Meg Rhys is a textbook example of a “spinster librarian”. In her forties, she spends most of her time in the local history stacks of the Brooklyn Public Library, and the rest of the time living hermetically in her apartment with her dead sister’s cat and her dead sister’s ghost, staunchly resistant to any suggestions of change. Enter Ellis Williams, a charming library patron seeking assistance in figuring out whether his family’s home might have a ghost of its own. Meg quickly becomes consumed with Ellis and his quest, which forces her to confront the phantoms of her own life and the city she loves.
Unseen City is a beautifully written, philosophical exploration of grief, how people are shaped by the places they live, and how those places in turn bear the marks of generations past. The novel’s dual narrative--which switches between Meg’s story in present-day New York and that of Ellis’ family home in Civil War-era Brooklyn--is engrossing, and Shearn’s witty writing style makes you laugh in some unexpected places. But what really sets the book apart is how empathetically it depicts the lives (and afterlives) of New Yorkers past and present. Every character feels so real that by the time you finish reading, you, like Meg, might start believing that ghosts do exist all around us, just waiting for their own stories to be told.
-Sara, Reference Librarian