WILTON – Sharon Sobel has heard the line for years: “You should write a book about this place.”
The romance writer and professor of writing and literature at Norwalk Community College had already published seven novels by the time she finally heeded the call to immortalize the Turnover Shop in Wilton, a thrift store founded 65 years ago to serve the health and educational needs of the community.
Her latest novel, “Thrifty Means” is loosely based on the non-profit shop where she has volunteered for the last 20 years and where she currently serves as president.
The idea for the plot was inspired by a Turnover Shop customer who commented on some antiques in the store, acquired from the estate of a Wilton resident who had recently died. “He said, ‘When somebody dies, the shop could do very well,’” Sobel recalls. “I thought, What if there were somebody concerned with the success of the shop, and was feeling some pressure to stock it with salable items, and thought it a good idea to kill off people in town to get their stuff?”
Set in the fictional Eastfield, Conn., “Thrifty Means” is a romance novel at its core, with “little murders” serving a secondary role to the relationship that develops between the two protagonists. The book is unusual for two reasons: the main characters are 40, “which, by romance standards, is a little old,” says Sobel, who serves on the national board of the Romance Writers of America. It is also the author’s first contemporary novel, rather than her trademark Regency period.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Sobel holds a PhD in English and American literature from Brandeis University, where she specialized in the Victorian novel. After completing her doctoral thesis, she moved with her husband and three small children to Newton, Mass. In 1985, the family moved to Wilton and Sobel began teaching at the University of Bridgeport. When the school began to fail in 1990, Sobel decided to stay home with her children and try her hand at getting published. Of all fiction genres, she knew that the romance novel had a better chance at success; in fact, today, romance novels represent the single largest category of paperback sales.
At the same time, Sobel became involved in communal life –Jewishly and otherwise. Today, she sits on the board of UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk and is president of the Norwalk Hadassah. She also started volunteering at the Turnover Shop. While in Newton, she had been involved in the PTA of her children’s school. But because the Wilton school system organized the grades differently, her children would not be attending the same school, making it difficult to volunteer on behalf of all three. By volunteering at the shop and helping to raise money for the Wilton PTA, Sobel would be helping all the schools her children attended.
It was also a good place for a newcomer, she says. The family had already joined Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, and the shop afforded her the opportunity to meet people of different ages and religions.
Her first novel, “Family Portrait,” was published in 2002. When “Thrifty Means” came out last year, it was only fitting that the shop would host a book-signing event.
With nearly 150 dedicated volunteers, the non-profit shop sells donations and consignments, donating the proceeds to the Wilton PTA and to Nursing and Home Care, Inc. in Wilton. “Working at the store is a continual adventure,” Sobel says. “Something happens all the time. It’s a narrative in itself.” More than just a popular retail outlet, the shop is also a hangout, a “clearinghouse for town information,” she says, where people exchange news and gossip, and develop lasting friendships.
Beit Chaverim Sisterhood presents Sharon Sobel, author of “Thrifty Means” on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. at Beit Chaverim Synagogue, 85 Post Road East, Westport. Info: (203) 227-3333.