The Bookstore at the End of America by Charlie Jane Anders features a delightful, mysterious bookstore amidst warring nations broken out of the United States. The store is a thrill to imagine, a veritable maze of bookshelves that leads to the border line between these two countries. Think of it as a Switzerland of sorts, welcoming citizens from either side of the border. The world itself is a mess, filled with people who hate each other, divided based on political party and whoever they hate the most. Above all, the power of literature is on display. Books can drive a wedge between people, or bring them together despite their differences. In the end, words are all that matter.
Spoilers ahead, so stop reading if you want to keep the collection unspoiled!
The brilliance lies in Anders’ masterful worldbuilding. In this small space, we have a deeply divided version of the world with a hateful political and war-torn history. To the east, you have a country filled with conservatives, defined by labor camps, overflowing prisons and hatred of anyone or anything that goes against the grain. To the west, you have a country filled with liberals defined by surveillance and technological implants, connecting people in an almost hive-mind with a complete absence of privacy. Smack them together and you’ve got a pretty terrifying dystopia. The bookstore seems like the only real respite amidst the chaos.
Anders is also saying a lot about the absurdities of adults and how their petty hatreds come before all else. We see opposite-minded people fighting amidst a raging battle, ignoring their terrified children in order to sling insults back and forth. A book brings them together, forcing them to focus on one thing and to share their ideas about the words in front of them. It speaks to the longevity of the written word. Hatred comes and goes, governments rise and fall, but the written word will remain until the pages crumple and all is lost to the wind.
The Bookstore at the End of America is included in the brilliant anthology, A People’s Future of the United States, available now at booksellers everywhere!
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
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