The Rogue Shop
Don’t you love it when you read something by an author you’ve never tried before and find yourself thinking, “This is really, really GOOD"?
When author Michael Knudsen asked if I’d be willing to review his debut novel, The Rogue Shop, I pulled out the cautious line I keep in reserve for such situations: I’d love to read it, but couldn’t promise to review it. If I liked it, I’d review it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t. In our wonderfully supportive LDS writing community, I don’t want to come across as rude or un-team-player-ish, but I have, in the past, found myself in the situation of having agreed to review a book I ended up disliking, and I don’t want to get myself into that situation again. When I’m not familiar with an author’s work, I’m careful about committing to anything, because I don’t want to either write a negative review or go back to the author later and say, um, about that review I promised you . . . It’s better for both of us if I’m up front about the fact that I might not review it. I told Mike I wouldn’t be offended if he preferred to send that review copy to a different blogger who’d definitely review it, but he kindly said he’d send me a book anyway. To my absolute delight, I ended up thoroughly enjoying The Rogue Shop. In fact, I liked it so much that the instant I finished it, I sprinted to www.whitneyawards.com and nominated it for a 2010 Whitney Award.
The Rogue Shop tells the story of twenty-year-old Chris Kerry. Chris was raised in Houston by his Baptist aunt. As a teenager, he hits a rough, alcohol-drenched patch in his life, but shaken by a traumatic event, he gets his life in order, and gets a scholarship to the University of Utah. His aunt is horrified at the thought of Chris’s moving to Utah—her anti-Mormon pastor has given her a very negative view of the Mormons, and she’s afraid they might lure Chris into their grasp. She makes Chris swear on the Bible that he won’t become a Mormon. Of course, as a reader, you can guess the odds that Chris will keep that promise, but Michael Knudsen handles the conversion aspect of the story brilliantly. It’s NOT cheesy. It develops naturally in a satisfying, believable way, with some surprises along the route that caught me off guard. I love it when an author throws in those “whoa, I didn’t see that coming” moments.
The book is written in first person, from Chris’s point of view. He has an engaging, fun voice. My one criticism of his characterization is that in the narration of the story (not in the dialog, but in Chris’s mental observations), he sometimes doesn’t sound to me like a twenty-year old kid who spent half of high school getting drunk. He sounds more master’s degree than I would have expected. But that didn’t impair my enjoyment of the story; Chris was an interesting and fun character whom readers will be quick to root for.
Chris—completely penniless after someone steals his wallet—finds a job at a tuxedo shop. The people at the shop are an interesting and eclectic group. I’m particularly fond of disabled Travis, who defends himself against his feelings of inferiority by flaunting his intelligence and speaking in a highbrow elegant diction. Eva Chandler, the aged seamstress in her little basement workshop has an intriguing past that gradually unfolds as Chris gets to know her. I loved Eva and how her character developed. And I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I enjoyed how her story wrapped up—that was a very satisfying conclusion for her.
The book includes a romantic angle, and this is the kind of romance I like—not the obsessive all-hormones infatuation-at-first-sight-because-she/he-is-so-gorgeous romance, but romance solidly based on friendship and mutual respect. In fact, when Chris first meets the woman he later falls in love with, he isn’t instantly blown away by her beauty—it isn’t until later when he’s gotten to know her and like her that he begins to realize, wow, she is really beautiful. Michael Knudsen is careful to avoid making things too pat, too easy, or too perfectly packaged, and the ending of the book is very satisfying.
Michael also skillfully weaves drama and humor together. It’s not often that I both laugh out loud and tear up when reading a book, but The Rogue Shop made me do both. The plotting is solid and satisfying and the writing is vivid. I predict that The Rogue Shop will be a fierce contender for a Whitney Award (and don’t forget—Whitney nominations are due by December 31st!).
P.S. The Rogue Shop is also available for Kindle.