Beneath the tranquil developments of Joanna Rose’s coming-of-adulthood novel A Small Crowd of Strangers lie dire possibilities, but also the hope of meeting one’s authentic self.
Now thirty and absent a sense of definitive direction, New Jersey librarian Pattianne becomes a collector and cataloger of impressions and possibilities. She delights in Mozart, the bubblegum pink of a stranger’s lips, the clink of ice in a glass, a bartender’s long body, and the freedom that a twenty-eight-hour work week affords her.
Then Pattianne meets beautiful, Catholic Michael. Though, following a mention of Easter Mass, “a warning tried to sneak into her brain,” she lets herself be carried away: by the warmth of their nesting, by the glitter of a garnet, by whispers of continuing family traditions. Soon, Michael and Pattianne are married and on their way to Minnesota.
In St. Cloud, Pattianne keeps collecting delights: hoar frost, Michael’s mismatched vintage plates, the yellow flash of a bird, and a quiet job in a New Age bookstore. But Pattianne doesn’t love that she has to hide her birth control from Michael, or that he’s joined a prayer group that stages protests outside of Planned Parenthood. Unfeeling religion threatens her nascent happiness.
When Pattianne’s thoughtless comments to two believers result in a lost job and a death, both for acquaintances whom she’s come to love, she takes the only option left: she runs. She goes all the way to Vancouver, following the promise of a silver tide, and with an aging hound, Bullfrog, at her side. There, she finally begins the brutal work of determining who she’d like to become.
A Small Crowd of Strangers is a lovely story about a young woman whose unchecked yearning leads her somewhere true—even if she takes the long path in getting there.
Michelle Anne Schingler
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the author for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.