“George and Lizzie”
by Nancy Pearl
Touchstone 288 pages, $25
Librarian Nancy Pearl knows lust. “Book Lust” followed by “More Book Lust” and “Book Lust to Go” have fanned the flames of a red-hot passion for reading everywhere. And now Pearl has taken all of her knowledge about what makes an enticing book and plowed it into her own debut novel.
“George & Lizzie” is an edgy story that centers on a secret in the life of Lizzie Bultmann. While in high school, Lizzie undertakes something she calls “the Great Game,” a feat of sexual athleticism meant to shock and impress. In part, she plays this “game” to get desperately needed attention from her parents, behavioral psychologists at the University of Michigan. All her life, Lizzie has felt like a lab experiment. Her cold, calculating parents are always taking notes on her behavior but never reacting to anything she does. When Lizzie tells them about the game, she barely gets a raised eyebrow, but she sets herself up for years of regret and self-loathing. The Great Game tarnishes every relationship she undertakes as an adult.
When she finally meets George Goldrosen, he falls in love with her, but she's too damaged to feel real emotions. She's also obsessing about Jack, a young man she fell in love with in college. George and Lizzie eventually marry, but when she tells him, “I'm glad you're you,” she's thinking, “It would be even better if you were Jack.”
Can a marriage last when one partner spends every waking hour pining for lost love?
Pearl's novel, which could also be appropriate for mature young adults, is an homage to true love, painful childhood experiences and emotional scars that last a lifetime. It's a story of forgiveness, especially for one's self. Astonishingly, it even turns into a testimony to the efficacy of Buddhist meditation as a path toward tranquility – what George describes as greeting “the next moment of your life with no trace of the last.”
Pearl, a darling of the library world, hosts a TV show about reading and is regularly heard touting the pleasures of books on radio stations across the country. In 2011, Library Journal named her librarian of the year.
“George & Lizzie” is an extraordinary addition to her portfolio, although few honors match one bestowed on her in 2003. That's when a Seattle store began selling the Nancy Pearl Librarian Action Figure with “Amazing Shushing Action.” But no one will shush readers oohing and ahhing over this sensitive and entertaining novel.
Carol Memmott is a freelance writer. She wrote this for Washington Post Book World.