An astonishingly powerful collection worth multiple readings.



After the multigenerational, somewhat whimsical sweep of Bowlaway (2019), McCracken switches gears and proves her mastery of short fiction with these 12 tightly structured, searingly realistic stories.

Four linked stories about a couple named Jack and Sadie are interspersed throughout and form the book’s unifying spine. The opener, “The Irish Wedding,” refers to Jack’s sister’s nuptials, where Jewish American Sadie meets Jack’s British family for the first time. Intimations of the fault lines in their relationship are revealed along with hints that it may last despite them. Enduring love—along with the urge to resist it—is this volume’s common theme, whether in relationships between parents and children, lovers, ex-lovers, friends, and even in-laws. In “Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark,” a few seconds of panic cause a middle-aged gay man to drop his wry surface detachment and acknowledge his commitment toward his more emotive partner and their child. While in Denmark ostensibly to visit Legoland with her 10-year-old son, the divorced bookkeeper of the title story juggles her complicated feelings for the boy with her dead father’s final request to find her long-lost former boyfriend and give him a bequest. "A Walk-Through the Human Heart" illuminates the vein of cruelty that sometimes runs through parental love, making it all the more powerful, as a mother desperately searches vintage shops for the Baby Alive doll she refused to buy her grown, now-pregnant daughter as an 8-year-old. “Birdsong From the Radio,” about a stay-at-home suburban mother whose love grows destructive, shows the risk of caring too much. McCracken’s stories are often heartbreaking, but those about Jack and Sadie are particularly incisive, showing all the hidden crevices of a long-term relationship. Over the course of the book, both characters are pulled between the urges to disguise and reveal themselves, to cling and to run. By the last story, when they marry 20 years after they met, they still harbor resentments and deep disagreements. But what longtime couple doesn’t?

An astonishingly powerful collection worth multiple readings.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297128-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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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 compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.


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

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