Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors shed light on their recently released books by comparing them to weird things. This week Erika Swyler writes about The Book of Speculation, her debut novel just published by St. Martin’s Press.
If The Book of Speculation were a body part, it would be the back of the knee, a dark place you don’t try to pretty up, the spot that makes you bend. It lets the flashier parts of you do their thing. It’s got a male librarian, a working stiff—a real back-of-the-knee kind of guy—a body part someone admires but never mentions. This book is about resilience. The back of the knee doesn’t wrinkle.
If The Book of Speculation were a dog, it would be your aunt’s pug, the one who’s always lazing about, eating someone’s shoes and demanding a belly rub. Once you’ve left your aunt’s place that pug makes you think, “Maybe I’m a dog person. I’ve never been a dog person. I could be a dog person. I’m a dog person.” It’s a book with old people who are probably up to no good. If that’s not your aunt’s pug, I don’t know what is. It’s old and does not give a shit. Eventually you buy your aunt’s pug a bandana because it can’t be avoided. It’s a pug and it looks better with a bandana. There are fortunetellers with a lot of headscarves in this book. Your aunt’s pug likes a good headscarf.
If The Book of Speculation were a toy, it would be a Rubik’s Cube. At its heart it’s a mystery with ties and overlaps between past and present. It tempts people to line things up. There are a million ways to solve it, but it’s prettier when the colors don’t all match. It makes you want to peel off the stickers. It’s satisfying to get a row locked in. It looks beautiful on a shelf and it makes you nostalgic. It’s some jerk’s favorite toy. You might be that jerk. It’s that thing we all kind of know how to do but can’t quite get right most of the time. Except for that one jerk. But that’s fine—it’s better when it’s wrong. It’s a book about a curse. Everyone’s cursed at a Rubik’s Cube.
If The Book of Speculation were an embarrassing moment, it would be your mom hauling out baby pictures when you’ve brought home a date. It has death and sadness and the atrocities of childhood, so it’s that picture of you dressed up as a doctor, wearing plastic glasses and a stethoscope, and—for some reason—no pants. It’s your mom showing pantsless pictures of you to everyone. It’s all the awkward things you’ve ever done in front of a camera, lovingly remembered at an inconvenient moment. Because it’s a book about a family (250 years of one) and there are some twisted secrets in there. It’s your family being terrible in the very best way. It’s who you are—messy, falling down, and secretly happy to be miserable. The Book of Speculation is knowing that somewhere ahead lies a potty training picture, it’s awful, and you can’t wait for your date to see it.
Erika Swyler is a writer living in Long Island, NY. Her work has appeared in journals, anthologies, and most recently The New York Times. The Book of Speculation is her first novel. Find her on twitter at @ErikaSwyler, or at erikaswyler.com.