Released: March 2014
I was surprised to read the blurb on the back of this book, which began – ‘It has to be said she stinks.’ When I started the first chapter I was even more surprised to read, ‘She stinks. It has to be said she stinks.’ I debated leaving the book unread at that point but curiosity got the better of me and I’m pleased it did because Rosa, the bag lady and frame for this intricately woven story set in present day New York, is the only thing that does stink in this first novel from Keir Alexander.
The story begins with Rosa but quickly shifts focus to Michael, her nephew and purveyor of an old fashioned and very homely delicatessen, The Sunrise. For years Michael has tried and failed to get Rosa to stop her wanderings and engage with his family, or talk to him or even take a bath. Rosa stubbornly resists and the most Michael can do for her is provide her with rye bread and her other favourite goodies from The Sunrise. However, when Rosa is run down during a parade and Michael goes to secure her apartment he finds the ruby slippers. These are not any old shoes, they are originals from the Wizard of Oz movie, once worn by Judy Garland. Their potential value and what could be done with that wealth threatens to uproot the dynamics of his otherwise happy family.
Gradually other characters are introduced into the story, none of whom seem to have any immediate connection other than the Sunrise Deli but there is one, and that comes in the form of the slippers. The slippers mean many different things to the characters but they are most important to Michael. For him they represent the liberation of Europe from the Nazis and his subsequent journey to America.
Keir has been writing and directing films for years so it shouldn’t be surprising that he came up with such an intricately detailed plot with such richly detailed characters. At times the story was very visual, though at points it did feel over-descriptive but those moments were few and far between. The sub plots of the novel worked equally well, combining Rosa’s back story with facts from the making of the Wizard of Oz and how Rosa came to own the shoes.
I was torn between wanting to race to the end to make sure everyone had their happy ending over the rainbow and not wanting to finish because I was so lost in the story. So I was disappointed that the end had come sooner than I expected because one of the final chapters comes in the form of a recap of the story from a child’s perspective. This didn’t add anything to the novel for me but that’s one small criticism of what was otherwise a really enjoyable read from a consummate writer.