06 May 2007

The Geographer's Library

by Jon Fasman

I really wanted to love this book - but after finishing it I'm left with the comparison of going on a date with a person who you believe is going to be truly amazing but in the end, doesn’t quite make the grade.

To start with the positives, the short vignettes about alchemical instruments and their histories were super entertaining and left me wanting to know more. The characters, main and supporting, were generally very well defined - stereotypically or not. The central character, Paul Tomm, is an earnest, 23 year old Ivy League grad who is more than occasionally irritating in that 23 year old earnest Ivy League graduate way.

Half way through my "date" in the Geographer's Library, the plot lost steam and both author and reader find themselves rushing to get everything over and done with as quickly as possible. That such promise should be so unsatisfying was a great disappointment.

Much of the story's action is centered in Providence, RI at Brown University. But instead of referring to places as they truly exist, the author engaged in the highly disconcerting practice of "lightly" swapping names (e.g., Brown is referred to as Wickenden - which in the real world is a well known street right near Brown; Federal Hill became Carroll Hill) This wouldn't pose a problem to readers unfamiliar with the area, but for those of us who know it, mixing familiar with familiar to create something *new* (like we're not going to be able to figure it out?) is just plain irritating.

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