A compelling collection that captures the mystery and menace beneath love and family life.

LIFE AND OTHER SHORTCOMINGS

Adjmi’s debut collection of 12 linked short stories explores women’s lives from varying perspectives.

Characters recur in these tales, but each stands on its own. They take place in a range of eras from the 1970s to the present and take readers to various cities in the United States and Spain. All are succinct, slice-of-life stories, and at least half feature characters from the three couples introduced in the opening story, “Dinner Conversation,” which is set in New York City in 1998. The six diners are close friends who call themselves “The Sixers,” but despite their long history, they each have insecurities that will ultimately destroy their relationships. All the women in these stories navigate treacherous journeys through landscapes rife with misogyny and physical and psychological abuse. Many of the women have internalized their fears of growing older, as expressed by Kelly, the narrator of “The Drowning Girl”: “I WAS ONCE YOUNG AND PRETTY. THIS, WHO YOU SEE NOW, IS NOT ME.” Adjmi conjures convincing portraits of a variety of female characters with economical language and biting dialogue. Their relationships with men are not enviable, as most of the male characters are angry, belittling, and erratic. With piercing clarity, the author often offers an unexpected payoff in the final sentence. In “The Devil Makes Three,” for instance, Iris, an Orthodox Jew, prepares for a mikvah, a monthly ritual bath for women, before resuming marital relations. The engaging description of this arcane process is coupled with an account of Iris’ chaste online dalliance with a non-Jewish man. Readers can admire her adherence to the faith, see how restricted her life is, and end up with a sense of the sensual joy that she shares with her husband. However, not every story lands as well; some are a tad too cryptic. In the fablelike “Happily Ever After,” man loves car, woman loves man, woman destroys car, and man’s personality disintegrates. Adjmi’s take on reality is more satisfying.

A compelling collection that captures the mystery and menace beneath love and family life.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-713-5

Page Count: 170

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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