Elizabeth McCracken's The Hero of This Book is slight. A travel-sized 177 pages. Small enough to fit in a large pocket. But it is by no means a quick read. It's better strolled through than read. Just as McCracken herself flâneuses through London in this genre-shirking novel, the reader will not want to have anywhere specific to be. The next page will still be there, will wait for you. No rush.
McCracken writes with such honed acuity that there will be places to stop and lose oneself on every page. Roses of prose to stop and sniff, so to tritely speak. Whether these are stunningly and truthfully put recollections of her mother--the hero of the book--or brilliant sparks shot out from whatever random axe she happens to be grinding, there's hardly anything to skip over or rush through.
Beyond the small curiosities and revelations, there's also the larger question of the book to stop and gaze up at, like a central city monument by which to orient oneself. What is this book? What does it capture about its hero, McCraken's mother, and what does it capture about McCraken herself? What's the accumulation of all these perfect, cutting details?
"I've always hated the notion," she writes, "in life or in fiction, that the human personality is a puzzle to be solved, that we are a single flashback away from understanding why this person is cruel to her children, why that man on the bus has a dreamy, downcast look. A human being is not a lock, and the past is not a key."