dave eggers and those wacky
folks at McSweeney's held a contest on their Web site (www.mcsweeneys.net) in which they offered to publish the best book a reader could write about electrical engineering on boats.
What they got was this moving sliver of a novel by New York writer Amy Fusselman that has almost nothing to do with the proposed subject but everything to do with every other major issue in life.
The Pharmacist's Mate is a conflation of Fusselman's diaries and those of her father, who travelled the world by ship during the second world war. He provides the boat information. Fusselman's clipped, oddly detached writing, meanwhile, describes her father's slow death by emphysema, her strained relationship with her brother and her prolonged efforts to get pregnant.
It's an odd book -- no surprise there, given the circumstances and the publisher -- but also disturbingly direct and affecting. Fusselman's journal entries jumble together, changing topics and moods line by line, but there's an unusually natural flow to the book.
It's intimate and revealing but also fairly approachable, not the hysterical confession you might expect when life and death intersect in someone's diary.
Fusselman reads tonight (Thursday, May 3) at This Ain't the Rosedale Library. She finally did become pregnant, so applaud gently, please.
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THE PHARMACIST'S MATE by Amy Fusselman (McSweeney's), 86 pages, $20 cloth. Rating: NNNN This book is not available through Chapters or Indigo but it is through Amazon.com