Richly drawn characters in search of a more compelling narrative.

AVIARY

A suspicious fire at a senior residence profoundly affects the elderly denizens and those around them.

The Pheasant Run condo isn’t nearly as grand as it sounds. Cassie McMackin, one of its occupants, is counting pills and contemplating suicide when we meet her. Cassie’s neighbor Viola Six is worried about paying the rent, having lost her savings to a scam promoted by an ex-beau. Down the hall is Leo Uberti, an Italian Jewish artist with a painful past. Hidden in Viola’s basement storage is an abused and bullied 15-year-old, Clayton Spooner. Then there’s Herbie Bonebright, the treacherous new manager of the building, apparently involved in a scheme to oust tenants so Pheasant Run can be converted into a more profitable enterprise. One morning, a fire erupts in Herbie’s apartment. While the blaze is quickly contained, fire inspector Lander Maki thinks it may be arson. Herbie is suddenly nowhere to be found, and Viola Six has vanished too. But this is no geriatric whodunit, and author McNamer is not so concerned with exposing the perp. (When that revelation finally comes, it’s anticlimactic.) She's more interested in the indignities of old age, memory and loss, and what one character calls “the secret of ongoingness.” Much of the writing is quite lyrical, as in the description of Maki’s “beyond-human” sense of smell: “His olfactory sensitivity had become so intimately intertwined with memory that the smell of a remembered presence arrived in tandem with the smell of its absence.” Still, some passages are overwritten, and some plot points seem dubious. The novel also has a bleak undertow, though Maki’s wife, Rhonda, an animal whisperer, exudes eccentric charm and brightens the scenes she’s in. A quasi-happy ending is preceded by many casualties—some of which seem arbitrary.

Richly drawn characters in search of a more compelling narrative.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-57131-138-2

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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