I’m a big fan of quirky books, the kind that look at the world with a slightly askew viewpoint and present oddball characters in somewhat bizarre plots. Sure, there’s a time and place for books that promise something and deliver exactly that thing, but I have a soft spot for books that surprise me, especially if they’re written with a lot of charm and feature characters you want to shake but also want to see succeed. Such a book is The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, by Colleen Oakley.
At the heart of the book are two people, Piper Parrish and Anders Caldwell. Piper is a resident of the small, isolated Frick Island, where the population is declining and the main industry, crab fishing, is declining even faster. She’s happily married to Tom, a reluctant waterman who’s following in his father’s footsteps, and is a beloved character in a community with lots of odd characters. Then one day her husband’s boat capsizes in a storm, and his body isn’t found. The people of the island know what that means, but Piper refuses to accept that her husband is dead. Instead, she returns to her job at the local inn and speaks of her husband as if he were there beside her, or going out on his boat, or meeting her for dinner. And the people of the town, after an initial period of surprise, go along with her, greeting Tom as if they saw him and referring to him as if he were alive.
Enter Anders, an endearing character who has spent his young life wanting to be a great reporter. How can you not love someone whose hero is Clark Kent, not because Kent can turn into Superman, but because he’s such a great reporter? Anders had hoped for a more brilliant career than the one he’s currently stuck in; he thought he would be writing for The New York Times by now instead of writing articles on local events for a small town newspaper. True, he did start a podcast, but there are few people listening to it and the only one who regularly comments on it is his stepfather. Not exactly the kind of success he’s been dreaming of.
He’s sent to remote Frick Island to report on their Cake Walk fundraiser, but he finds out about Piper and her invisible husband, and his curiosity is roused. He starts talking about the situation on his podcast, and, to his surprise, he starts getting more subscribers, and the numbers increase as he investigates and reports more about what he sees as the crazy situation there.
You have an idea of where this is going, and you’re partly right. He’s keeping his podcast a secret from the people of the island (an easy thing to do when there’s virtually no computers and no wifi), and sooner or later Piper is going to find out about it and hear it, and she is not going to be happy, especially since she and Anders have been growing closer to each other as he spends more time on the island.
But that’s not the whole story, and along the way there are all sorts of interesting questions raised. Why is everybody acting as if Tom is still alive? Who is the mysterious person Piper is meeting and talking to? Why did someone suggest that Tom’s death wasn’t an accident? Who sent Anders the email that alerted him to what was really going on with the island? Who burned Tom’s boat after his death? What is all that stuff in Lady Judy’s attic and what is she doing with it? What was actually going on between Tom and Piper the night before his disappearance?
You root for these characters, all of them. You want to see the island preserved from the ravages of climate change. You want to see a happy ever after for Anders and Piper (come on, you know that’s where this story is going). You want a resolution to the issue of Tom’s death and Piper’s realization of his death.
What you get is a satisfying ending that brings everything together, and a memorable, funny, quirky book that’s an entertaining read all around.