No, Thomas Pynchon is not dead. He’s actually still actively writing in his eighties, or at least was doing so recently. Somehow, though, he has been reincarnated in the person of Robin Sloan. Read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and you’ll encounter Pynchon’s antic spirit once again. It’s not conveyed in Pynchon’s inimitable style, to be sure, and the story revolves around the new technology that has evolved over the past half-century since Pynchon’s greatest work appeared in print. But you could easily envision his pot-addled characters roaming the shelves of Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. And the centuries-long conspiracy of the Unbroken Spine at the center of this story could fit quite comfortably between the pages of one of Pynchon’s creations.
Sloan’s writing is endlessly delightful. Not that you’re likely to laugh out loud more than occasionally. It’s more probable the book will keep you smiling from beginning to end. Call it an urban fantasy, one without dwarves, dragons, or magic swords. It’s the characters that are magical—just a little overdrawn and not quite believable, but unmistakably human. The plot, of course, is over the top, the sort of tale that might be told with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012) 304 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
I am far from the only critic to feel so warmly toward this novel.
“”Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” is eminently enjoyable,” Roxane Gay wrote for the New York Times Sunday Book Review (December 14, 2012), “full of warmth and intelligence. Sloan balances a strong plot with philosophical questions about technology and books and the power both contain.” In reviewing the book for NPR (October 3, 2012), Michael Schaub wrote, “It’s a convoluted plot that relies a little too heavily on convenient coincidences, but Sloan pulls it off with his extremely charismatic prose . . . [T]here’s so much large-hearted magic in the book, it seems almost petty to complain.”
About the author
Robin Sloan is the author of two novels and an assortment of short stories. In the bio on his website, he writes that at the several places where he worked before writing Mr. Penumbra “my job had something to do with figuring out the future of media.” Certainly, that theme emerges clearly from Mr. Penumbra.
For further reading
If your taste runs more to genre fiction, check out:
- 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers;
- My 20 favorite espionage novels; or
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10.
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.