In early 2020, author appearances at bookstores underwent a radical change. Like family reunions, these turned from warm gatherings of people and became a next-best-thing affair with online discussion. The author had their place, with a publicist setting up cameras and other tech. The readership/audience was in their place, hoping they had correctly configured their apps and got all the link addresses correct.
And at some point we must have all been wondering whether, and when, the twain shall meet again. It’s now starting to happen — but with changes wrought from the experiences, good and bad, of the last year-plus. On May 24 at 7 p.m., Carmichael’s is hosting an event that isn’t branded with the label “virtual.”
As Susan Norton of Carmichael’s described to LEO in email, “we are currently limiting attendance to under 50. Masks over nose and mouth, and social distancing are required, and our folding chairs can be easily arranged to welcome family groups and pods according to guests’ personal preferences.
“Guests, both virtual and in-person, will be required to register/RSVP: links are provided in the shows’ individual listings on our website.” Those who are non-virtual will be the first to make use of a new event space just built at the Carmichael’s location at 2720 Frankfort Ave.
So what’s the occasion to inaugurate this new “live/virtual hybrid?” It’s the premier of the debut novel by one of the store’s own booksellers. Brooke Lauren Davis’ “The Hollow Inside” (Bloomsbury; 352 pgs.; $17.99) is a very twisty psychological thriller about the bonds within families and across communities. It also has a gripping breadth of concern for how those bonds can be made or broken by individuals’ needs to have their promises kept and to have their truth heard.
The pair of characters we come to know as Mom and Phoenix will stay with you. The teenage Phoenix is our guide through most of the chapters — though author Davis puts structural variety into how readers experience the point of view, bringing extra richness to her characterization and to plot backstory.
Phoenix recognizes an emptiness that has become a part of her recent years getting by as a vagabond. She’s also sharp enough to see when other people go through the motions of their own hollowed-out lives. But when Mom drops Phoenix off in a particular rural Ohio town, there’s a mission to be accomplished. It has to do with this town’s prominent citizens. They might have their own hollowness and needs and pain — but what they do with it brings nothing but grief. As Davis puts it, they “…look so much like everybody else, but there’s something vital missing, deep down. Something that’s supposed to tell them that the rest of us weren’t put on this earth to be their collateral damage.”
There’s accomplished writing here, and it does well to support a very full plot. Surprises are served up generously — sudden, with friction and the potential for violence. Yet Davis maintains solid grounding to the domestic relationships that bring focus to a world of relatable hopes and strains as well as shocks. It all adds up to a successful page-turner that leaves the willing reader with more to consider at book’s end. Here’s hoping that author, bookstore and live and virtual audience are likewise ready to consider more — as Carmichael’s delivers an event with safety precautions and other options that build on recent necessities while pointing to enjoyable future innovations.
More information on the event is available at carmichaelsbookstore.com.