A mixed bag of gags and witticisms revealing the hollowness of both victory and defeat.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

IN WORDS AND CARTOONS

In this cartoon collection by the author of The Slings and Arrows of Mundane Fortune (2019), the concepts of winning and losing are unpacked, tongue firmly in cheek.

“Those who are admired—whether for their success, brilliance, beauty, talent, or charm—are winners,” writes Hartz in his introduction. He adds: “They are valued, their faults tolerated, and their kindness exaggerated.…By contrast, the nonwinners—the losers—struggle for appreciation and companionship, and their mistakes are viewed without sympathy.” So begins this collection of single-panel cartoons and aphorisms deconstructing what it means to be a winner—or the opposite—in modern American society. Businessmen, athletes, and Hollywood stars dot the pages, as do the insecure, the poor, the ostracized, and the vaguely disliked. (One caption reads, simply, “Losers know they’re losers but not why.”) Hartz focuses on the ways society motivates us to be winners or to perceive others as such. In one cartoon, two people regard a mansion and a sports car, with one saying to the other, “All my fame and fortune mean nothing unless my brother hates me for it.” In another, two statues of Michelangelo’s David stand side by side, one typically svelte and the other more realistically paunchy. The caption: “Sympathetic. Not Sympathetic.” In addition to cartoons, aphorisms appear throughout the book, some funny and some simply thoughtful. “Beauty and intelligence are considered essence, not ornament,” reads one. The cartoons—drawn by Jovic, Wolfe, and Ramos—are imbued with frolicsome energy. Appropriately, the entries aren’t all winners—some fail to elicit a laugh, and a few are just head-scratchers. The cartoons have a better success rate than the aphorisms, some of which feel bumper sticker–ready (“EQUATION: Status = achievement X marketing”) while others could have used another draft or two. There are plenty of gems here that ask the reader to consider the arbitrary or downright unjust manner in which winners and losers are chosen. The result is a sense of nihilism that is half liberating and half depressing. As one cartoon featuring a mournful picture of a teenage nerd against a black background reads: “And then they came for me, but there was no one to speak for me because why would anyone do that.”

A mixed bag of gags and witticisms revealing the hollowness of both victory and defeat.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79759-770-6

Page Count: 143

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 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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