Keith Miller,
The Book of Flying
(Riverhead, 2004)

The Book of Flying is the unexpectedly lovely tale of Pico -- a mild-mannered and gentle-souled librarian and poet in a city by the sea where no one reads -- who dared to love a girl who could fly. But when her attentions drift away from her landbound suitor, Pico vows to close up his library and quest for the mysterious destination far, far away where he, too, can earn his wings and fly.

This is a quest novel and lyrical fable that is pungent with the scent of old books. Miller's writing is timeless, and his story has lessons buried deep inside. There are stories within stories within stories here, each with nuggets of wisdom and hidden verse.

On his journey, Pico will have many adventures, some of them dire, some tender and some just a little heart-breaking. Pico is no intentional hero, although he is kind and honest and bold in his way. He will love a lady bandit, befriend the minotaur who guards a bridge he must cross, spend time with a scholarly rabbit and face himself in a towering castle that is the domain of a fierce, artistic cannibal.

At many turns Pico faces opportunities for great happiness -- and sacrifices them for another fleeting chance at his goal. Still, his devotion to his goal waxes and wanes, and readers may find their own interest waning at times.

But Pico's story is an absorbing one, and it is a journey worth taking -- right through to the unexpected end. The Book of Flying is a beautiful debut novel from Miller, who is hopefully hard at work on his next.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 27 August 2005

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