Weighty, unflinchingly honest writing that sometimes takes an unfortunate discriminatory tone.

POEMS OF DON MCCORMICK

McCormick’s keenly observed if unsettling debut poetry collection reflects on death and illness.

“Who wants to hear how mellow you feel, / and who wants to write about it?” asks McCormick in a poem entitled “Mellowed Out.” The collection, written over the last three and a half decades, has few moments of levity; the poet, instead, steels himself to face the darker aspects of human existence. The foreboding opening poem, “Great Decisions,” approaches the failings of humankind—particularly those of governments—and underlines a necessity to change or perish: “The air we breathe is turning us gray. / We must decide if we will stay.” “The Ending” has a significantly more intimate tone in its examination of a relationship breakdown: “It’s like I said hello, / and you were dead, / and you never heard what I said.” McCormick’s focus continues in this manner, zooming in to explore personal relationships—an elegy for a friend dying of AIDS or a prose poem in the form of a spiky “Conversation Between Spouses”—before drawing out to address universal questions such as the pursuit of success, midlife crisis, and the absence of God. McCormick’s writing is frank and uncompromising. In the deliciously cynical poem, “Getting Old,” he observes: “You see a new beauty in nature. / You hear peace and quiet. / The reasons are your vision has blurred / and your hearing has failed.” He possesses the rare ability to capture emotions and sensations effortlessly. “Holding On” pinpoints the shifting state of depression: “In the best of times, the cold, broad sword of / boredom lies across my chest and makes me afraid to move.” McCormick’s approach toward race, however, is disconcerting. In the poem “Chinese People,” for example, the narrator says, “I can’t decide whether they have short legs or long bodies.” The poem unsatisfactorily tries to make amends by asking “Imagine if I were looking through their eyes.” Similarly, New York City is declared as the “Brownest damned place I’ve ever seen,” and McCormick suggests that a “Klanner would be freaked-out there. / A dedicated member would have to wear two hoods.”

Weighty, unflinchingly honest writing that sometimes takes an unfortunate discriminatory tone.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

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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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