Nugent manages—the mark of the master satirist—to be simultaneously compassionate and ruthless. Splendid.

FRATERNITY

Nugent won the 2019 Terry Southern Award, Paris Review's annual prize for humor, and this collection of eight interconnected stories makes it easy to see why.

The comedy in Fraternity, as befits its subject, is dark, uncomfortable, even disturbing. The stories are set in a Massachusetts college town (clearly Amherst), and the focus is on young men who are in many ways the usual suspects: hearty-partying casual misogynists, macho tribalists, the toxically masculine. But Nugent understands that satire is a means not only of exposing or ridiculing its subject, but of making them, using the rules of their own skewed logic, understandable, even sympathetic. They're a varied group. There's the genuinely sweet, universally admired chapter president, Nutella, object of an unsanctioned desire in the brilliant opening story, "God" (and narrator of a subsequent story set years after he leaves college); there's Swordfish, whose atrocious sex-toy prank during an anti-rape march ends up bringing a wooden house mascot to demonic life in the magical-realist "Ollie the Owl"; there's Petey, the gung-ho frat officer who's always up for anything ("The Treasurer"); there's the thoughtful non-Greek freshman from Long Island (in the poignant "Cassiopeia") who comes to think of fraternities, despite an instinctive distaste for them, as a potential refuge from the anything-goes ethos of Amherst and wanders one night into a house where he has an utterly unexpected encounter; there are the idiot powers that be in "Hell" who, eager to concoct fresh humiliations for new pledges, invite an alumnus, a naval intelligence officer, to help them—and very soon find themselves contemplating deeper, darker types of initiation rituals than they'd intended. Nugent writes memorable women here, too: the title character in "God"; a wunderkind film director; the homeless, cocaine-selling dropout, Claire, who narrates the final story, "Safe Spaces." This is a book about the awkward, awful passage between adolescence and adulthood and about the way these unwary, ill-prepared boys negotiate it, or try not to.

Nugent manages—the mark of the master satirist—to be simultaneously compassionate and ruthless. Splendid.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-15860-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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