Once upon a disposable camera

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Charlotte Street," by Danny Wallace. William Morrow, 408 pp. $14.99

Jason Priestley -- definitely not the actor from the original "90210" -- is perfectly fine with his life. He lives above a video game store, run by his flatmate, Dev, and he writes appeasing reviews for a free newspaper more often picked up than actually read.

He is comfortable in his mundane existence.

That is, until he looks at his ex-girlfriend's Facebook status: "Sarah is ... having the time of her life," changed quickly to "Sarah is ... engaged."

Looking at his own Facebook status, updated no less than a week ago, "Jason Priestley is ... eating some soup."

Not long before, Jason saw a woman, heavily laden with packages, unsuccessfully trying to get into a cab without dropping anything. When he helps her, she looks up at him and gives him a smile that makes him feel "all manly and confident, like a handyman who knows just which nail to buy." Only when the cab begins to drive away does he notice she's left a small disposable camera in his hand.

This disposable camera is the driving force of Danny Wallace's latest novel, "Charlotte Street." Jason will stop at nothing to find this girl back, to see that smile again. And the digital camera she leaves behind is his source for the clues he hopes will lead her back to him.

In the process, Jason and Dev embark on a wild adventure, searching for meaning in the photos. They travel to the town of Whitby, to see an abbey hidden in the background of one of the photos. He meets Damien Anders Laskin, a powerful man in PR who invites Jason to parties he only dreamed of attending.

But, the disposable camera also holds a powerful symbolic meaning in the novel, and in Jason's journey. Unlike the now-popular digital cameras, which can capture every moment to be filtered through later, a disposable camera only has 12 frames. Twelve moments to savor. This means two things: a moment has to be chosen carefully, and a moment has to mean something.

"Charlotte Street" is a joy to read. At first, the style and initial plot may seem simple, better suited for an afternoon by the fire or a poolside. But, the further you read, the more you understand the nuances behind the story that make Wallace such a powerful author.

Danny Wallace is also the author of "Friends Like These," "Join Me," and "Yes Man," which was made into the movie starring Jim Carrey.

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