In the years after World War I, small town Minnesota resident Nell is thrown for a loop when her husband dies at 35, leaving her penniless to care for her baby. In the face of nearly insurmountable odds, Nell finds strength in lasting friendships and in the rich inner life awakened by the novels she loves.
Sullivan’s novel is as quaint as a checkered tablecloth in a meadow, and although there are ripples of worry and passion to disrupt the picnic, there are no raging thunderstorms to toss us about. Instead, Sullivan describes small-town life through the eyes of an intelligent, generous narrator who fights off gossip, pettiness and tragedy with compassion, perseverance and forgiveness. Who wouldn’t want to spend a late-summer afternoon or two in the company of such a person?
The subject matter and tone of this novel are completely opposite to Wodehouse’s self-described musical comedies written as novels. Literature about literature usually takes the form of sensitive young men like Stephen Dedalus or Proust’s narrator discovering themselves as novelists. Here the reader is the center. I strongly recommend this unusual novel, but if you haven’t read Wodehouse, I would suggest you start with him, perhaps with How Right You Are Jeeves.
Nell's story contains hidden depths and rich layers of love, loss and wisdom ... full of memorable characters ... Sullivan's canvas may be small, but her message is universal: books—including this one—have the power to amuse, console and transform lives.