Ava is shocked to discover a text on the phone of her husband of 25 years that leads to his confession that he is in love with his mistress and is leaving. Their two adult children live overseas. A close friend invites Ava to join her book club and out of desperation for human contact and love of reading, Ava accepts. This book club creates a theme each year about which members select a book. The theme for the current year is “The Book That Matters Most” – a book that has had the most profound effect on your life. The members go around the circle and announce their picks: Pride and Prejudice, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and others – all well-known, predictable classics. Now its Ava’s turn, she realizes that most of her reading is escapist – she picks books that purposely don’t matter. The only book she could honestly say meant something is a book from her childhood: From Clare to Here. It was a book she read over and over as therapy for the major traumas in her life: the accidental death of her sister Lily and her mother’s suicide a year later.
As a break from the heavy topics of grief and loss, there is some humor – for instance, when Ava, instead of bothering to read Pride and Prejudice, guiltily watches the movie version with Keira Knightley and tries to make weighty comments at the book club and gets caught when the group points out that the what happens in the movie is different from the book. Another instance of levity is her short-lived clumsy affair with a much younger man from the book club.
The book Ava selected is out of print and unavailable. Ava’s mission to find the book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that proves to the be main plot line as it unravels the secrets of her past.
Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who (without telling her parents) drops out of an art history program in Florence and follows a boy to Paris. She develops a taste for drinks and drugs and ends up in a destructive relationship with an older man. The details and desperation depicted by Maggie’s addiction seems excruciatingly true to life. Her will to escape and struggle to start over leads her to find work and create a relationship with a renowned bookstore owner. As promoted in a travel guide to Paris: “Don’t miss Ganymede’s Books, a quirky cluttered bookshop in the hip Marais section. The American owner, who goes simply by Madame, is a mercurial dragon who opens and closes the shop at her whim. Ask her a question and she’s just as likely to bite you as help you. But that’s part of the fun. And her eclectic selection of books is worth the trip.”
The denouement pushes the envelope of plausibility, but would make a great ending to a movie of the “chick flick” genre – just a bit too neatly and spontaneously tied up.
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 5. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, September 6 to discuss The Book That Matters Most at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.