The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler

Being
able to trace one’s family history is a pastime that thousands of people
participate in, but for Simon it may be the one thing keeping his sister and
himself alive.  Simon is a
librarian in a small town on Long Island, forever in danger of losing his job
to budget cuts and his house to the implacable ocean upon whose edge it hangs.  He has no memories of his mother beyond
the morning when he was seven years old and she walked into the ocean and
drowned, but the day a mysterious old book is delivered he realizes he must
find out everything he can about her.

Swyler
makes use of a two-fold narrative to tell the story of Simon, in the present,
and the events of the nearly 250 years leading up to his life through his
ancestor’s lives among a traveling show, predecessor to the modern circus,
which made its way through the northeast and mid-Atlantic United States.  It’s a well researched and captivating
tale, which both explains the creation of the mysterious book and its
relationship to Simon, though omniscience of the second-person narrator in the
historic chapters of the book is somewhat hard to explain, given that Simon
only knows what he read in the book and the names and dates he could find via
internet research.

Nevertheless,
the relationships Swyler builds—between Simon and his sister Enola, between
Enola and her boyfriend Doyle, the twisty connections between Simon’s family
the family next door—are compelling and make the novel worth reading.  Swyler imbues her characters with
humanity and the flawed grace that makes you want to care. 

For
those who enjoy stories that explore tarot and the supernatural, this novel is
highly recommended.  Anyone
interested in explorations of family history and the history of a new nation
will enjoy how Swyler has wrapped a novel around a family history.  And of course the lover of rare books
and libraries will appreciate the juxtaposition of the historical and modern in
The Book of Speculation.

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