A varied set of tales from a skilled practitioner of the short form.

LOST GIRLS

SHORT STORIES

Morris plumbs the depths of fraught relationships in this debut short story collection.

Certain connections leave their marks, and in these 17 stories, the author explores the experiences of women who can’t completely sever old ties, whether they’re with lovers, crushes, friends, relatives, or even enemies. In “Inheritance,” a young woman works as a “sin-eater” following the death of the wealthy Mrs. Alma Cabot, ritualistically consuming a cake containing all the dead woman’s transgressions. She plans to use the money to escape her draining relationship with the Cabots, but her own family—who rely on her income to survive—will not let her go willingly. “Life After” follows Beth as she grieves her college-aged son following his death in a diving accident at a local quarry. The tragedy creates a distance between Beth and her husband, which she fills by pursuing a questionable new friendship with her son’s best friend, Ethan. In “Skipping Stones,” a bookish high school girl named Terri comes to the attention of two very different boys. Unnerved by her parents’ recent separation, she fumbles through a series of alarming events involving each of them. “Fear of Heights” tracks a school counselor named Allison Conti’s reaction to the death of her ex-husband, Tony. She and Lydia—whom Tony left Allison for—must drive to their old hometown to attend the funeral, sparking difficult memories.

Whether these stories’ characters are haunted by the disappearance of a neighbor girl or harassed by an employer at an apple orchard or confused by the mysterious death of a mother, they must all figure out ways to exist in a world that seems bent on taking things from them. “Some people are born to sin; others inherit it,” begins “Inheritance.” The question of when one becomes responsible for one’s own suffering recurs, and the answer isn’t so easy. Morris’ prose is full of vibrant detail, whether the tale is set decades in the past or in the present day: “I watched a father and son sit side by side on a bench, both staring at their phones. After a while, the son nudged the father, but he never looked at him. The father nudged the son back….They pushed at each other, not seeing the smile on the other’s face.” The author also excels at shorter stories; most collected here are fewer than 10 pages in length. Morris has an ability to wring a lot of emotion out of a few scant details, giving the feeling of a much longer work. Many share settings and characters, which contributes to a sense of interconnectivity and added meaning. There are a few tales that lead to predictable places—moments when the reader may wish that Morris had veered off the beaten path or committed more fully to the outcome she chooses—but overall, she demonstrates a shrewd understanding of what makes her characters tick. In the end, readers will leave the collection feeling as though they’ve lived pieces of several real lives.

A varied set of tales from a skilled practitioner of the short form.

Pub Date: June 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-952816-01-7

Page Count: 140

Publisher: TouchPoint Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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