You know that feeling when you’re about to return a library book and you realize you haven’t taken a picture of it yet, but it’s a really sunny day and you’re in the car and there’s a glare, but you still need that photo?
Behold the photographic evidence of that feeling.
(My apologies for the terrible photo. I mean, my regular photos aren’t great either- all I have is my cell phone- but this one? Yikes.)
So, one of the tasks for this year’s Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge is ‘a book you chose for the cover.’ I’ll be frank: I almost never notice book covers, at least not enough to be drawn in or turned away by them. Solves the problem of judging a book by a cover, doesn’t it? I’m far more likely to pick up a book because the title intrigues me, and fortunately, there’s no pithy saying that condemns me for judging titles. 😉
As my library lines new books up with the spine exposed and no cover showing, when I was there trying to find a book specifically for this task, I was forced to yank books out one by one, squinting at the covers and hoping something would pull me in. The little guy on the cover of Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2018) did, and into my pile this went. I’d heard about it on another blog; that blogger had had issues with the book, but the premise still interested me enough to give it a try.
Ellis Reed is barely what you could call a reporter. He works for a newspaper, anyway, desperate to move up the ranks, but so far, all his efforts have been for squat. He’s thankful to have any job since the Crash, but he knows he’s capable of so much more. One of the pictures he took recently, however, definitely has a story behind it: a sign in front of a ramshackle house, advertising two children- two boys– for sale. When Lillian Palmer, an overworked secretary with dreams and secrets of her own, shows the boss Ellis’s photo, he agrees that Ellis should write up the story behind it. When the photo is damaged beyond use, Ellis, frantic to prove himself, returns to the scene of the photo, and, unable to recreate it, uses two neighbor children, a brother-sister pair, as stand-ins. What Ellis isn’t expecting is for his story to go whatever the Depression-era version of ‘viral’ is. Suddenly, his photo and story are everywhere, and this has terrible consequences for those two neighbor children. Gutted by the news and plagued by a deep feeling of responsibility, Ellis enlists Lillian’s help, and together, they’ll risk everything in order to make things right again.
There is a LOT going on in this book. Ellis wants nothing more than to prove to his gruff, doubtful father that he can make it as a reporter, but he can barely make rent each month, let alone afford food. Lillian’s got a secret son stashed at home in another city with her parents; she lives in a boardinghouse during the week and travels home every weekend to visit him. She’s trying to save up enough money to be able to afford her own place, where she can live with her son full-time and maybe pretend she’s a widower to escape the shame of being a single mother in the 1930’s, but she also has dreams of doing some reporting of her own. There’s a tepid romance, then a better, more well-suited one, but wait, it’s actually a love triangle of sorts, kinda. Ellis wades into some involvement with various members of the mob in order to gain sources for his reporting. Everyone’s bosses act as though they have shorts full of angry tarantulas, there’s tuberculosis and an asylum, shame, guilt, trauma from the past, several cases of buying children, a temperamental car, abusive parents, an orphanage, child loss, potential career loss, time spent in jail, delusions that makes it okay to replace your dead child with another random one, breaking and entering, an enabling banker spouse, a mobster brother… Are you following all of that?
Is your head spinning? Are you squinting at the words, unable to follow along?
That’s how I felt when I was reading this. I was about a hundred pages in when I started wondering if maybe it was me. Was I heading into a reading slump? Had I been spending too much time online lately and thus lost my ability to focus well? (That happens sometimes.) I’d read for a bit, but I kept getting pulled out of the story and couldn’t quite stick with it. I decided to push through, as the writing is good, so that helped. It wasn’t until I was probably about three-quarters of the way through the book where I was finally able to breeze through the rest of it to the end, and beginning my next book, I had no problems focusing.
While I do enjoy characters having complex lives and backstories, this was maybe a little *too* much complexity, at least for me. Though Lillian is definitely a sympathetic character, Ellis veered a bit towards too calculating, too desperate for power for my tastes. It’s a compelling story, based on a real photograph, and while that should have made for a deeply emotional reading experience, this just didn’t pull me in in the way I had hoped it would.
Do you read books just because of the cover? I have to say, this didn’t quite help inspire me to do that again!