A literary mystery with dynamic characters and an investigation that’s more intriguing than its subject.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO INSTEAD OF KILLING OURSELVES?

In this novel, a New York City book editor tries to track down the identity of the author of a long suicide note she wants to publish.

Liz is working as an editorial assistant at a New York publishing house and is conflicted about her job. She wants to be an executive, but the path upward is unclear. As it is, she’s in a cubicle poring through submissions from the slush pile and not finding anything good. It’s a lonely existence, and as a young immigrant from Jamaica, she doesn’t have family in town (“This toothless city is crushing me in its gummy jaws, slowly boring me to death with the whining of all the pretentious New Yorkers who think that title affords them some presumption of ‘toughness’ ”). An envelope arrives from Pittsburgh with a notebook inside, and a curious Liz finds it to be a long-form suicide note. The anonymous author asks if the house will publish the manuscript, but Liz is committed to a truly awful romance that her boss’s boss, Marcus, wants printed. Intrigued, Liz looks up recent obituaries in Pittsburgh, hoping to identify the author. Fatefully, she tells Marcus about the note, and he imagines it as a full-length book. Feeling burdened by the project, Liz travels to Pittsburgh to meet with families of the recently departed to see if they can help name the enigmatic author. Gordon’s premise for her novel is a perfect setup for a story involving sleuthing, self-doubt, and sometimes-unwanted success. Liz is an insightful character with a razor-sharp mind who has plenty to say, and her origins in the Caribbean distance her a little from some of the worn-out American takes on issues. But her frequent complaints about work don’t add up, as her bosses seem to cater to her and give her a significant promotion. The tale’s biggest flaw, though, is the mysterious notebook itself, whose writing is vague, endlessly philosophical, and not very engaging.

A literary mystery with dynamic characters and an investigation that’s more intriguing than its subject.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Jarvis Publishers

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2021

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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

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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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