This story begins with a death.
(No spoilers here; it’s the first line of the book).
I’m speaking also of the current chapter of my life, made possible by an individual I never met, but whose presence once permeated the environment where I now work.
The same goes for Ng’s story (pronounced “Ing”), which weaves plot lines of past and present, revealing how an event that normally might come at the end instead sets the tone for the beginning.
A year ago, the librarian who held my position became severely ill. His swift and sudden passing left the community in shock, but in time, led to a replacement (me).
Unlike my previous job, where I stepped into a neat and tidy office waiting to be claimed as my own, this summer I set foot into a space that still very much belonged to someone else.
Though the office had undergone a quick cleanup, piles of paperwork and file folders remained, hinting not only of the job performance expected of me, but of the legacy left by the person who had assembled it all.
As I began the delicate task of sifting through these documents, my work resembled a scene from Ng’s novel, where we see Marilyn, the grief-stricken mother, combing the contents of her daughter Lydia’s bedroom, searching for clues.
We both had plenty of questions.
What happened to her?
What was he like?
Was she hiding something?
What was he working on?
Why are there cigarettes in her backpack?
Is that a cockroach lurking in the corner?
While the office certainly needed some TLC, my findings indicated I had big shoes to fill. A colleague had described him as a “masterful” librarian, and from the meticulous records I’d come across, I had no reasons for doubt. But the experience was strange – getting to know someone by everything he’d left behind.
Likewise, this is how we “meet” Lydia; she’s already gone, but her life drives the rest of the story. It’s a more sobering parallel than others I’ve encountered, but timely, nonetheless.
And thankfully, the apparent connections to my life ended there, which is good, because the novel’s tone is rather depressing. It doesn’t take long for the reader to see how dysfunctional family communication contributes to its unfortunate demise (which, again, is really the beginning – but no spoilers, remember?).
So, why would I select such an unhappy summertime read?
Well, simply because on account of doing one thing I never thought I’d do [move to Cleveland], my dubious decision was quickly followed by another:
I joined a book club.
That means, among other things, I didn’t choose the book, and we actually meet to discuss it, not just sip margaritas. (Plus, I don’t think HR would approve the latter.)
And so, even if it is a book club in Cleveland with no drinks involved, it’s really not a bad way to begin my time here.
Especially since it resulted from a death.