A dazzling poetry collection, its intimations of doom lit by a furious clarity.

THE SOCIALIST'S GARDEN OF VERSES

Climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, and Donald Trump are among the apocalyptic specters haunting these impassioned poems.

Caveat Lector webzine founder Bernard includes 91 poems that survey four years of anxiety and disaster in this volume. He starts with a Trump-themed cycle written as a hilariously on-the-nose infusion of Trumpian lingo into pastiches of poets, from T.S. Eliot (“November is the cruelest month, breeding / Electoral victories out of the dead land, mixing / Xenophobes and white Christians, stirring / Dull brains—and I mean dull! Sad!—with autumn rain”) to haiku master Bashō. (“You call this a what? / It doesn’t even. Look, believe me: / My poems. They rhyme.”) Bernard then drops his satirical tone to explore other dire happenings. “Spiritus” revisits the death of George Floyd. (“Underneath their knees, / in the brutal sun, / a dark form. And a voice from the feed: / ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t / breathe! I can’t breathe! I / can’t breathe!’ ”) Environmental destruction and the Covid-19 pandemic are linked in “April 2020.” (“Humankind was proving / a gorgeous catastrophe for life / on a planet the size of a pebble….We were the crown / virus enthroned in the breath of the world. / And now, in a cruelly fair reverse, / the crown virus has laid siege / to human monumentality.”) In “Faust Takes Command of the Titanic,” modern civilization is a deal with the devil, “arrogance / and desire gone round the bend with greed, / a drive toward absolute power / that can only lead to absolute annihilation.” Occasionally, hopeful notes surface, as in “Asteroid,” which likens humans to the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs but wistfully concludes that, after people have destroyed themselves, “the birds—may fill the world, one day, again, with singing.” These are weighty poems on the weightiest of themes, but they are lifted by the author’s prophetic voice, lyrical sensibility, and evocative language, as in the seascape of “Beachdrift”: “Stump of a freighter out of the horizon haze / a big ugly thing / covered with cars and pickled plums and carbonated sake / in stacks on its deck like teeth or the columns at Paestum.” The result is a searing vision of a world teetering on the brink.

A dazzling poetry collection, its intimations of doom lit by a furious clarity.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-58790-530-8

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Regent Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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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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