The author acknowledges that “This project was supported with a fellowship from Harvard University’s Houghton Library on the occasion of their 75th Anniversary.” Given that relationship, it is not surprising that the library is the star of this work, and that at least some of the story is devoted to touting its resources, particularly its collections.
Setting the story in a real location known intimately by the author always runs the risk of apartment-syndrome, i.e., that the story world will come across as a high-fidelity simulation of the location, but will lack narrative force. There is a little of that here, but there is a story grafted onto this framework.
[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]
In that story, a researcher, Jon, and his teenage daughter, Gina, pay a visit to the library. Jon gets right to his research about Transcendentalists of 19th Century New England, and we are either treated (or subjected — depending on your view on Nathaniel Hawthorne and related experiences of psychological trauma in formative years) to quotations from literature of the era.
With her dad’s nose buried deep in a book, Gina wanders a bit, and this separation provides a convenient excuse for chapters in the rest of the story to alternate between an A-Story (Jon) and B-Story (Gina). The plot device that enables all this: the titular book moss. Jon touches a bit of it and is whisked away to the past and ends up at the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts. Some might find the instantaneous blinking across time and space traumatic, but Jon is a dedicated academician who sees no reason not to take advantage of the situation and explore a bit.
Unfortunately, for the next few chapters dedicated to Jon, that’s all the does. For Jon’s perspective, it’s fascinating; for most readers, probably less so. These chapters seem to be limited either by time or more probably by number of clicks, so Jon could just pass his time oscillating back and forth between two rooms.
Gina wanders around the library a little and makes the acquaintance of Carla and Jeff, who are [wonder] twins on the library staff. Jeff turns out to be kind of an asshole, and admits to planting some book moss for Jon to find, and seeing that he would not have any to return. Gina’s reaction is kind of flat, considering.
Eventually, Gina makes it to the Old Manse and rescues her dad.
Is that really what happened, though? At one point in the story, Gina comes across an exhibition on mind-altering drugs (– one that is currently on display at the Houghton Library in real life) and picks up a piece of paper. LSD is often distributed on paper because it is transdermally absorbed. Could this entire story be a bad trip? Is the author implying that people come to this library to get books in the same way that people go to Amsterdam for coffee?
Preliminary Score: 6.6