How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
Original Publication Year: 2014
Narrated by: Joshilyn Jackson
I do love suprises. As long as they are pleasant and not accidental. For the first quarter to a third of How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. It was weird and it seemed just weird for weird’s sake. I don’t mind weird as long as it has a purpose and in the end I think the strange beginning of the book does serve a purpose.
And maybe it’s not fair to call it weird. It’s quirky. It’s about two astronomers, George and Irene and it’s about their Mothers who raised them in Toledo. Their mothers were best friends growing up and decided that they would raise their children to be soul-mates using astrology and psychology. They do it as an experiment and so that their children can experience true love and be happy. It’s a quirky premise and in the beginning I felt like I was having trouble, connecting the dots and connecting with the characters. People don’t quite interact with each other in any kind of normally acceptable manner. There’s a side character who was raised by her priest father to not speak but only use music until he is arrested for child endangerment when she’s 5 or 6. She speaks without inflection, she sits with her feet dangling out the window of her office at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy and plays an instrument. Later she frolics in Lake Erie with Narwhals. So. Quirky.
George initially seems kind of stupid and shallow and wacky as he hallucinates gods and goddesses frolicking and speaking to him. Irene is cold and practically devoid of emotion. What kept me hooked through this first part of the book were the flashbacks to George and Irene’s mothers’ childhood. Sally and Bernice’s friendship is real and it anchors the more surreal parts of the narrative.
Then George and Irene meet and everything starts to make sense and feel more like real life. The book never becomes fully grounded in reality but the important word here is sense. It all starts to make sense. George and Irene transform each other into real live human beings who are funny and sweet and smart and even a little wise. I'm pretty this shift is deliberate and its kind of awesome. Before these two “stars” align everything is just a little off kilter but as soon as they come together, order in some sense is restored. In the first third of the book I could not in any way connect to the characters, once they meet I almost immediately began to sympathize with and love them.
“It’s more like every electron in every atom in the universe paused, breathed in deeply, assessed the situation, and then reversed its course, spinning backward, or the other way, which was the right way all along. And afterward, the universe was exactly the same, but infinitely more right.”
What else did I love? There is all sorts of fun astronomy speak. It is laugh out loud funny at times. The writing is lovely. The ending was completely unexpected and possibly quite clever – is it real? After I got through the first bit, I found it addictively readable.
The narration was very good and fit the book well. Like the style of the book, it did take me a while to warm up to it but once I did I loved it.
Final Verdict: This book was a pleasant surprise. Four out of five stars. ✪✪✪✪