The Tightrope Walker

By Dorothy Gilman

Book Cover: The Tightrope WalkerDorothy 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.


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Oh, you guys, this is the best book. If all the Atlas Shrugged has been crushing your faith in books and humanity, I recommend that you read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan as a palate cleanser.

The main character, Clay, is  San Francisco Web designer who gets downsized out of his job after the economy tanks and ends up working at a bookstore. As if the idea of a store selling actual paper books isn’t weird enough these days, this store is open 24 hours a day and seems to have a very odd clientele. Clay starts investigating and, with the help of his friends, figures out that there is quite a bit more going on in this bookstore. I don’t want to give much more away, but the story involves Google, and hipsters, and medieval mysteries, and is just completely charming.

I’ve raved on this site about The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and in a lot of ways this book feels similar–it’s very much of the present-day, with lots of pop culture references and discussions of Gen X issues about the meaning of life and career and purpose and such. But The Magicians, and a lot of books like it, are so dark. I loved The Magicians, but reading it was a wrenching experience. This book manages to address of a lot of the same issues without being heavy or depressing. It’s a quick read that will leave you feeling good about people and books and the world in general. Who doesn’t need that occasionally?

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Fun, modern mystery.

You might also like: PopCo, or Neverwhere, or even So You Want to Be a Wizard, although Mr. Penumbra is lighter than any of those.