Another Book with RI Ties: The Geographer’s Library

geographer's libraryI’ll be honest: I get a teeny bit jealous of writers who publish good books before they’re my age (throwing murderous glances at Jonathan Safran Foer and Lorrie Moore).  And now I have another author for my dartboard: Jon Fasman.  I finally read his novel The Geographer’s Library, and now I have to let you know what you’re missing.  Especially here on the Daily Dose, where Rhode Island references are not just appreciated but expected.

The most common word critics apply to this book is “complicated,” and I don’t disagree.  But I’m also the type of gal to choose Stephen King over Stephen Hawking, so don’t think I’d steer you toward something too complicated to enjoy.  There’s a lot of history and a lot of mystery, and both are good things.

Quick summary: Paul, a young, freshman reporter, investigates an old man’s death in order to write a small-town obituary.  Unoriginal revelation: he uncovers more than he bargained for.  Better revelation: he uncovers a secretive group with deep pockets gathering and guarding a collection of 15 priceless artifacts scattered around the world (“gathering” meaning “making very bad things happen to the people who have them in their possession”) that seem to have alchemist properties.  You don’t need to know anything about alchemy (Paul sure doesn’t) to at least see the power objects can have over people; holy Moses, the treachery in this tale!  And the book likes hinting that maybe the longevity of the people in possession of the artifacts, and whatever other great stuff comes from alchemy, isn’t entirely sci-fi.

Sure, you might confuse Fasman with Dan Brown, but Library is still well-written, historical (the artifacts were originally stolen by al-Idrisi, a geographer who really had served in King Roger of Sicily’s court in the early 12th century), and has enough curiosity and suspense to make you want to stay along for the ride from the front seat. 

It also doesn’t hurt that Fasman mixes things up.  His stories on each of the artifacts vary in length and format, contrasted with Paul’s present-day, increasingly adventurous, actions.  And even the most minor characters are sketched with subtle humor (tiny excerpt from one grump’s letter to his boss: “Children—and I extend that term to anybody younger than forty—are bloody miserable little creatures: brutal, willful, noisy, extruding pheromones and fluids in all directions”). 

And now, what you’ve been waiting for this whole review: Fasman, a Brown grad, bases much of the novel in a slightly fictionalized Rhode Island.  “Wickendon” seems to be a cross between Kingston and Providence; Wickendon College seems to be a cross between URI and Brown; cities mentioned in passing include “Olneyton” and “Coastal Falls;” the Italian-American “Allen Ave. on Carroll Hill” represents—well, you can figure that out; and Newport Storm beer is drunk (not their blueberry, but a girl can’t get all her wishes).  And while the bad guys (mainly Russians and Estonians) seem to be thieves and anti-Semitics, most of the Rhode Islanders are decent folks.  Well, except for a few drunks, but only the ones that prefer Rolling Rock to local brews. 

So go, and read, and enjoy the adventure.  And let me know what other RI references you find.

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