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The Turbulent Life of the Small-Town Librarian

The Turbulent Life of the Small-Town Librarian


Danielle Chenette

By Sue Halpern
368 pp. Harper Perennial. Paper, $15.99.

Once a thriving, industrial mill town, Riverton, N.H., is now down to the Dollar Tree store, a hospital cafeteria (which doubles as the only restaurant) and a budget-starved old library.

That formerly grand building is the hub for the characters in Sue Halpern’s new novel, “Summer Hours at the Robbers Library.” Here a foursome of male retirees drink coffee and chitchat with unemployed job seekers like Rusty, recently ejected from Wall Street and now on a personal mission that may also be a financial boondoggle. Fifteen-year-old Sunny (short for Solstice) is on hand, doing community service for trying to steal a hardcover dictionary. (She had enough money for the paperback, but paperbacks fall apart.) Finally, there’s Kit Jarvis, the reference librarian reluctantly saddled with Sunny’s rehabilitation.

The catch is that we’ve met Kit before, in the novel’s opening pages, as the voice of a section called “The Marriage Story.” That Kit was a witty, ardent college sophomore, brash and knowing about some things and utterly foolish about others. Her eye landed on Calvin Sweeney when her auteur boyfriend needed a “nerdy but attractive enough” guy for his experimental film. In a lineup, she tells us, Cal would be picked “10 times out of 10” as the man who played trombone in the marching band. He’s also, quite quickly, her husband.

So why has Kit resurfaced in New Hampshire at 44, with a new last name, a stash of money, no visible husband and memories of a clinically significant number of therapy sessions? And what squashed that bold college student into this closely guarded creature?

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