Libraries are seen as havens, full of community resources, endless stacks of books and peace and quiet, with librarians as the keepers of the flame. However, Laura Sims’ How Can I Help You defies this image, especially the “peace and quiet” part, as a disgraced nurse and an aspiring novelist go head-to-head in the small-town library where they both work.
Margo relishes her job as a librarian in Carlyle, Indiana, especially the opportunity to help others—even if that means keeping a close eye on “Friday guy,” a patron who uses the library internet to watch porn. It’s a far cry from Margo’s former career under her real name: As a nurse, Margo’s unrelenting love and attention left several patients dead and forced her to go on the run. When Chicago transplant Patricia begins her tenure as reference librarian, she finds her discarded creative writing dreams reignited, with Margo as an unaware muse. But after Margo comes across Patricia’s novel-in-progress, the two women face a reckoning like no other.
An award-winning poet and novelist, Sims also works as a reference librarian, and she adds vivid color to this thriller by detailing the ins and outs of the profession, from tedious calls from patrons wanting to know when their favorite show is on TV to the librarians’ breathless appreciation of classically spooky authors like Shirley Jackson. Sims skillfully alternates between the perspectives of Margo, whose rose-hued memories of nursing slowly but surely grow dark, and Patricia, whose self-flagellation for “failing” as a novelist gives way to relentless, and risky, ambition. How Can I Help You perfectly blends suspense and satire and will inspire any library patron to look over their shoulder the next time they check out.