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THE READING EARLY REVIEWS:

“Barbara Monier’s The Reading is a literary novel about an established writer named Esme. From the outset, you are immersed in Esme’s vivid world. Esme is critically aware of her feelings and those of the people surrounding her. This is partly because her father died when she was very young, and this trauma has left a lasting impression. When a friend from her worst days in college shows up forty-odd years later at one of her book readings, Esme is confronted with her troubled past and identity. On the same day, her long-term partner asks Esme to take the next step in their relationship. The timing of these two events leaves Esme bewildered, causing her to reflect on other factors that have shaped her into the person she is now.

Barbara Monier allows us to accompany Esme on her journey of self-discovery. The Reading deals with the human condition of loneliness, addresses the complexity of relationships (regardless of age), and illustrates the difficulty of understanding both youth and loss. I relished the descriptions of Esme’s physical surroundings because they were poignant and evocative. Monier also uses humor, and I found myself laughing out loud at some of Esme’s observations in her internal monologue. Besides her wit, Monier’s intertextuality and literary references are particularly apt and add context to Esme’s character. The novel also touches on the contemporary concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Reading will appeal to anyone who appreciates self-reflective writing and a complex main character.”  —Kayleigh Perumal, Readers’ Favorite

“In Barbara Monier’s masterful novel The Reading, we meet Esmé, an established writer in her early sixties. She is giving a reading. We are there with her every step of the way, including watching her being festooned with a Mardi Gras style necklace. As she’s signing books she’s surprised by a visitor, Tom Killarney, who traveled from the East Coast to be at her reading that night. He tells her that she changed his life, back when they were freshmen at the Ivy League school she hated. Later in the novel we learn how Esme’s speaking truth to him in her outspoken, caring way halted his downward slide at school. “Tommy, what the fuck are you doing,” Esmé asked.

The novel moves back and forth in time. We readers get to see Esmé at the hated school as we live through each trauma and disappointment with her. Esmé says: “stories are never about events.” We hear Esme’s precocious voice, very much like her namesake Esmé in J.D. Salinger’s story, as she takes us through that dreadful year and on her adult journey with her boyfriend Gino.

There are some gorgeous, meaningful passages, such as:

“It is amazing the lies we can tell ourselves- how fully we can convince ourselves, fool ourselves into believing that various things about us are true. With a spirit of creativity and a zest for denial, I managed to bend and twist my great dislike of eating alone into a belief that I never actually did it.”
“The way the morning sun creates an ever-shifting mosaic of brilliant glints that dance across the surface of the harbor remains as breathtaking as ever. And yet, mornings are entirely changed. What used to be a steady rumble of white noise that the lakefront traffic produced has died down to a murmur, the low purr of a gentle breeze.”
“I get it now. I get that Montgomery Treadwell III—and the scores of others like him—had always been and would always be the same. But what about Tom? What about the smart, seething boy who had bought me turtlenecks and brought me coffee and handed out flyers side-by-side with me—how did the Toms of the world go from wanting to make real and good and lasting changes to turning tail, wandering away, at the very least looking in the other direction. Or perhaps, as Rob said, taking part in fucking over so many others, directly taking part, choking the life out of them with their own bare hands.
What happened to us?”
“Let go of the ghosts. Take the risks.”
Thank you, Esmé, for speaking truth so brilliantly. Thank you, Barbara Monier, for writing this up front and personal novel that’s so profound, so witty, so real. I’m not surprised your caring, take no prisoners voice changed lives.” —Carol Orange, author, A Discerning Eye

Esme, a noted sixtyish writer, has been living alone in a home she loves. She is reasonably happy with her situation, until Gino, her companion of many years, asks her to move in with him. Then, after a reading of her latest book, she is approached by Tommy, an old friend she hasn’t seen since her first year of college. The meeting awakens memories of what she considered the worst year of her life, when she had been introduced into a company of old-money, upper-class individuals that represented ideals she found not only uncomfortable but ethically upsetting. Tommy was her only real friend during that year. His reappearance, though brief, causes her to reexamine her life values and her decision to move in with Gino. Chapters alternate between present-day and 1972 as the reader learns of Esme’s life in two very different worlds as she makes decisions about her future, and wrestles with the realization that her views of today’s world have very much to do with her college experience. Monier’s style of writing is compelling, filled with details and occurrences of everyday life that most people don’t notice, but once the author mentions them, we know how meaningful they are. This is a book that will make you examine your own values, and is a must read, particularly if you are unhappy about what is happening in today’s troubling times.” —Patricia Camalliere, author, Cora Tozzi Historical Mystery Series

With striking sensitivity, humor, and superb awareness, Barbara Monier brings to life the trials of a young creative woman finding her way in the world, and yet through it all in her older years, the woman finds herself still searching. The author weaves past and present beautifully through artistic touches — including odes to James Joyce and the great naturalist poet Gary Snyder. And in turn is able to create a literary gem with the kinds of characters you deeply care about and would love to spend hours with, talking about art, life, and the unavoidable connective tissue between the two. It’s a masterful story from a masterful writer.” —David Berner, author, Sandman: A Golf Tale and 9 others

I read this novel over two days, which is not my normal practice. I can always find reasons to stop reading and The Reading is not what I would describe as a “page turner,” in the sense that I felt compelled to tear through the book to find out what happens next.

On the contrary, the writing is so clean and the voice so authentic, that there is a tendency to take it slow and reflect on what’s on the page. It is the story of a seasoned novelist, Esme (named after the character in the Salinger short story), who is on a reading tour for her latest novel, when she encounters a man whom she knew forty years ago when they were both first year students at a prestigious university. That was the “worst year of her life,” so she is shocked to discover that the man had come to her reading to tell her she had changed the course of his life.

Okay, so that is a page-turning revelation, but when we turn the page, we don’t learn about this man/boy from the past, we learn that Esme is on this extended reading tour because she has writer’s block. She is out of stories – a frightening prospect for a novelist.

The encounter triggers memories for Esme. Monier does a masterful job of sharing the hopes and fears of a young woman away from home for the first tine in her life and struggling to find her place. This is a poignant, often funny, life-story of a character whose company I enjoyed. She is the kind of person I wouldn’t mind having a beer with, or perhaps in her case, a shot of Southern Comfort.

Highly recommended.”  —Len Joy, author, Dry Heat

“This latest novel from a writer who loves language and crafts stories that deeply mine a character’s past to allow them to understand a key truth that illuminates their present, takes this formula to a new height. Here, in a reverie triggered by a surprise guest at one of her readings, author Esme reflects on “the worst year of her life.” A year when the reluctant student—fortified by a hard shell as protection from an old grief– arrives as a square-peg scholarship student in a very round-hole ivy league college. Her heavily Salinger-inspired experiences are wry, painful and relatable. After this year, the narrative moves forward, dipping into key inflection points along her 62-year-old life, involving past lovers, a carnival physic’s prophecy, and the tragedy of COVID. These detailed memories allow her to crack away at that shell to understand her impact on others, shed her grief and open her heart to the opportunities offered by her current lover. It’s a deeply personal and “quiet” story that goes in and out of time and arrives at less a climax than a massive epiphany, as Esme assembles the previously mysterious puzzle pieces of her life into a recognizable pattern that has been within her grasp all along. A positive message in our turbulent times.” —Rita Dragonette, author, The Fourteenth of September

Full Review by Kirkus Reviews:

“A chance meeting with an old college friend leads a novelist to revisit memories of her freshman year in the fifth novel by Monier (The Rocky Orchard, 2020, etc.).

Esmé is a novelist in her 60s who is about to give a reading of her new book when she gets a shock. Someone from her freshman year of college, a year she hated at a school she disliked in a town she despised, appears and says hello. It is Tom Killarney, a friend from that alcohol-soaked year, whom she hasn’t seen in 40 years. Esmé, who is moving in with her partner, Gino, begins to recall difficult but consequential moments from the early 1970s, when she left tiny Clarion, Pennsylvania, to attend a private college in a city seven hours away by car. An only child whose father died when she was 5, she was lonely and penniless but bright enough to become one of only 10 students accepted for a coveted English lit program at the school. Her dorm room was impressive, and the other students well dressed but lacking in intellectual curiosity: “Kids my age opened their doors to fetch their WSJs wearing pajamas that looked as if they’d be ironed, covered by plush monogrammed bathrobes, their feet toasty in sheepskin scuffs.” Disillusioned, Esmé found solace in friends like Tom, and in Monier’s novel, reconnecting with him causes her to reexamine her post-college life. A question at the heart of this novel is: What happened to the young people of her generation who were so ready to take on the world? Monier deftly spans the decades and writes incisively about how the answers aren’t always easy to find. She gives shape to fragmented and loose connections between people, however dispersed they have become, and thoughtfully explores an idea that may resonate with many members of her heroine’s generation. As Esmé puts it: “Perhaps it’s not the past that catches up with me, but rather the other way around.”A beautifully written novel shows how small moments can make a big difference in people’s lives.”

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