Lyrical love winds and turns in Pulitzer Prize finalist’s debut novel

March 10, 2024, 10:36 p.m.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

“The Book of Love” is both everything and nothing like it sounds. Superstar short story writer Kelly Link’s debut novel is captivating and heartwarming, but at times unsettling and even heartbreaking.

Link’s deftness with lyrical prose makes reading this book feel like walking in a dream. Yet it is a dream grounded deeply in reality, grappling with childhood, parenthood, sisterhood, being an outsider, being an insider, being loved and loving in return.

It all begins when Laura, Daniel and Mo are raised from the dead in their high school music classroom. Their music teacher Mr. Anabin, whose knowledge of fantastical things is starting to sully his reputation as a standard human public school teacher, tells them that they have been gone for nearly a year, and that they must now undertake some mysterious magical tasks to stay in the land of the living. They cannot tell their family and friends what has happened — no one, not even Laura’s twin Susannah, knows the truth of their disappearance. 

From there, a story rich with magical beings, messy relationships, emotional reckoning and self discovery unfolds. By the end, I found myself caring for the sensitive Mo, steady Daniel, driven Laura and even brash Susannah as I would my own collection of wonderful, multifaceted friends.

Most criticism so far seems to cite the length as a chief complaint, and this argument is not unfounded. Though I consider myself a fast reader, it took me several days to get through with considerable hours spent reading each day. I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone uncomfortable with winding paths, converging perspectives and unclear intentions. To those whose interest is now piqued, however, you will find the wandering journey more fulfilling than the destination.

The way Link crafts words into life lessons and hard truths is what makes immersion in “The Book of Love” so enjoyable. My breath often caught when reading her stunningly poignant dialogue.

Exchanges such as: “‘Some might think life without end in the company of the one who loves them would be enough.’ ‘Some might. For a while,’” left me devastated.

Moments like this show this book is not always about being in love, rather, what it means to feel love, at any stage of life, for any person.

I almost cried again when Daniel asked himself, “if one of his brothers or sisters had scorned their abilities, their gifts, wouldn’t he have talked with them? Told them to celebrate what they could do, who they could be?” Because is this not the perspective we all require in considering our own flaws and shortcomings? Link composes a beautiful network of familial, platonic and romantic relationships with heartstring tugs lying in wait around every bend.

If you need further convincing, this book also happens to contain various enchanting hints leading up to the conclusion, including the best Easter egg I have ever experienced. Hidden messages become clear when the roving plot loops back on itself at the end, the shadows and secrets surrounding the teenagers’ disappearance finally clarified.

Tunes by everyone from Barry Manilow to John Mayer are sprinkled throughout “The Book of Love” like delightful frozen yogurt toppings. A remarkably crafted karaoke scene features a slew of sly musical references to love and death (“This love is good / This love is bad / This love is alive back from the dead”).

I compiled as many of the songs mentioned in the book as I could into a playlist so when I walk around campus romanticizing the feeling of raindrops on my face or wind in my hair, I have something to hum along to. Because if there is one thing this book reminded me to do, cheesy as it sounds, it was to savor life and the relationships which make it worth living. 

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