The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
The title of Phaedra Patrick’s debut novel tells the story. In THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER, a 69-year-old widower uses the first anniversary of his wife’s death to start clearing out her wardrobe. He has been dreading this day, but the steadiness of his monotonous life pushes him to start putting things in order and, sadly, to say good-bye to her again. The task begins in a straightforward way, but then he discovers an elegant charm bracelet in a heart-shaped box deep in the toe of one of her sensible, fur-lined brown suede boots. He has never seen it before.
"The satisfaction in reading THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER comes at two levels. The first is the universal fun of imagining that Arthur’s good-humored, rewarding adventure is something we all could do. The second is more introspective as he develops into a wiser, more compassionate man."
Thus a sweet adventure begins. Arthur likes the elephant charm best, and while examining the emerald mounted inside the tiny howdah, he sees engraved letters and numbers: “Ayah. 0091 832 221 897.” Becoming an Arthur he did not know was living inside him, he dials the number. A polite woman with a slight Indian accent answers, and thus begins the first connection to Miriam Kempster, who had become his wife over 40 years ago. After she left home as a rebellious teenager, Miriam lived in Goa, an Indian state on the Arabian Sea, where she had been a loving and influential nursemaid to Rajesh Mehra and two sisters. For the first time in his life, Arthur doesn’t mind the cost of a phone call to another continent, and he listens while Mehra tells him about the Miriam he knew.
Arthur’s success in identifying the origin of the elephant charm leads him to wonder if he could do the same with the rest of the bracelet. He also wonders just how much more there was to Miriam’s life that he did not know. It was not simply that she had lived an exotic, passionate, dangerous life before she met him; it was that his Miriam had been methodical, careful and seemingly very content. Quite a change.
Was Miriam really happy with him? Why had she never shown him the bracelet and explained each exquisite charm? And, really, what could he learn now that would matter?
A John Hartford song with the lyrics “I would not be here if I hadn’t been there” lists events that lead to other events that lead to other events chronicling life’s foibles and how Fate moves us along in the world. In some nice parallel sense, the Fates and a huge, delightful cast of supporting characters move Arthur along as he tracks each piece of the jewelry. He goes to Paris for the first time, poses nude for an art class, and gives scathing counsel to a two-timing fellow who wants to get married. He faces danger and passion, and alternately revels in and is wounded by the discoveries.
On the first day when Mehra asks if Miriam had a happy life, Arthur pauses and says he thinks she did. He explains it was a quiet life. He is sad and unsure what he will do next. Months later, after Arthur has solved each mystery of the bracelet, his reply to Mehra changes.
The satisfaction in reading THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER comes at two levels. The first is the universal fun of imagining that Arthur’s good-humored, rewarding adventure is something we all could do. The second is more introspective as he develops into a wiser, more compassionate man. Oh, and the slowly uncovered curious charms of Arthur himself complete the title’s play on words.
Audiobook available, performed by James Langton
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on May 13, 2016
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
- Publication Date: January 31, 2017
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Mira
- ISBN-10: 0778319806
- ISBN-13: 9780778319801