A strangely readable, if somewhat amorphous, tale of contemporary White male stagnation.

A COMPULSION TO LUNACY

In this debut literary novel, a pill-popping malcontent fails spectacularly to be the man he wants to be.

Dash Moore is perpetually at odds with the world around him. A contrarian by nature, he tends to say things that put people on the defensive, which can lead to clumsy social interactions. He’s also an alcoholic who takes cough pills for the DXM high, which leads to more awkward social situations: “Some people don’t respond to my direct eye-contact way of behaving. The drugs numb me against self-consciousness. I can stare dead straight in a person’s eye for as long as they let me. People are affected by it.” He’s bitter about a lot of things: The novel he wasn’t able to publish; the girl he wasn’t able to date; the acne he had in high school. He’s unemployed, forced to resort to shoplifting his boxed wine from Walmart, and still living at home with his parents at the age of 31. He’s got a lot of time to wander around and meet fascinating people, though this freedom is, at best, a mixed bag. While sitting on a bench behind a strip mall, he ends up in a conversation with a man who’s just committed a mass shooting. A friend from middle school he’s just reconnected with may be a serial killer, which leads to a very uncomfortable discussion. Dash gets a freelance writing job from a man who wants him to compose stories about dragons. He bounces from situation to situation, always mildly confused but mostly apathetic, scarred by the unresolved traumas of his adolescence and nearly debilitated by his chemical addictions. Will he be able to write himself out of years of failure and into a happy ending? Or is he simply the same as the weirdos with whom he seems forever doomed to share his days?

Dash is off-putting in nearly every way: antagonistic, neurotic, lazy, whiny, judgmental, self-admittedly racist, and indefensibly enamored with his own intellect. But even with all these strikes against Dash, Bingham manages to make him an oddly compelling and accessible protagonist. Here, Dash offers his credentials as someone who reads widely: “I read Jezebel and the Root, two blogs about feminism and black people’s issues. I find a lot of what they say to be at odds with how I view reality, but I still read them. I’m not saying they’re wrong in their views. I just don’t agree with them mostly. I could be wrong.” He’s the sort of man whom most people would simply write off as a jerk—and plenty of the other characters in the novel do just that—but over time, his dysfunctions and their causes become apparent. The book has barely any plot, but readers will come to know Dash and through him, a certain sort of entitled White, straight man of the Donald Trump era: the pox-on-both-your-houses know-it-all, the slacker who can’t be bothered to change and doesn’t appreciate being asked to. The ending does not deliver acceptance, but it does provide an unexpected bit of understanding.

A strangely readable, if somewhat amorphous, tale of contemporary White male stagnation.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2021

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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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