Things that read in the night

Audrey Niffenegger has a good thing going on with her lobes. In her graphic novel The Night Bookmobile — which walks like a children’s book, but certainly doesn’t talk like one, Alexandra goes out for a stroll in the streets of Chicago in the middle of the night. She has recently fought with her boyfriend Richard, a ponytailed lover with no time for make believe. She finds a bookmobile blasting Bob Marley and gives the driver a little peek as she walks past.

Robert Openshaw greets her, invites her inside. So many books and she’s read all of them. Paul Auster and Betty Crocker and, gasp, her own diary from childhood. Openshaw hustles her out the door when the sun comes up.

Back home with Richard, she is distracted. He doesn’t believe her story. He breaks the fourth wall with a snarky look at the reader and says “See what I have to deal with here?” She continues to spend her nights searching for the bookmobile — to the point where Richard thinks she is carrying on with another dude. She doesn’t quite dispute that. This magical camper and its rock and roll soundtrack get her full attention.

She returns to the bookmobile a couple more times, more aisles and more books with each visit, always reluctant to leave and damn-near clawing at Openshaw’s pant leg and begging for a job that he can’t give her.

Like The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger has again blurred the lines between natural and supernatural. Her authorial “what ifs” aren’t subject to gravity, which is a pleasure to read. Art-wise, she is more grounded in realism. No dreamy swirls or puffs or anything else to suggest that this is fantastical.

This book is totally a treat and undoubtedly has readers considering their own night bookmobiles: The Judy Blume and Christopher Pike. Veganomicon and issues of Sassy magazine. A barely freshly cracked copy of Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story, the complete works of Chuck Palahniuk, Japanese crime fiction and even this book.

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