A brilliant conceit never finds the right seriocomic groove.


Can the secret of better living be found in the pages of ultra-niche magazines? One man spends many low-pay, high-angst years finding out in Haas’s debut.

Henry Bay’s career in the glory-free world of enthusiast rags like Crochet Life, Wakeboarding and Monster Truck Tunin’ begins in college. He’s initially interested in studying law so he can sue the aerospace company that laid off his father, but his experiences in a sport that mixes off-roading and parasailing prompts him to move from California to Illinois to work at Kite Buggy magazine. “There’s a magazine as soon as five people find a new way to hurt themselves,” Henry notes, and the author has great fun inventing both obscure publications like Cozy, the Magazine of Tea and the off-kilter people who fill their pages. (One woman crochets throws that depict violent crimes; the editor of Exotic Pets runs an office where a turtle, a kinkajou and a fennec fox mingle with the staff.) Haas has so much fun, in fact, that the thin plot feels like an afterthought. Henry’s older brother Barney is a brilliant scientist who acts out against his suffocating wife by engaging in the kind of extreme sports Henry covers, and their fate is tied to a Unabomber type who darts in and out of the narrative. The novel’s message is clear: Our lives are often lived most sincerely in the hobby-obsessed margins, and the happiest relationships are with those who indulge our quirks. Yet neither Barney nor Henry’s love interest are much more fully sketched than the staffers at the enthusiast magazines, and Henry is an ungainly mix of good intentions and absurdity; the reader loses count of just how many low-circulation magazines he works at in how many small towns. His character rarely feels like more than a repository for Haas’s riffs on subcultures, though Henry’s sincerity keeps the novel from degrading into farce.

A brilliant conceit never finds the right seriocomic groove.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-171182-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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