An astonishingly powerful collection worth multiple readings.

THE SOUVENIR MUSEUM

STORIES

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 26

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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?

more