The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper -- Phaedra Patrick
Sometimes there are books that I grab from the shelves at the Lockport Library simply on a whim. Sometimes, there are really good books with which I’m glad I took a chance. Rarely, those books are terrible. Even more rarely, those books make such an impression that I automatically consider them one of my favorite books of the year. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is the rarest of the rare in that I put in the Top 5 running for favorite books of the year.
Arthur Pepper is 69-years-old and is remembering his late wife on the first anniversary of her passing. It’s finally time to clean out her things from the house and donate them to some local charity. During this time, Arthur discovers a bracelet with several charms hidden away. He had never seen the jewelry before, and it caused him to wonder what else he didn’t know about his wife’s life before they met.
Intensely curious as to the meaning behind the baubles, Arthur sets out on a pilgrimage that takes him around the world in search for answers. The bracelet and each of the charms attached have a story of their own. Each piece of the puzzle reveals just a bit more about the woman he loved and lived with for so many years. Questions of doubt were raised in his mind about the truths he had previously held so dear. In the end, he would love Miriam so much more, and become a better man himself.
Arthur, as we first meet him, is a lonely widower who is avoiding social contact. Each step he takes opens his eyes and reintroduces him to a world that had left him behind, mostly by his own choosing. As we uncover the stories behind each of the charms, not only do we learn more about Miriam, we learn more about Arthur and see him grow as a person. By the end of the book, Arthur is no longer the shell of a man waiting for his own death. He is looking at life and realizing how wonderful it all is.
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is Phaedra Patrick’s debut novel, and all I can ask is when the next one is coming. Patrick writes with such an ease that you fall under the spell of the writing and stand next to Arthur as he completes his odyssey. The raw emotion of the words resonate deep within the reader. I could not put the book down once I started. I read it all in one sitting, start to finish.
This story is part mystery, part adventure, and a big part love story. It’s not a love story in all that mushy stuff that fills pseudo-romance novels. This is a love story about a man who loves his wife, loves his children (although he has to relearn this), and loves the life that has been set before him. This is a story about people, which is my favorite kind of story. The characters are richly developed, flawed and perfect all at the same time, just like all of us. Patrick captured a fleeting moment of human life with such deftness and emotion that you can’t help but think these are real people inhabiting the pages.
While reading this novel, I could not help but cheer for Arthur throughout each of his labors. Here was a hero who didn’t know he was the hero. It is that unassuming manner that endears us to his plight.
I cannot wait for Phaedra Patrick’s follow-up to The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. This book is so well written and engaging. It is well worth the time to pick it up and dive in. Be prepared, though. You will not want to put it down. Set aside a day and just read.
It is books like this one that challenges Craig Bacon to keep writing. Somewhere, throughout all the reading and ideas that come with that, there is a novel waiting to be born.