Second Hand: A Novel

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9780393047974: Second Hand: A Novel

Richard, the owner of a secondhand store ("Satori Junk") just outside Detroit, finds his life changing all at once when his mother dies and he rummages in her basement for good junk. He meets Theresa, a thrift-attired junk goddess who shares his feelings for castaways, and he falls for her―hard.

At last, the novel for everyone who has ever loved something secondhand―the High Fidelity of garage sales, the On the Road of thrift shopping, The Moviegoer of the flea market. Richard owns a secondhand store ("Satori Junk") just outside Detroit. He's the kind of guy for whom not much happens, until it happens all at once: His mother dies. He rummages his parents' basement for good junk and finds (alongside "every purse my mother has ever owned since the Fifties") a box of photos that changes his view of everything. He falls apart over his mother's notes on his favorite meal in an old cookbook. He meets Theresa, a fellow hipster, a thrift-attired junk goddess who shares his feeling for castaways, and he falls for her―hard. Along the way he acquires some junk wisdom about love and loss. Richard's inimitable, hilarious, philosophical, self-deprecating, yearning voice, and his sharp and loving eye for common foibles and unexpected virtues make for a comic novel crammed full of surprise and pleasure. Second Hand is peppered with insight as unpretentious and satisfying as the unexpected garage sale find. Junk, Richard tells us, "has taught me that to find new use for an object discarded is an act of glistening purity. I have learned that a camera case makes a damn fine purse or that 40 copies of 'Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass's Whipped Cream and Other Delights' may be used to cover a wall of a bedroom. . . . Junk has taught me that all will come to junk eventually, and much sooner than you think."

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Review:

"In the junk business, we collect the ugly with the beautiful, the bizarre with the elegant, the valuable with the worthless, sometimes forgetting which is which, or intentionally inverting them."

The speaker is Richard, a.k.a. "Junk," the proprietor of Satori Junk in Detroit, Michigan, and also the protagonist of Michael Zadoorian's terrific first novel, Second Hand. As the novel opens, Richard is facing a crisis in his life: his mother is dying of cancer and he and his sister are already disagreeing about how to handle the estate. When mom finally passes on, brother and sister begin a tug of war over her belongings that's as much about philosophy as it is about taste:

"Richard dear," Linda says, in her mock-sincere voice, touching my hand, not in a warm way, but a way calculated to make me feel some sibling obligation, "I don't really care if things get a good home. I would just like to be done with all this. I'd like to get rid of this stuff, sell the house and get on with my life."
Richard, on the other hand, does care, and begins a careful excavation of the "junk" his parents left behind. At the same time, he meets Theresa, an eccentric young woman with a horrific job: putting animals to sleep at the local humane society. Though the theme of unwanted animals as junk isn't exactly subtle, Zadoorian doesn't belabor the point, choosing instead to focus on the terrible toll that Theresa's work takes on her personal life.

As Richard and Theresa's relationship becomes both more intimate and more complicated, each takes refuge in private obsessions. For Richard, it is the history of his parents' marriage as revealed by the things they left behind; for Theresa, it is the Mexican Day of the Dead, whose promise of forgiveness alternately tempts and torments her. There's breaking up, making up, and a little philosophizing in between as these two junkyard lovers navigate the rocky road to romance, but Zadoorian does a terrific job of seamlessly weaving all the disparate threads into his narrative. By turns comic and wrenching, Second Hand builds incrementally to an emotional wallop that is as unexpected as it is effective. As Richard and Theresa finally realize their own true value in each others' eyes, Richard remarks, "our lives are lived in these moments, certain seconds here and there, snapshots only we can see and remember, in the way only we can remember them. They are the bric-a-brac of our lives." In the end, junk proves the perfect medium for Zadoorian to explore his characters' emotional lives. --Alix Wilber

From the Inside Flap:

Richard sees treasure everywhere. In that old eight-track quadraphonic stereo, that pink granite bowling ball, or a Niagara Falls napkin holder. While most people scramble for the newest and the best, Richard searches for the odd and obsolete -- and sells it at his second-hand shop on the edge of Detroit.

Why does he do it? For Richard, junk is a way of life, a calling, and a passion. Until his comfortable second-hand life gets a first-hand jolt.

Richard's mother has died, and left behind a valuable house full of packed-away junk -- including some old photos that will change everything Richard thought about his parents. And then there's the hip, thrift-attired woman who comes into his store with more than junk on her mind.... Suddenly some very unexpected things are entering Richard's life, including some surprising revelations about love and loss -- and what's really important in life.

With an unerring blend of the comic and the poignant, Michael Zadoorian has written an unforgettable novel about knick-knacks, garage sales, romance, and the bonds we form with people and things -- the perfect story for anyone who has ever loved something second hand.

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