Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel by Matthew Sullivan

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“He was a shattered young man, Lydia often thought, haunted but harmless- a dust bunny blowing through the corners of the store.”

Lydia Smith isn’t just the keeper of the books in the bookstore where she works, but of the collection of customers and the lonely, BookFrogs. The BookFrogs, the ones who come into the store to escape from the ruins of their lives, to find comfort within the pages of books, seeking acceptance in a world where they are shunned. Little does she know that one in particular, her favorite, is about to rip her quiet comfortable world wide open. Joey McGinty has always liked Lydia best of all the clerks, “the wooden floors around his feet would be spread with books about subjects as far-reaching as his thoughts”, it crushes her when he commits suicide by hanging himself, more so because she is the one who finds him, in the store. More than the grief, she is left spinning when she inherits everything he owned, and it isn’t much. Curiously, there is a mystery within his books, strange messages, unless she is seeing something that simply isn’t there. What if these ‘messages’ were no more than a quiet unraveling? What about Lyle, just where is he? How curious that the man, though so much Joey’s opposite, that was always glued to Joey is suddenly missing in action. Joey was like a bird, taken under the wise, decades older British man, fellow BookFrog’s wing. The constant presence, always to be found beside Joey “folded into corners for hours at a time”, with an enviable, beautiful affectionate friendship. If she finds him, can he see the reason in the suicide?

As she rummages through Joey’s belongings, her violent past creeps back into her life, a world she has made safe, unassuming, and simple. Her past begs the question, how much of a violent encounter during her childhood did she really understand? Just who was Hammerman? Why did he do what he did? Was she truly spared, or did her life end on that night too, just in a different way?

Lydia may be living in a safe bubble, hiding with her books, her customers but the Hammerman has never released his bloody claim on her. The tragedy of Joey’s suicide serves as breadcrumbs leading the past straight to her. When her childhood friend, Raj, happens upon her, she can no longer deny the hands of the past reaching, pulling her back home to unmask a killer. Estranged from her father, is it safe to return to the man whose behavior was increasingly bizarre? The man she abandoned to save her own sanity, family or not? What a child remembers and leaves for the adult self to sift through is often at odds with the truth, none more so than in Lydia’s mind.

What happens in this novel goes from heartbreaking, to downright brutal! I really had a hard time putting this book down when I was reading it. I held my fingers back for months as it isn’t out until June, burning to review it because I enjoyed this book for so many different reasons. The start of the novel eviscerated me, I hated Joey’s suicide so much more by the novels end and I was wounded and limping through everything that happened to all the characters from Lydia’s childhood. The senselessness tragedy of the crime, the terrifying fear of a young child and later, her father- how one moment of chance destroys more than one future, there is too heavy a reality here. Without going into details about my private life, this novel was read not long after something horrific happened to two people I knew and it made it seem less fictional. How could so brutal a story manage to make my heart tender too? With gorgeous talent, Matthew Sullivan took what could have been a horror story and turned it literary fiction. Often, thrillers have a way of making the reader feel detached, this is the opposite. I put the book down and felt a stony sorrow in my heart for quite some time after. Violence is a monster that stalks it’s victims, and all the bystanders, long after horrific acts are committed. How many lives are destroyed?  In the end, even with the truth unmasked, does it ever truly settle us? It opens other wounds, and reminds us that sometimes reason is a hollow excuse. I kept thinking ‘there is no why’ to these terrible acts in the end. Oh so sad! Yes- add this to your summer reading list!

Publication Date: June 13, 2017

Scribner

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