An intelligently conceived family tale hampered by uneven prose.


A married couple’s pedestrian life is waylaid by their daughter’s desire to uncover their mysterious past in this novel.

Vera and Paul Guardic have spent the last 13 years living a quiet suburban life in Akron, Ohio. He’s a professor at a small college, deeply involved in the machinations of local politics. The couple have a daughter, Paris, soon to turn 18 years old. Vera and Paul chose “the predictable order of America, its power and personal comforts” after a perilous life resisting the Nazis in Paris once the pair fled the Anschluss in Austria. Vera desperately tries to bury the memories of that past, especially those of American Ben Iceland, a freedom fighter with whom she shared a torrid relationship. After a chance encounter with a figure from their past, Vera and Paul are forced to confront the personal history they’ve interred under the topsoil of quotidian lives. But their daughter, evocatively named after the site of their adventures, can’t bear her ignorance of her parents’ history. She suddenly takes flight and heads to her namesake city in order to find the principal characters in the family drama, including Ben. Monaco deftly constructs a thoughtful meditation on the long shadow cast by one’s past, the inescapable source of one’s character. At its best moments, the novel is reminiscent of Patrick Modiano’s work, deeply pensive and darkly suggestive. But the prose can devolve into the ponderous—Monaco simply tries too laboriously to reach philosophically profound heights, a strain particularly notable in the dialogue. Here, one character describes the allure of Denise Novette, a sex worker: “The men will come to worship Athena. You are able to reveal a goddess to them. You are Madame Curie, a muse, a Queen Wilhelmina, Pauline Baker, Anais Nin, Diagalev. You are Athena.”

An intelligently conceived family tale hampered by uneven prose.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020


Page Count: 216

Publisher: DEM Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2020

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


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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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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