Levy’s laconic style is often very effective in this ambitious, chilling tale of psychopathology and exploitation.

EUROPEAN SON

Levy debuts with an elegiac novella featuring a troubled young narrator on a dangerous journey to satisfy his needs for control and sexual vengeance.

In 1989, as the story begins, the unnamed narrator turns 27. But far from celebrating the event, he becomes increasingly alienated from those closest to him. He pitches himself from a leafy suburb of New Haven, Conn., onto continental Europe, beginning in London and Amsterdam, then moving on to the French Riviera, sidling among the couples enjoying romantic liaisons sur la plage. But the narrator isn’t interested in romance, at least not with any one person. He’s obsessed with triangulation and always in the most oblique form. Consigned to an orphanage at age 7 after the simultaneous deaths of both parents, he was finally adopted at 14 by older parents with a teenage daughter, Ann. His sense of disjunction was exacerbated by Ann’s inappropriate interest in him and by an early realization of his same-sex attraction. Ann’s impact on him and her ability to manipulate him is at the heart of the novella. The action in Nice, plaited with flashbacks and stand-alone poems, is elliptical and intense. Like Patricia Highsmith’s infamous Ripley, the narrator insinuates himself into situations and relationships, becoming both an object of desire and revulsion. There’s an air of mystery surrounding the events rather than any real mysteries. The book’s brevity leaves little time for suspense to linger; most questions are answered within a few pages. The narrative refers directly to some weighty and controversial works of art such as Pier Pasolini’s films Teorema and Porcile and Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water. Their recurrent themes of handsome interlopers wreaking havoc on couples and of erotic acts tinged with violence appear throughout the novella. The author’s arcane knowledge of midcentury film often misses the mark, as the allusions are not readily evident and add little to the effort. Levy’s poetry is generally successful, and he demonstrates lyrical talent, with occasional off notes, such as “a dream of Poe-etic justice.” Not a coming-out story or solely about sexual attraction between individuals, the book’s conclusions are unnerving as are many of the scenes portrayed.

Levy’s laconic style is often very effective in this ambitious, chilling tale of psychopathology and exploitation.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478104988

Page Count: 158

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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

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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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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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