Several plot lines are pursued simultaneously in The Book That Matters Most. There
is the newly single life of Ava, a college professor of French, whose
husband left her for another woman. There is the troubled existence in
France of her daughter Maggie, who is applying herself to drugs and men
instead of to her college studies. There is the book club that Ava
joins to reconnect with people and rediscover a love of reading.
In this multiple-stories novel, the title has more than one significance. At first it refers to the book club’s theme for the next year’s readings: each member is to pick the book that mattered most in his or her life. We gradually learn why Ada’s choice of an obscure, out-of-print book about a lost child and a grieving mother mattered to her. Finally, as she tries to locate the author, Ada’s choice provides the linchpin that weaves together the strands of The Book That Matters Most.
Ann Hood largely succeeds in this ambitious novel, which is a hard-to-put-down and even suspenseful read. Nevertheless, there are weaknesses. The ending is pat and improbable. The perfunctory book club discussions are stilted. Ava’s unfamiliarity with the opening sentences of famous classics is hard to believe about a college professor and daughter of a bookstore owner.
Those who pick up this book thinking they’ll find new titles for their reading list should know that everyone’s choice except Ada’s is a well-known classic. Nowadays book clubs are a popular trope on which to hang a plot, but Hood might have found a different tack and still made a point about the importance of literature.
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