Unsolicited Book Recommendations

I’m done with book #41 as of this Sunday morning (have to make up for lost time), and it was unexpected and great. I read Rainey Royal, by Dylan Landis. I probably wouldn’t have even picked this novel up to read the back if it hadn’t been for a bookseller at Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, MN a few months ago.

She was this older woman (which now surprises me, considering the type of book she was advocating for) who couldn’t contain her disgust for this book’s new paperback cover art, but made such a case for this book that I had to buy it. The cover does really take away from the book, though, and makes it seem like more of a cliche, overly-romantic beach-read. Which it is not.

Rainey Royal is this novel’s main character. We meet her when she is just 14, and it’s immediately clear that she has become (by necessity and unfortunate circumstances) way more mature than any 14-year-old should be.

She lives with her father, a jazz prodigy in the 1970’s, who runs a sort of hippie commune of talented (and usually young and attractive) musicians out of his home. Rainey’s mother abandoned the family when Rainey was only 13, leaving her to fend off unwanted and confusing advances from her father, her father’s live-in friend Gordy, and the plethora of rotating musicians.

Rainey is obviously beautiful, but also hardened by the way she must come to face this fact and learn about her own sexuality at such a young age. It creates this terrifying character who is both cruel and confused all the time. Each subsequent chapter follows Rainey, and later, her closest friends, as she grows up in New York City trying to make a name for herself as an artist. It was a really great book.

I love when I read two books back to back that have nothing to do with each other but also have very similar main characters. Yunior from This Is How You Lose Her, might have found a kindred spirit of sorts in Rainey Royal.

Both are desperate to love and to make sense of their painful pasts with no guidance whatsoever, doing the best they can and becoming more and more jaded as they go. Rainey is so flawed and contradictory: mean but gentle, domineering but unsure. I love characters like that.

So if you’re ever in Excelsior, MN, stopping by Excelsior Bay Books is more than worth it. It’s the cutest little bookshop, and the employees offer great, unsolicited recommendations. ◊

Howard’s attention is like the sun. Too much burns the edges of her leaves, yet the atmosphere is thin without it.”

– page 166, Rainey on Howard, her father

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