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“The Bookseller,” Cynthia Swanson’s debut novel, begins with the interesting premise of two timelines. Kitty Miller is a woman living two realities: She goes to sleep in one life and dreams herself into another, that of Katharyn Andersson.
Single, independent and 38, Kitty is co-owner of a struggling bookshop, Sisters, that she opened in the 1960s with her best friend, Frieda. When the two went into business, downtown Denver was thriving. Now, with business slowing and the bookstore threatened, Kitty’s dreams about having another life become more vivid. Kitty finds it increasingly difficult to decide what is real.
Generally the story works because it is set in the 1960s. In part the novel deals with a woman’s role in life – her choice of whether to marry or remain single and the struggle and conflict that results for those who want both job and family.
Though happy enough with her life, Kitty once puts a want ad in the Denver Post seeking a potential suitor. She receives several replies and one, Lars Andersson, seems a possibility. But after he fails to show up for a coffee date, Kitty throws herself into the bookshop and forgets about dating.
Then she begins dreaming every night that she is happily married to Lars Andersson and that they have three children and a maid – a too-perfect life in which she even has her own Cadillac, despite the fact that Kitty has not driven a car for more than 10 years.
As the dreams become more realistic and detailed, the lines between her two worlds begin to blur. With each visit to this alternate world, Katharyn’s life becomes more irresistibly real to Kitty. The story is presented in dreams and flashbacks. Like Kitty/Katharyn, the reader must decide which life is real.
Only in the final pages of the book does the author reveal the answer.