A masterful assemblage of environmentally minded tales.

CHEMICAL VALLEY

A collection of short fiction taps into eco-compromised lives in southern Ontario.

As one character observes in Huebert’s volume, Canada is a country built on oil. The tension between resource extraction and environmental collapse—both out in the world and inside the home—is ever present in this linked cycle of 11 stories. An oil refinery worker—who ponders the increasing number of dead birds as well as his mother’s recent demise—starts thinking about how he’d like to be buried. A high school girl enters into an inappropriate relationship with her English teacher, though it’s as much about the older woman’s knowledge of plants as it is about anything sexual. The mother of a baby feels her life unravel as she tries desperately to rid her home of a mouse infestation. “The thing about rodents,” the exterminator tells the horrified woman, whose husband works at one of the many local plants, “is that they’re a lot like oil…Just like how there’s pipelines all around you but you never see them….Same thing with the rodents.” Oil is a recurring image, but it’s not just a metaphor: The black blood of these tales is squeezed from the remains of plants, animals, and human beings alike. Huebert has a razor-sharp wit and an exacting eye for human foibles, as here where he describes one character’s eco-conscious—yet decidedly not self-aware—love interest: “Daddy Issues doesn’t use social media, refuses to milk data from his flesh. He wears plaid and vegan Blundstones, grooms his beard with fine-toothed sandalwood. He has two long dimples above his pouting buttocks, likes to joke that his rear end is luscious with negative capability.” The stories are often on the longer side, and they pack a novelistic level of detail. The author manages to offer intimate portraits of human lives without ever letting readers forget the climate bubbling just outside their windows. Huebert’s assortment of activists, hockey players, preppers, and nurses find themselves on the front lines of crises in which every choice has a moral dimension—and readers will be right there with them.

A masterful assemblage of environmentally minded tales.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77196-447-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 36

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more