Extended Review: How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky By Lydia Netzer

The cover of How to Tell Toledo From the Night SkyWhen Lydia Netzer's first book, Shine, Shine, Shine, was released, it was amazing, and quirky ... and it was at the forefront of a small recent trend of quirky, socially impaired characters.

I wasn't sure how well it would be received. It was smart — so smart it involved complicated equations as love notes — and super-quirky, and I wasn't sure of its mass market appeal in an industry that sometimes seems dominated with "more of the same." 

Seeing how well that book did was great, but Netzer's sophomore effort (if we don't count June's novella "Everybody's Baby"), How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, is astounding. Netzer manages to take a blend of magical realism, the quirk factor of her previous novel, and her own unique voice to create a novel that stands out from the crowd being created by authors like Matthew Quick and Graeme Simsion.

What makes this book different is the pathos Netzer imbues in her characters. Rather than using the obvious social issues of the characters as a gimmick, she creates full, well-rounded people who feel entirely real — and entirely likely that you'd know them in real life. George's inability to understand what's happening to his mind is both fantastic as well as all too familiar to anyone who's dealt with brain injuries and/or mental health issues, and Irene's inflexibility in her approach to life is so infuriating because everyone knows someone who's probably exactly like her.

This is the kind of book you have to read in small doses, basking in the luxury of Netzer's words and feeling the pain of the characters in such a visceral way you feel part of the book. While it's not something I'd call beach reading, this is the can't-miss book of the summer.

Have you read Netzer's latest? What do you think? How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky is available now, digitally and in print. For more mainstream fiction visit our Everything Mainstream page.