Book Review: Village Books by Craig McLay

Posted October 21, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Village Books by Craig McLay

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Village Books Genres: General Fiction
on March 28, 2012
Pages: 296
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

Buy on Amazon

A standalone novel about life in an independent bookstore in Toronto.

I can see why, in 2012, Village Books won the eFestival of Words award for Best Literary Fiction.

My Take

McLay is intelligent with a sense of humor. I particularly enjoyed XX’s comment to the woman attempting to return a $4 used out-of-print book for which she had no proof of having purchased it from Village Books.

Even though this was mostly one of those day-in-the-life sort of fictional stories (I thought it would be a mystery, so I kept waiting for the “punchline”), I enjoyed this. That punchline, er, I mean, the story conflict becomes the battle to prevent a chain from taking the bookstore, although it’s the cast of characters who range from snarky and intelligent to social misfits to genuine idiots that are the real backbone of the story. McLay provides them all with widely differing backgrounds and issues that kept me fascinated.

”When you’re surrounded by the innermost thoughts of some of the world’s greatest minds and greatest perverts (often one and the same), it can have a tangible effect on the brain.

Oh, geez, I cracked up over XX’s comment about a swinger’s club being a fitness club for genitals. I tried out his comment about substituting any of the gods — Thor, Zeus, Poseidon — in a sentence that mentions God, and he’s right.

Poor Dante. Besieged by his mother to marry and it results in him becoming a hypochondriac… His mother develops a deadly illness and wants to see him married before she dies, lol. I know, I know…it’s rather crass to laugh, but Dante is in such a fix as his mother refuses to acknowledge that he’s gay. As for Aldous…*laughing* he is something else both at the start and the end with quite a difference between the two.

They are a close-knit crew with an uneven knowledge of each other’s personal lives. Sebastian needs to work on his choices. Between Mina’s enraged husband that has him hunting for obscure sleeping spaces and his drunken behavior, he’s on a downward spiral that results with a fascinating career at the end. You absolutely must read the epilogue…ahem, if only to read about Sebastian’s community service, lol.

My one quibble? Who the hell is “I”? McLay never gives his narrator, the chief protagonist, a name.

The Story

There’s the manager, Dante Andolini, who’s hiding more than just his hypochondria from his overbearing mother…Sebastian Donleavy, whose hedonistic lifestyle is two rails short of being on the rails…Aldous Swinghammer, whose philosophical eccentricities have not been the biggest hit with the ladies…Ebeneezer Chipping, whose crotchety exterior hides a burning passion for the Spanish émigré next door…Mina Bovary, whose crazy husband may have just gone AWOL with an arsenal of fragmentary explosive devices…and the store’s long-suffering assistant manager, who is spinning his wheels in retail while he waits for something better to come along.

That something better may be new assistant manager Leah Dashwood, an aspiring and ambitious actress. A positive that is offset by the threat of a bigbox store wanting to buy Village Books out and a conniving pair of “children”.

The Characters

XX is the snarky assistant manager and covers the first floor. He eventually has a daughter, Charlotte.

Leah Dashwood, a wanna-be actress, becomes the Zone 2 (second floor) manager. The wealthy (and controlling) Grover Whetstone is her fiancé.

Village Books is…
…an independent bookstore started up by Cynthia and Marty Ackerman over 30 years ago. Dante Andolini is the store manager barely surviving under his mother’s thumb (Lucretia whom Dante refers to as “Beelzebub” or “Bubby”); he has a master’s in English literature. Sebastian Donleavy, XX’s best friend, is an evening part-timer attending school, also part-time. He refers to his mother as “the pope” (she is the principal at a Catholic girls’ school). Mina Bovary is the psychotic bed-hopping head cashier; her husband, Master Corporal Nicholas Bovary, is in Afghanistan. The retired schoolteacher, Ebeneezer “Ebby” Chipping, has a ton of product knowledge and is in love with Fermina; his deceased wife, Viola, had been a member of a local theatre company. Aldous Swinghammer is a philosophy dropout who thinks he knows it all and believes his dreadlocks give him street cred. “Mother” Teresa Barker works children’s books and is quite religious. Willard Kurtz (he’s obsessed with everything Superman) is the head of shipping and receiving and cohabiting with Janine, an unregistered “massage therapist” trying to get her GED and their two-year-old daughter, Raven. (He works a second job in a Serbian restaurant and is a musician in Death in Van Nuys.) Miroslav Defoknik is their village idiot whose sole redeeming feature is his gross, sexist sense of humor; he also volunteers for drug trials. The sexy Invanka Urfe is the magazine lead, who is studying criminology and Brazilian wrestling while working as a personal trainer. Lolita Havisham is their germaphobic obsessive compulsive who thinks no one can do it right; she also works as a greeter at a funeral home. Mischa is the manager out on maternity leave; Helmut is her husband, but the staff think the baby more closely resembles Simon, a sales rep for Hakamoto Books. Esmeralda is the cleaning lady.

Walter and Maude Ackerman are Cynthia’s kids. He’s a loser, and she’s a soulless lawyer. XX’s dad collected promotional movie posters.

Information central, Fermina Marquez is a Spanish émigré who runs the next-door coffee shop, Café Olé. Her husband, Miguel, died five years ago. Falstaff’s is an Irish pub where the bookstore employees like to drink, especially the owner’s, Mickey Lee O’Malley‘s, Scrumpy. Ya gotta “qualify” to be served the Scrumpy. Doug is Dante’s latest boyfriend. Julie Tomassini, Connie’s daughter, sets him up with Jann Devries, a history professor. Lucia Andolini is Dante’s sister and a former classmate of XX’s. Some of the women from Leah’s theatre troupe include Girta (the pretentious director), Ribika (the coke-snorting lighting director), and Penelope. Pete owns the Prestige Theatre. Carmelina is one of Dante’s mother’s choices; Mom is also Carmelina’s godmother. Al is Carmelina’s now-dead husband whom she’s not really missing. Julian Bartlett is a quiet author with connections. Tom Prufrock is Julian’s agent. Peter Brzinski is one of the unlucky customers. Simone is a French exchange student. Yvette Desormaux is a former employee of the Black Rose gentlemen’s salon and spa. Jasmine and Ryan are clueless fans of Leah’s.

Umex is a national bookstore chain buying out independents.

Jeremy Smithwhite is an agent. Millicent is a teamster. Callum Guthrie is associated with the series, Royal Target. Juliet is a casting director. Joanne plays Officer Tessa Dominikos. Matt Damon encouraged Woody Allen to hire Leah, who also works in a film with Paul Giamatti.

XX’s and Sebastian’s rating system for women: Brontë is a “Withering Sight”, a “Fellini” is an attractive woman requiring a lot of work, a “Scorsese” is a psycho, a “Polanski” is too young, a “Kubrick” is cold, detached, unattainable, mechanical, yet strangely compelling, and a “Spielberg” tries too hard. Some of XX’s dates have included the dairy maid, June, with the banjo-playing brother, Maynard. Noomi, aka Cicely, has a postgraduate degree as a Rhodes Scholar and is a bisexual who looked like a biker chick.

The Cover and Title

The cover is cozy with its stone-and-green-trimmed bookstore window filled with books. The title is the sign at the top with the author’s name at the bottom. I do like the door with its sign inviting you in.

The title is the shop, Village Books.

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