Although the theme of this first novel is not in itself unique, the characters and the settings are indeed. Some Other Town is a quirky, engaging book that was hard for me to put down.
The narrative centers on a single woman: Margaret, 28, a college graduate with a degree in art who works doing paste-up and layout at a book publishing firm. This workplace is perhaps the oddest in recent literary history. Each of the employees is eccentric. The office is housed in a former sanatorium; they all eat lunch in a dark basement cafeteria that also serves ill local prisoners and detoxing alcoholics. Some of the publishing employees do almost no work. They discuss dating and the resident ghost. Although I do not want to give away the raison d’etre of the publishing firm, which specializes in children’s series, believe me when I say it is a hysterical and unorthodox place.
After rather poor luck at dating, Margaret meets Ben, 16 years her elder, who is a visiting professor in her small Midwestern town. She describes him thus: “He is a good man, Ben Adams, kind, wide-shouldered, wise.” He spends a lot of his time at his country farmhouse, lying in the field at night, looking at stars and constellations. He has the same dinner almost every night and sleeps inside a sleeping bag rather than do more laundry. Although he is married, that relationship is in trouble, almost over, and Margaret and Ben begin to spend more time
together. At first they are merely friends, even awkward, but as time progresses, they spend nights together in both their homes. However, at a certain point, with nothing pointing to this possibility, Ben takes all his things from Margaret’s house and disappears without a note or apology.
After considering his disappearance for three months, still not determined about how she feels about this “good man,” Margaret spends the rest of the pages in the book searching for him, prodded on by her nasty next-door neighbor, Mrs. Eberline.
(“Mrs. E. is a snoop and a meddler. She is also old, mad, and extraordinarily busy.”) She even, occasionally, can be dangerous. Like Margaret, she seems to miss Ben.
Margaret has no idea what it means to be in love and cannot tell if she is with Ben. She agonizes over her feelings, what do to about her going-nowhere job, her longing to move away from this small, familiar town. The relationship is not balanced, and they do have somewhat different goals and lifestyles, but it’s the best stab at commitment Margaret has ever made.
Besides the odd characters and the odd workplace, the other unconventional aspect about this coming-of-age or learning-about-love story is the ending. It is unexpected, almost totally, but it does propel Margaret into a new future.
For this and for the character and the workplace development, this first novel is an almost guaranteed good read. It’s probably most appealing to female readers, although I hate to get into “it’s a women’s book.” The development of the story and its twists and turns should attract many readers and may make them laugh out loud--and weep out loud, as well.