The Book of Silver Linings
Not for the first time, Nan Fischer has delivered an impressive tour de force of a novel with a finely plotted storyline and a host of believable characters. She does it with great skill and aplomb while thrilling her readers with constant intrigue and escapism.
The story is about Constance, a paralegal in her early thirties who sets out on a journey of self-discovery after realising there’s more to life than a 9-5 job and trying to please everyone except herself. Constance had a tough childhood with her father in prison for murder and a cruel mother who abandoned her before dying young. Her dearly beloved paternal grandfather is the only true role model she ever had. Despite her difficult early years, Constance is kind, caring and hard-working, and her love of animals leads to her volunteering at an animal shelter. After a few failed attempts to find a suitable boyfriend, she starts a relationship with Hayden, an English teacher who is easy-going, reliable, and reserved but boring. They have little in common, but everything ticks along nicely. Hayden is secretive, however, and reveals little about his family or background. Equally cautious, Constance puts off telling him about her criminal father. The time never seems right, and she feels that a bad confession is worse than none. Then, out of nowhere, Hayden proposes and wants them to get married as soon as possible.
Constance’s best friend notices her engagement ring is antique and urges her to get it valued. It is at this point that the story really comes to life. Constance discovers the ring is very expensive, and after doing some research into its background, she discovers a tragic love story about a soldier in the First World War. When she finds a book of letters in her library’s old manuscript section written by the long-dead soldier who bought the ring for his fiancé, Constance is deeply touched and leaves a note for him confessing her uncertainty and doubts about marrying Hayden. Later, she’s shocked to find a response tucked among the pages. Constance believes it is a communication from the ghost of the dead man, and over a period of months, their correspondence continues. Every reply Constance receives from the ‘ghost’ is filled with good advice, mainly encouraging her to become her own person and to rightly claim her place in the world. Constance realises that she fears losing Hayden if she tells him about her father, but she finally plucks up the courage to confess, regardless of the outcome. However, his parents, who, unknown to her, are incredibly wealthy (and feared she was a gold digger), beat her to it after secretly investigating her background.
Constance soon realises that breaking up with Hayden is the best thing that could have happened. Admittedly, she misses him at times, but the trust is broken after he fails to tell his parents he loves her and that her father’s crime is not a reflection on her. She moves into a flat owned by Trudy, who runs the animal shelter where she volunteers, and then quits her law firm job before securing an apprenticeship programme to become a lawyer. More than anything, now, she wants to help underprivileged people fight their cases and get justice. Her self-confidence and determination are growing, and she finds her raison d’etre. Being single again means she can get to know Trudy’s handsome son, Ellis, a doctor. He has a taut and muscular body, gorgeous eyes, and a smile that oozes charm. Constance later discovers he also has the perfect tongue for satisfying her in bed (even before he makes passionate love to her). Sex with him is wild and exhilarating, and in addition to his good-humoured personality, she discovers he is also sensitive and caring. The fact that she told him everything about her past and he was accepting of it made him even more endearing. Their shared love of animals is simply an extra bonus.
Constance discovers more about herself as the story progresses. Her ability to say no also increases after a lifetime of people-pleasing. Hayden asks her to reunite on the condition that they keep their relationship a secret from his parents. She bids him farewell. Her father pesters her to write a favourable letter to his parole board for his hearing, and she writes an honest letter stating she does not know if he feels genuine remorse or not. At this point, she fully realises that she isn’t responsible for her father’s actions or, indeed, his future, and after his self-pitying telephone call to her after his parole is denied, she also bids him farewell.
Her relationship with Ellis continues to grow, with them doing things together as well as appreciating each other’s individual interests. There are bumps along the way, not least when Ellis and his brothers are slow in trying to save their mother’s animal shelter because they would benefit financially, although it later transpires Ellis is the good guy when it comes to business. Ellis also confesses to Constance that he wrote the notes to her in the library. He had overheard her telling his mother about the love letters, and his interest was piqued enough to do his own research. At first, she feels betrayed by his pretence, but this soon fades after she realises the tenderness and sincerity of their correspondence only further cemented their love. The story culminates in Ellis asking Constance to marry him and her acceptance. She truly has found her knight in shining armour and twin flame. This is followed by a beautiful beach wedding with her grandfather giving her away in the presence of friends and animals who truly matter in her life.
Nan Fischer writes the story in such a conversational way that the reader could be mistaken for thinking she is telling it to them in person, without pause, from start to finish. There are no gaps or inconsistencies. She has a remarkable gift for capturing the mindset of her characters and, in doing so, displays an incredible visceral quality in her writing without ever losing control of the fast-paced plot. Nan Fischer is fast becoming the best US novelist of her generation. This really is a very enjoyable novel that will hopefully make it into film with some lucky actor getting to play Ellis and, in doing so, will gain millions of admirers.