Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Cynthia Swanson

Cynthia Swanson is the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookseller: A Novel, which is soon to be a movie starring Julia Roberts. Her second novel, a literary thriller titled The Glass Forest, releases this week. Swanson lives in Denver, CO with her family.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Swanson's reply:
As an author, I’ve been the fortunate recipient of many advance reader copies of soon-to-be-released books. Two that came into my hands recently are The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller and Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser.

Miller’s debut novel, The Philosopher’s Flight opens just after the US enters World War I. Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is an empirical philosopher – a branch of science mixed with a bit of magic that allows its practitioners to take (wingless) flight, “carve” smoke, and communicate with each other via small wooden boards strapped to their wrists, upon which they scribble in shorthand wittily similar to modern-day texts.

The vast majority of empirical philosophers are women; most men lack the aptitude to be successful practitioners. This creates an alternate history in which major events such as the Civil War were resolved by the proficiency of women rather than the firepower of men.

Though less skilled than most female philosophers, Robert sidesteps becoming a WWI doughboy by winning a scholarship to an (almost) all-women school. There he works toward his objective of joining the elite Rescue and Evacuation group, which straps wounded soldiers to their own bodies and flies them out of battle zones. A fanatical anti-philosopher group provides tension as they target Robert, attempting to ground him before he can achieve his goal.

I’m not sure I would been as captivated by The Philosopher’s Flight if the protagonist had been one of the many women in this female-dominated story. But in presenting the philosophers’ world through the eyes of a young, frequently mocked male, Miller gives us a winning combination of magical realism, gender-bending humor, and entirely relatable coming-of-age.

In sharp contrast, Jessica Strawser’s Not That I Could Tell – the follow-up to Strawser’s impressive debut Almost Missed You – is firmly grounded in disturbing reality. In the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, a neighborhood group of women gathers around a fire pit one autumn evening, drinking a bit too much and staying out a bit too late. The next day – long after everyone has stumbled home – one of the women, Kristin, is reported missing, along with her young twins. Told through the eyes of two other women at the gathering – Clara, close friend to Kristin, and Izzy, new to the town and neighborhood – Not That I Could Tell is a cleverly written suspense tale that asks us how well we know those we with whom we live in close company.

As the days pass and Kristin fails to return home, an active investigation ensues. Everyone is questioned, including Clara, Izzy, and the other women gathered that fateful night. The case slowly goes cold – and, faced with that stark reality, both Clara and Izzy must grapple with memories of their own pasts and resultant regrets.

What drew me into this story – in addition to the allure of a relatable and likable missing person, a scenario that always grabs me – were the distinct voices and struggles of the two narrators. I sympathized with both Clara and Izzy; I was rooting for them to resolve what happened to their mysteriously absent friend. The plot took some surprising turns, and I was happy to not have it all figured out by the end – and yet, the ending made perfect, satisfying sense.

Both of these books were page-turning delights, and as soon as they hit the bookstands I recommend grabbing a copy of each.
Visit Cynthia Swanson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bookseller.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Forest.

--Marshal Zeringue