Rusty is neither mysterious nor aloof. He is actually very personable and friendly. He’s an open book, never shying away from the reasons he is in town. And as it turns out, he is in town to connect himself to Sunny and Kit.

In “Summer Hours at the Robbers Library” we get to know the stories of Kit, Sunny and Rusty. I truly enjoyed getting to know these three with their very distinct personalities. I was especially fond of Sunny – she was everything you would expect from a girl with that name and more. Kit’s story is sad and unexpected. Rusty may be the least robust but his normalcy is needed. Rounding out the story is a truly memorable cast of characters from the Patels to The Four. Halpern certainly knows how to spin a good tale! And make no mistake; “Summer Hours at the Robbers Library” is a character-driven novel, one where there is tension but it’s not dramatic. This book is all about the people. And the people are good.

Thank you for your time!

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