Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Soul Thief - by Charles Baxter

In 1973, back before "identity theft" was a something people worried about, Nathaniel Mason crosses paths with the spooky Jason Coolberg, who knows more about Mason, and his family, than even his girlfriends do. While the reader may find it disturbing when Coolberg shows up wearing Mason's missing clothes and otherwise stalking him, Mason seems to take it in stride.  A passage that describes yet another buglary of Mason's apartment "more clothes seem to be missing, more objects buglarlized" makes it clear that he knows who is stealing his things, and he has no intention of calling the police. Just past the halfway point in this book the story jumps to 30 years later and Mason is living a rather ordinary existence with his wife and two children in the suburbs and Coolberg reappears in Mason's life, still creepy as ever.

There are several places in the story in which books and reading are mentioned, only one passing mention of a library, though, when Mason wonders where his girlfriend, Theresa, is when she doesn't answer her phone. "Perhaps she is resting up after her social exertions. Or is out in the library, foraging in the stacks." Since she is a graduate student, that is a good bet. There is also one librarian metaphor. Mason and Coolberg reminisce about Theresa during their reunion dinner. Mason says "She was pretty." Coolberg disagrees. "Thesesa was attractive without being pretty. She had the banal sensibilities of a local librarian who's moved to the big city and started serious drinking and making semi-comical overstatements to disguise her obvious gaps." That's quite a specific stereotype. How many librarians are really like that?

A rather surreal story, this probably warrants a second reading, which would likely reveal layers of meaning, and some foreshadowing that I missed. I will leave that for someone else to do, though.

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