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In ‘The Librarianist,’ Patrick deWitt shows us another life of quiet desperation

Patrick deWitt is the author of 'The Librarianist'
Danny Palmerlee
Patrick deWitt is the author of 'The Librarianist'

Patrick deWitt’s newest novel, “The Librarianist,” sounds like a book about books — or at least one about libraries — so the title is a little misleading.

It’s the story of Bob Comet, a 71-year-old retired librarian who lives a quiet life in a mint-colored house in Portland, Oregon. Bob, deWitt writes, “had long given up on the notion of knowing anyone, or of being known. He communicated with the world partly by walking through it, but mainly by reading about it.”

One day while walking, Bob encounters a woman about his age in a pink sweatsuit, staring at the refrigerators in a 7-Eleven convenience store, and he returns her to a nearby senior center. He decides to start volunteering at the center, reading to the residents, and he soon makes a startling discovery about that woman in pink.

The story then shifts to Bob’s young adulthood, and shifts again to an episode in his childhood when he runs away from home. Along the way, we learn that behind Bob Comet’s quiet, introverted facade is a life imbued with adventure, romance, heartbreak and more than anyone’s fair share of quirky characters.

“The Librarianist” reminds me of John Williams’ “Stoner,” with its focus on the everyday-ness of one man’s life. As Thoreau wrote, most men “lead lives of quiet desperation,” and this novel embraces that belief. It’s a lovely portrayal of one man’s quiet solitude — a mostly melancholy existence punctuated by moments of comedy and even joy.

This book doesn’t hinge on plot twists, but rather on the subtle twists and turns of normal life. And it builds toward a picture-perfect final scene that finishes the story like a poem.— quiet, satisfying and oddly moving.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.