Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ugh. More present-tense storytelling.
I understand why Sloan wrote it this way. He wants the reader to feel like she’s traveling alongside Clay on his quest. This isn’t just a guess on my part; Sloan actually says so himself: “You will hold this book in your hands, and learn all the things I learned, right along with me.”
Twice a new section began in the past tense, and I got really excited that maybe I wouldn’t have to read another whole book in the present tense, but no such luck. Novels in present tense seem overly cutesy, and they make my head hurt. That said, present tense worked better in this novel than it did in Wolf Hall, which I finished just before this one.
Aside from the tense, though, this was a fun enough book to read. The writing is clear, and I found I could see most of the characters and locations, and not just the ones with which I’m familiar (although it was particularly pleasant to follow Clay along the streets of San Francisco, which is my favorite urban place to walk (of the few urban places I’ve walked)). And as someone who has fantasized about working in a quirky bookstore since high school, I did like manning the desk at Mr. Penumbra’s with Clay. After college, I considered defecting to San Francisco, and Clay’s job was quite similar to what I imagined I would do. (That and share a one-bedroom apartment in the Tenderloin with four other people, which was the likely reality that finally pushed me back to Ohio. I ended up back in California several years later, this time down the street from Google.)
I also liked the discussion of the nature of immortality and the intersection of old and new, although I’d almost rather have had more of this. I think the characters, had they been let loose, might have had some good discussions about these topics. I also enjoyed the part typography played in the story (and I was a little surprised that the book didn’t include a “note about the type” at the end).
While I enjoyed the story overall, I found it a little annoying that it was peopled with shiny Silicon Valley Wunderkinder. I don’t know how old Sloan is, but this seemed like a very Gen Y/Millennial book to this jaded Gen-Xer. I could almost hear the uplifting pop music playing while I read the wrapped-up-with-a-bow epilogue.
It was a fun read, though, and I hope to check out more of Sloan’s books.
And now that I’m posting this review, I realize that since this is the October Sisters Book Club selection, I was supposed to wait and do a joint review with my sister. Well, I’ll just have to have her guest post her review.
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