An intriguing but uneven grab bag of assorted pieces.

SHORT STORIES AND ESSAYS OF DON MCCORMICK

Short stories, plays, and essays sit side by side in this volume.

A mélange of topics and forms is found in this omnibus of McCormick’s work, both fictional and nonfictional. In the “sovereign citizen”–tinged short story “Just Harry,” a man destroys his license and credit cards in order to become a nobody, but his antics soon land him on the wrong side of the law. In the play Trapped, a couple engage in a bit of improvised theater about getting trapped by an avalanche—which proves to be grimly prescient. More speculative elements crop up as well. In “VR17,” a dystopian tale about a future where people are divided into lowly “Cheeses” and elite “Cakes,” a group of lab workers discovers an alarming variation in the medical data related to a virus. The novella How Death Lost to Walter Williams is narrated by the eponymous man who has just committed suicide after murdering his wife and neighbor. With his soul trapped in the woods where he died, he thinks back on all that has led him to this tragic end. The essays range from the personal to the political. The humorous “Age 75: An Inside Look” laments the pitfalls of growing old. “I do not expect to get better at this ‘doing stuff,’ ” writes McCormick, “and I expect to hear and see less and less until I fall into the lake and my diamond back water snake eats me. He is getting very large now and I saw him eat a catfish that had a head as large as mine so I will not be hard to swallow.” The essay “Children of Darkness” explores America’s state of decline, comparing it to the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire. Another essay offers a proposal to alleviate poverty in the developing world by creating “Another Sunday,” a weekly protest during which people abstain from working on Mondays. Also included are several short pieces by members of the author’s family. The book ends with the family trees of both McCormick and his wife as well as a dozen color photographs of his loved ones.

Despite the wide range of subjects, McCormick’s prose is reliably plainspoken. Here the newly disenfranchised Harry wallows in prison: “On the morning of the sixth day they served S.O.S. on stale toast. It was gray and sticky and had too little hamburger meat in it, but Harry ate it anyway. He asked the guard for something to read and the guard gave him an old copy of ‘People’ magazine.” The short stories are the best of the lot, though they often have structural problems that keep them from making as much of an impact as they should. The plays are less entertaining given the author’s relative weakness for sharp dialogue. The essays range from the oddly captivating to the drafty and undercooked, and they often include elements of Roman Catholic theology. In total, the book feels like a series of odds and ends pulled from a computer hard drive rather than a volume of finished works. But while there isn’t much order to them, they deliver occasional moments of imagination that will delight readers.

An intriguing but uneven grab bag of assorted pieces.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more