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[510] The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

” What happy ending could I have been nursing, this whole time? It lurked there like a dream, half remembered. There was a picture from somewhere of a place I would take him, maybe a place from a book: a white-walled, sunny house where people took care of children, where they would explain everything and let him stay there forever on until he was strong enough to face his parents. ” (Ch.34, p.282)

The head librarian at the Hannibal Library calls him the little homosexual boy. He is the most frequent browser, showing up everyday, rain or shine. He is Ian Drake, a 10-year-old boy who finds comfort in reading, who reads books that are meant for more mature readers, and who reads to escape his sour Christian mother. He is Lucy Hull’s favorite patron. So attached is he to the library that the children’s librarian reflects “short of burning down the library there was nothing I could do that would push him away.” (Ch.1, p.5)

I no longer believe I can save people. I tried, and I’ve failed, and while I’m sure there are people out in the world with that particular gift, I’m not one of them. I make too much of a mess of things. But books, on the other hand: I do still believe that books can save you. (Ch.39, p.320)

One morning, Lucy finds the boy camping out among the stacks in the library after hours. Desperate to save him from his overbearing parents, who have enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay/rehab classes, she allows herself to be “hijacked” by the cunning but pitiful ten year old (as supposed to kidnap him) and embarks on a madcap of a road trip—to look for a non-existent grandmother. One white lie, a sense of mission, and spurt of righteous anger crystallize into an interstate adventure that Lucy takes care not to leave a trail.

Watching him with his hat on his heart, singing the anthem of another country, I imagined an Ian born somewhere else, Finland or San Francisco or hundred years in the future, in a world without Pastor Bobs. Most of America was like Hannibal, Missouri, no matter what was in the news about East Coast cities, no matter what was in the movies, no matter how many prime-time sitcoms featured spunky gay sidekicks. To be fair, maybe most of the planet was like Hannibal, Missouri. (Ch.15, p.110)

I wonder how credulous a story of librarian-cum-accidental kidnapper would be to most readers, but Lucy Hull and Ian Drake’s adventure eggs me on. The uncertainty of how this escapade will end, with so many possibilities in store, is a strength that far outweighs the book’s blemishes. Like Lucy has reflected, what happy ending could she have nursed out of this? In a world full of negative forces that trump our experiences as human beings, Lucy contrives to help find that safe niche for a boy who reads widely with intelligence. The Borrower is worth a read despite a plot that stretches credulity and a somewhat heavy-handed campaign against the religious right. The book is funny and insightful.

324 pp. Penguin. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

3 Responses

  1. I felt the same way! Great review, you put my thoughts down on paper. Thanks.

  2. It has been on my list for a long time – perhaps I should move it up.

  3. […] [510] The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai […]

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