By Dorothy Gilman
Dorothy Gilman is most well known for her Mrs. Pollifax mystery series, but I like her stand-alone books better, and I like The Tightrope Walker best of all. Actually, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore reminded me a bit of it, and I meant to mention that in the comments of Kinsey’s review, but I forgot, so I figured I might as well reread The Tightrope Walker and review it on its own. Both books feature a central character who is sort of lost and floating through life without a purpose until they get work in an eccentric shop, and both are drawn into a mystery through an artifact within the shop. How’s that for a very specific genre of books?
Both also have a sort of sincerity in the characters and the message that is not that common in modern books. I am very definitely a Gen-Xer and sincerity mostly makes me super uncomfortable (I am way more at ease with satire and irony), but in both of these books, I find it fresh, original, and charming. The Tightrope Walker is especially impressive, I think, with how it positively addresses the newish movements in feminism, psychotherapy, and new age philosophy in the 1970s. The heroine has childhood trauma that she works through with a variety of processes, but she is so optimistic about every movement and philosophy that as a reader you see the attractions of them all, even the ones that are more scorned today (the love interest is introduced early in the book doing meditation in a portable pyramid). It still reads so modern that every time I read it, I am a bit surprised when the heroine buys some bellbottom slacks.
I enjoyed the Mrs. Polifax books, because they are light and fluffy and fun, but I really do think Dorothy Gilman’s stand-alone books are better and more pointed in their messages and lessons. The Tightrope Walker was really wonderful and is one of the only books I can think of that addresses that issue of struggling with one’s own personality and trying to change who I am.
I’d never read any of Gilman’s work before, but I read this one while I was on vacation and I loved it! It was awfully 70s, though. But I totally see the resemblance to Mr. Penumbra.
This is such a good vacation book, so I’m glad you thought of it, and I feel bad that it never occurred to me to recommend it. It is so 70s, but in a really nice way, I think.