Sometimes you know within 5 pages that you are going to love a book. You read it, thrilled when it delivers and always waiting to see if you’re going to fall out of love. When you don’t, it’s spectacular.
This book is one of those books that makes you want to rerate the books you’ve read recently because there’s a good chance that, in the wake of this book, you would downgrade them just a little.
Krauss writes some of the loveliest prose I’ve read this year at least, if not longer. She writes her characters tenderly and honestly. I even thought she nailed the kid, which is hard to do. A sniff test I use a lot (that I could have sworn I’d used in a previous review, but I can’t find it) is based on an article in the Atlantic I read way back that pointed out that Margaret Atwood (who else) has characters who have bodies: “In fiction, there aren’t enough bodies: breathing, eating, having sex, breaking down.” The characters Krauss writes have bodies, Leo especially. Never have I read a life-drawing session described so accurately.
It’s also one of those books-about-books that makes you really want to read the book-within-a-book. It’s in good company here (The Blind Assassin, Inkheart come to mind first, of course) – it seemed so surreal and impossible a book that after a passage from it was over I hungered for more. But she was smart to leave us wanting more – too much and I wouldn’t have been invested, making the reveal (not really a twist) that Zvi somewhat-stole the book all the more wrenching.
This book has entered my non-lender canon quickly. It reminds me of Dara Horn’s work for many reasons, but chiefly that it was heart-tugging – I cried profusely, of course, in public on a city bus no less – but wasn’t cheap about it. Every reaction I had was earned. And the ending was especially smart; a lesser author, I think, would have waited to end the book until well after Alma & Leo had met, coming to a more tied-up conclusion where they became friends or in dialogue rather than internal monologue, figured out what was going on. But ending it on the bench leaves us in suspense, hooked, and hopeful.