Broken Wheel isn’t a quiet little town. It isn’t a greasy burger joint off Route 66. It’s somewhere in between, a town where people have lost interest, where businesses have been boarded up for years, a town abandoned by the young folk to seek their fortune in the nearest big city, Hope IA, and a place where the older people have settled to die of polite boredom. Enter Sara, a Swedish tourist who’s come to meet her pen pal—only to be informed that she died shortly before Sara arrived.
Sara isn’t one of those volatile personalities who arrive to shake up everybody with dancing, wild outfits or outré outlooks on life. She’s a book nerd who believes that books are better than people and has the shy, retiring nature to show for it. So I liked her at once.
This book takes a while to get going. Its glacial pacing means that you’re slowly immersed in the lives of Broken Wheel’s inhabitants: the town drunk Poor George with his on-again, off-again sobriety; the neighborhood religious pillar of righteousness Caroline and the town loose woman named Grace (although her real name is Madeleine), descended from a long line of Graces who pride themselves in their wrong decisions and outlaw ways, to name a few.
These people are far more interesting than Sara is at the start and that seemed wrong to me. Surely the protagonist is the one who should capture the attention! But Sara sees herself as a minor player in her own life, even as she slowly but surely acts as a catalyst for change.
This is a novel I would recommend for people who like to take their time to settle into a book. Far from being a novel you plunge into headfirst, the book, like Broken Wheel itself, creeps up on you with a steady pull. And, yes, it does promote the adoration of books, that grand passion that can seize even the wary.