Book Review: Romance and Petty Theft in Community Klepto

Author Kelly I. Hitchcock steals your heart away

If you've never stolen anything before, you may be under the misconception that stealing is hard – if not to do, per se, then to get away with. We operate within a social panopticon, more so now (in the age of surveillance capitalism) than perhaps at any other point in human history. Whether organic or electronic, eyes and ears are everywhere, and if the average true-crime documentary is to be believed, we humans are little more than fleshy piles of soon-to-be-shed DNA evidence. And for the final nail in the coffin, our species is fundamentally empathetic, even if daily headlines sometimes suggest otherwise; generally speaking, we don't actually like knowing our actions have caused harm. Despite ourselves, we nevertheless feel a thread of connection.

For Ann Josephson, the protagonist of Kelly I. Hitchcock's Community Klepto, stealing is a hell of a lot easier than tugging that thread.

First, a confession: I had a bit of a shoplifting habit back in high school. Nothing serious – I never got in trouble with the cops or even a store manager, and the most expensive item I ever took was a $40 fedora (don't @ me) from Fred Meyer – but it was a pretty steady habit for several years before I grew out of it, so in some ways I was predestined to find Ann highly relatable. Thankfully for those without a juicy criminal past, Ann's complicated, self-effacing inner world provides multiple paths of entry. At 25, she's a chronic shut-in, a socially anxious millennial gym rat making ends meet through the combination of sporadic freelance gigs and her parents' good will. It may not be a flattering portrait, but readers will be hard-pressed not to find a piece of themselves within it.

A hypercritical but ever-distant observer of others, Ann's self-doubt colors her view of everything around her, bleeding over onto everyone who crosses her path. It's a catch-22 that even Ann recognizes: "Of course, it's hard for me to have faith in the innate morality of anyone else when I'm the one who's watching them leave their crap unprotected so I can take it home with me. Anyone could just walk up and take it, but I actually do." Categorized by her therapist as a "context-specific compulsive kleptomaniac," Ann's thieving is the whole of her connection to the world around her, a coping mechanism to fill the void where friends, family, and relationships should be. The items she collects in "Room 403" (a coy name for the space she fills with stolen goods) are personal, a way to manufacture intimacy between herself and the strangers with whom she shares space at the local community center gym. Real intimacy – knowing others and letting them get to know her – remains elusive, and Ann isn't sure she wants it anyway. What have other people ever done for her, after all, besides leave their gym equipment strewn about the gym's stretching area?

And then she meets Joe.

Part rom-com, part psychological profile, part redemption tale, Community Klepto is a swift read, but don't let its digestibility fool you. Ann's world is one you can chew on again and again without losing its flavor; if anything, repeat tastings – like a fine wine or one of Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers – reveal brand-new flavors to savor. The cherry on top of it all? Ann's judgmental inner monologue is absolutely hilarious. If you're in search of laughs, heart, and an honest look at the nonlinear path to self-improvement, pick this one up next time you're at BookPeople.

Just make sure to pay for it.

Community Klepto by Kelly I. Hitchcock, She Writes Press, 240 pp., $16.95 (paper)

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Community Klepto, Kelly I. Hitchcock, She Writes Press

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