A dazzling and intriguing poetic examination of the wonders of the universe.

IN THE DARK, SOFT EARTH

POETRY OF LOVE, NATURE, SPIRITUALITY, AND DREAMS

The natural world melds with the spiritual unknown in this collection of poetry.

The epigraph to this new offering by Watson asserts: “Finding meaning / in the subtle underpinnings / of this soft earth.” This reads as the poet’s mission statement for the forthcoming pages, where he delights in illuminating the disregarded minutiae of human life. The fluid collection is divided into 10 books, each no more than 50 pages long, and complemented by paintings from a broad range of artists, from Nicholas Roerich to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In the opening poem, “origins,” the author’s camera eye zooms outward from microcosm to macrocosm, capturing “distant sands / turned white as flecks / on wild black hair” to the infinite expanse of “where the world begins / before Creation.” This strikingly visual collection then seeks to understand humankind’s place in the universe by taking readers on a poetic journey through time and space. Watson’s writing is sparse yet deeply thought-provoking, as in the poem “fossils,” which celebrates an indelible declaration of love across the ages: “In two thousand years / they will find an oak fossil / with the lovers’ names.” The poet has the ability to evoke complex ideas regarding existence with an enviable economy of line, as here in “particles”: “All the dust / that’s swept into / the world’s wind / and the particle / that is me.” Watson’s previous work has been criticized for its fragmentary nature—this offering is also heavy with visually arresting images, but read in sequence, the poems serve to inform one another concurrently. For example, the poem “she sleeps” could be interpreted as a fragment: “She sleeps / beneath the moon / as I slip / into the covers / of imagination.” But it is embellished by the following poem, “desert of dreams”: “She shadow-walks / across the desert of dreams / to pierce my sleeping mind.” The result is an intoxicating, acutely observant collection where landscapes shift continuously and meaning is in a constant state of flux. Fans of Watson’s work will find this his most penetrating, cohesive volume to date.

A dazzling and intriguing poetic examination of the wonders of the universe.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-939832-19-1

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Plum White Press

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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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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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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