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Likely Stories : The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Erika Swyler, a graduate of New York University, is a writer and playwright whose work has appeared in literary journals and anthologies.  She was born and raised on Long Island’s North Shore.  The Book of Speculation is her first novel.

This peculiar book is about a man who lives on Long Island.  He lives alone, and his house is falling apart as a result of climate change.  Furthermore, he has just lost his job at a local library.  He is beginning a romance with a woman, Alice, who also works at the library.

One day, quote, a “package heavy, […] awkward, and addressed with the spidery scrawl of an elderly person—a style I’m familiar with, as the library’s patrons are by and large an aging group. […] It’s very old, not a book to be handled with naked fingers, but seeing as it’s already ruined, I give into the quiet thrill of touching something with history. […] A letter is tucked inside the front cover, written in watery ink with the same shaky hand.  It was signed by a Mr. Martin Churchwarry of Churchwarry & Son.” (8-9).  This is the kind of literary adventures I delight in!

Simon calls on Mr. Churchwarry.  “It’s an absurd hour for a phone call, but the more absurd the hour, the more likely someone is to be home.  Though the sun is barely up over the water, Martin Churchwarry sounds as though he’s been awake for hours.  “‘Mr. Churchwarry?  I’m so glad to reach you.  This is Simon Watson.  You sent me a book. // ‘Oh, Mr. Watson,’ he says. ‘I’m delighted to hear it arrived in one piece.’ […] ‘It’s rather fantastic, isn’t it?  […] ‘It’s the booksellers’ occupational hazard.  The longer you are in business, the more the line between shop and home blurs’” (27-28). 

Simon learns the book contains a name related to his deceased mother.  Swyler writes, “The name is unfamiliar.  I know little of my family.  Dad was the only child of older parents who died before I was born, and Mom didn’t live long enough to tell me much of anything.” […].  ‘The name, Veronica Bonn.  Wonderful sounding.  Half the charm in old books is the marks of living they acquire; the way the name was written seemed to imply ownership.  It was too lovely to destroy or let rot any further, yet I couldn’t keep it.  So I did a bit of research on the name.  A circus high diver—how extraordinary.  I discovered a death notice, which leads me to your mother, and in return to you’” (28-29).  The mystery deepens.

Erika Swyler has fashioned a complex and wonderful story in The Book of Speculation, in about three-hundred and seventy pages.  The mystery is enthralling!—and worth the effort.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.