Little Bee

The Little Book

by Selden Edwards

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation, smart reviews for modern readers on Sirius XM Book Radio. The book is The Little Book by Selden Edwards.

As I read this matryoshka doll of a book, I was tempted to leave a trail of bread crumbs as I traveled back and forth in time between contemporary California and end of the empire Vienna. Now, time travel can be confusing but we’ve mostly all been able to follow it without killing our grandfathers and changing the future. The difference in The Little Book is that the author is not a devotee of science fiction and frankly doesn’t care about our beloved tropes. The important thing to him was seeing fin de siècle Vienna in all its decadent, intellectual, modernist glory — and looking in the shadows for the inevitable rising tide of anti-Semitism. (We can never go anywhere nice on vacation!)

It took Selden Edwards 30 years to write and re-write and re-write this book, and one thing it’s not is little. Not physically, it’s not a 10-pound doorstopper, but when you’re populating your city with real folks like Mahler and Freud, big ideas hopefully are bound to follow. Our main character is rock star/jock Wheeler Burden, who’s spent his life in the shadow of his war hero father and proto feminist rebel mother and one day wakes up in Vienna, and it’s 1897. As I said, the specifics of his journey are the least important thing in this book. Wheeler is used to attention and used to thinking on his feet, the only thing is, he can’t shut up — and that’s of course Job One of time travelers — don’t spill the beans. He tells anyone who’ll listen his whole story. And they in turn often don’t assume he’s nuts and instead return the favor, and so we meet the luminaries of the day as if at a cocktail party instead of a lecture hall. Job Two of time travelers is don’t fall in love, and REALLY don’t fall in love with a woman who looks even a tiny, slight bit familiar. Wheeler is not interested in those kinds of jobs, although maybe he should have been.

Of course the other thing, the unavoidable thing about Vienna, the thing you can’t help but know if you are seeing with the eyes of the 21st century, is that you know about that nice little boy who lives down the block, that Hitler kid. You (and Wheeler) know what comes next. And that’s the big question and the reason this book took 30 years to write — what do you do?

What would you do? That’s only one of the hard questions posed in this deceptively sweet and light book. There were some satisfying conclusions, and some things I just didn’t get. Good news, the author has promised to continue the story — and naturally it will take place before the events in this one — and I am hoping it won’t take another 30 years.

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