An often intriguing but somewhat directionless tale about aging and art.

LAUGHING DOLPHINS

A NOVEL OF COINCIDENCE

Two art school lovers go their separate ways to lead divergent—and convergent—creative lives in this literary novel.

Sandy Shellborn and Jeff Sanders meet at an art school in Boston in 1980. Sandy is a punk woman who turns heads for her bold fashion choices, but she has her doubts as to whether or not she will ever be a real artist. Jeff is a visionary who doesn’t follow the rules, his confidence in his own abilities never wavering. After a final, dispiriting evaluation, Sandy decides to walk away from art and pursue a graduate degree in library sciences. Her relationship with Jeff doesn’t last long following this decision. As Sandy tolerates a sensible career with a more sensible man, Jeff dives into the art world—which turns out to not always be quite as romantic or dignified as he imagined. (One early experience involves playing roadie on his much older girlfriend’s artist tour selling “Yoni Chalices.”) Over the next quarter of a century, Sandy and Jeff lead parallel lives, skipping between jobs and relationships, always in the same places and often around the same people. As they drift perpetually toward and away from art in its many forms, their mirrored paths prove that life is long, strange, and completely impossible to predict. Polo’s prose is smooth and descriptive, keeping readers grounded despite the novel’s nomadic drift between geographic settings: “A salty Virgin Island breeze played over his face and ruffled his pony tail as Jeff leaned against the rail of the magnificent sailing ship Mandalay and looked back at the coast of Virgin Gorda. The luminescent Caribbean Sea, full moon, and tropic isle looked exactly like the ad for this Windjammer Singles Cruise.” The concept is a fun one, and it will be rewarding for readers to see how the two protagonists grow over the course of the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s. While the chapters are generally compelling on their own, the book lacks a central tension or conflict that will pull readers forward. It won’t be long before the audience will begin to wonder what exactly it’s all building toward, and the answer—when it finally comes—doesn’t quite justify the journey.

An often intriguing but somewhat directionless tale about aging and art.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73466-225-2

Page Count: 321

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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