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No Two Persons


No Two Persons

Erica Bauermeister, the New York Times bestselling author of THE SCENT KEEPER, toys with structure and invention in NO TWO PERSONS, a soaring, sweeping celebration of life, literature and the lives changed by a single book.

After five years and clicking Save for the 40,458th time, Alice Wein’s debut novel is finally complete. A reader and inventor of worlds practically since birth, Alice knows that she has it --- the book that will help her realize a dream come true. But the publishing industry is finicky, and now she needs to do something even more impossible: find someone to say yes to her, to her novel, Theo, and to letting her relinquish the control she has wielded over her book and life for so long. Lucky for her --- and the reader --- she finally finds just that. But this is only part of her story, and her opening chapters are not so happy.

"This is a book lover’s book --- a celebratory and sensitive meditation on books, stories and readers --- and I doubt that anyone will turn the final page with a dry eye."

As a child, Alice was often ignored, her controlling father and quiet mother choosing instead to focus on launching a successful swimming career for her brother, Peter. The children love one another, but with no strong models for what open, caring, compassionate love should look like, they are unable to support one another through their father’s abuse, their loneliness and the refuge they each seek in books. When Peter drops out of college just before his graduation, leaving without a word and traveling the world by himself, 14-year-old Alice feels more alone than ever. But she also has a goal: to become the magician behind the marvel and wonder of a book.

When Alice is able to secure a scholarship to a liberal arts college in Maine, she immediately enrolls in a writing class and meets an influential teacher who tells her that her talent is undeniable. However, her books will never work if she does not let someone --- the reader, a friend, a lover, anyone --- into her mind. He will teach her the rest, but this is a lesson that will take place outside of the classroom. Unfortunately for Alice, tragedy strikes, and her ability to write is lost to her. That changes one day while she is swimming laps in the pool. A boy comes to her, as fully formed as a real person but without a real story until she is able to write one. Theo, as he comes to be called, challenges her, inspires her and consumes her. But he also becomes her dream: a novel simply titled Theo.

Meanwhile, in New York, a beleaguered new mother named Lara reads manuscripts from her agency’s “slush pile” in between soothing her crying baby and trying to remember what it feels like to be a person again. She loves her work and has been told that she has a real eye for discovering talent. But with her maternity leave and parental accommodations taking her away from the office, her boss, a world-famous agent, has informed her --- between the lines, of course --- that she had better use these accommodations to find the one or get packing. Exhausted, burned out and terrified that she will lose herself to motherhood, she settles in to read Theo and is blown away by its grief-filled prose, its quiet yearning and the way it makes her feel seen for the first time in a while. She finally has found it.

As Theo gets published, Erica Bauermeister introduces us to eight other people, each of whom finds the book at exactly the right moment in their lives. Close to losing the only thing he has ever truly loved, actor Rowan discovers the book when he takes a new job as an audiobook narrator. As a person who literally has made a living perfecting the art of voice, he finds that this voice of Theo --- the book and the character --- is so striking and singular that it will take looking into his own dreams and ambitions to do it justice.

We then meet Miranda, a struggling artist who has spent years dodging well-meaning but overbearing suggestions from her mother; Tyler, a diver whose refuge under the waves has been taken from him following a medical crisis; Nola, a “hidden homeless” teenager whose spot at an elite school has not protected her from poverty; Kit, a bookseller whose new relationship is at a crossroads between precision and beautiful complications; William, a widower taking up a new position; Juliet, an intimacy coordinator in the film industry; and Madeline, the famed agent who first made Theo a reality.

Employing the novel’s unique structure, Bauermeister chronicles the life of the book and the effects it has on both the readers and its creator. As these vastly different and newly changed characters find their lives winding together in the most unexpected ways, NO TWO PERSONS becomes less about Theo and more about the sweeping, perspective-altering changes that a book can have on those who read it, if only they will let it.

This is a book lover’s book --- a celebratory and sensitive meditation on books, stories and readers --- and I doubt that anyone will turn the final page with a dry eye. More of a series of linked stories than a singular narrative, it moves quickly, but not without serious emotional weight and complexity or Bauermeister’s exquisite observations of the magic of literature. In an early chapter, Alice’s writing teacher tells her, “The trick for a writer is to take those eternal questions, those known bits and pieces, and put them together in a way that helps us see our world in a different light.” This is precisely what Bauermeister has done, and her reverence for and love of the written word will make a fan of any reader.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 12, 2023

No Two Persons
by Erica Bauermeister

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250284376
  • ISBN-13: 9781250284372