A searingly insightful, tragicomic adventure that lays bare personal and political fault lines.

ENEMY COMBATANT

An American man in turmoil pursues a disastrous plan to right the wrongs of extraordinary rendition in this novel.

When he was growing up, Peter Shipman saw his father—once a fiery activist for civil rights and against the Vietnam War—descend into an angry, liquor-fueled viewer of fight-the-system movies. Admiring his father’s principles, if not the man himself, Peter becomes determined to wage similar battles; “Jim Crow was dead, but there was Ronald Reagan to contend with.” Now, in 2005, 32-year-old Peter designs web pages and is married to Sarah, a prosecuting attorney expecting their first child. Learning that his mother, Alice, is failing after a botched emergency surgery, Peter rushes from Brooklyn to Phoenix. At his dying mother’s hospital bed, Peter boils over with rage at everyone he holds responsible, not just the heart surgeon, but also Arizona itself (full of Republicans), the George W. Bush administration, and its war crimes. Back home, Peter waits for Sarah to go to bed every night. He then gets wasted and doomscrolls the internet: “He wasn’t normally what you’d call an angry drunk, but the words Bush, torture, Arizona, and Alice burned through his gut like savage heart burn.” When things come to a head, Sarah kicks him out for four months, their future reconciliation depending on whether he gains equilibrium. An invitation abroad from his similarly debauched college roommate, Leonard Kaufman, promises a welcome distraction until, on a trip through Georgia, Peter learns of secret CIA prisons there and in nearby Armenia. Peter conceives a desperate plan to find one of the prisons, photograph it, break in, and release the inmates with Leonard’s help. Though Peter and Leonard couldn’t be more unqualified, the misbegotten, sometimes comic mission has some unlikely success but inevitably is marred by an unforgettable and futile tragedy.

In his third novel, Winner constructs a train-wreck scenario that readers can’t look away from no matter how gruesome it becomes. While the two friends’ goals are laughably out of reach, the author makes each step of the journey plausible in itself as Peter and Leonard stumble through one misadventure after another, degenerating all the way. Winner also manages the feat of giving these escapades the taut excitement of a macho-patriotic action thriller—or rather, its warped, fun-house-mirror reflection. Many readers will sympathize with Peter’s fury at the government’s role in torturing prisoners held in black-op sites and understand his fantasy of doing something about it. But the author’s subtle, intelligent characterization makes clear that however well-earned Peter’s rage against the machine is, that machine is also a convenient target that allows him to displace intolerable emotions or avoid honest self-evaluation. Similarly, Peter deflects grappling with how he’s destroying his marriage by caricaturing Sarah as someone who’s always playing the prosecutor during their arguments: “She couldn’t say, ‘objection, your honor,’ because she wasn’t in the courtroom.” In the end, Peter remains rightly haunted by his actions and their poignant consequences.

A searingly insightful, tragicomic adventure that lays bare personal and political fault lines.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-944853-75-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Tablo Pty Ltd

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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