Despite Ball’s mordant humor, the pain here feels all too real.

THE PESSIMISTS

Ball’s mixture of satire and domestic drama turns contemporary suburban life into a frightening dystopia of “material leisure and emotional poverty.”

The satiric element centers around the Petra School, a private “temple of education” in upscale Somerset, Connecticut. Headmistress Agnes seems warm and charismatic if a bit eccentric at first, but her dictatorial creepiness becomes apparent, both in the increasingly strident school bulletins she sends—linking dairy and dyslexia, warning against (pre-Covid era) vaccinations, banning any mention of Jewish holidays—and as she exerts personal control over both students and parents. Starting on New Year’s Eve 2013, Ball follows several of those parents and potential parents as three marriages begin to tailspin into crisis. Current Petra parents Virginia and Tripp are keeping huge secrets from each other: Novelist Virginia has cancer, while financially strapped Tripp has built a survivalist arsenal in the basement. Virginia’s old friend Rachel and her Swedish architect husband, Gunter, have recently arrived from Manhattan and enrolled their kids at Petra. Initially Rachel, though Jewish, is so desperate to fit in that she ignores hints of Agnes’ antisemitism, but Gunter is dismissive of Petra (and suburbia and America in general). Then Agnes begins to woo him. Margo, a compulsive cleaner and stay-at-home mother of three sons, has never recovered emotionally from the death of an infant daughter. Now a fanatic follower of Agnes’ Wednesday evening meditation sessions, Margo wants to switch her boys from public school to Petra despite objections from the kids and her overworked husband, Richard, a devoted father, pothead, and online porn addict. Once readers are drawn into these stories, Ball leaps into a broad rhetorical section, describing from a third-person plural viewpoint all the ways suburban men and women, as well as their children, are miserable. Certainly the kids Ball introduces are unhappy. Virginia and Tripp’s daughter is burdened by her parents’ secrets. Petra turns Rachel’s 6-year-old son into an outcast. Richard and Margo’s three sons stand by helplessly watching their parents’ mental health deteriorate.

Despite Ball’s mordant humor, the pain here feels all too real.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5888-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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