Tales from the Rio Grande Valley that are as beautiful as they are bizarre.


Bizarre short stories from a Texan with a punk-rock heart.

Austin author Flores’ first two books, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas (2018) and Tears of the Trufflepig (2019), have already made him something of a cult favorite among readers who appreciate his frequently funny, almost always bizarre punk-rock sensibilities. His new collection is set in the same off-kilter world as his previous works, but it also expands on it. In “You Got It, Take It Away,” named after the legendary Tejano singer Johnny Canales’ catchphrase, a Mexican American man encounters his difficult, probably racist neighbor, who shows him a mysterious piece of cloth that defies the laws of the natural world. When he asks about it later, the neighbor becomes belligerent, convinced the man had broken into his apartment. The story ends on a surprisingly sweet note—Flores doesn’t sacrifice compassion for the sake of weirdness. “The 29th of April” is grounded more firmly in reality—painfully so. The narrator chronicles the descent of a town into gang violence: “The reporters stopped coming when we started finding them dead,” the narrator reflects. The story is told mostly in one long paragraph, giving it an exhausting kind of urgency; it’s both beautiful and intensely heartbreaking. All the stories here are excellent, but the best is perhaps “Pheasants,” in which a coffee shop worker named Tito Papel encounters an angel stuffing their face with a discarded piece of birthday cake; Tito asks them to leave, but they keep coming back, and the two banter good-naturedly about language and theology. The cake-loving spirit denies they’re Tito’s guardian angel, but the ending suggests they might have been playing it coy. Flores’ prose is a delight throughout the book, and his love for the unearthly always feels natural, never self-conscious. One character reflects, “Strange stories had helped me give meaning to the painful moments of survival, and strange stories were the only things I could continue feeding into the machine.” Could that be Flores’ own manifesto? Whether it is or not, his own strange stories are some of the best to come along in quite a while. This is an accomplished book from an author determined to keep literature weird.

Tales from the Rio Grande Valley that are as beautiful as they are bizarre.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-3746-0413-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.


A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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

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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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