For the uninitiated, a wonderful introduction to a Southern original.

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SELECTED STORIES OF GEORGE SINGLETON

Thirty hilarious stories, mostly set in small-town South Carolina, gathered from eight collections published over the last two decades.

As Tom Franklin notes in his introduction, Singleton's stories often proceed from simple, spectacular premises, the kind easily conveyed in a sentence. "Outlaw Head and Tail" features a bouncer—well, a "pre-bouncer"—who accidentally records an episode of Bonanaza over his wife's sonogram and then canvasses barflies in search of a substitute tape; in "Show-and-Tell," a divorced father pursues his high school girlfriend, now his son's third grade teacher, by proxy, sending his boy to school with great love letters of literature during show and tell, mementos like a dried-up wrist corsage and matching boutonniere, etc. "Probate" tells of a couple's misadventures with a heartbroken and gabby "traveling euthanasia vet"; the hero of "This Itches, Y'All" is a man shadowed all his life by his three words of dialogue in a hygiene filmstrip about head lice; "Staff Picks" tells a love story about a librarian and a professional bowler who meet while trying to win an RV by keeping a hand on it for as long as possible. These stories have absurdist energy, wit, and inventiveness to burn, but antic comedy is their mode and métier, not their sole aim or reason for being. Singleton's work doesn't wear literariness on its sleeve; even when he channels canonical writers, as in "John Cheever, Rest in Peace," he does so in a way that's literal and can seem almost anti-literary—making the grandly metaphorical, life-spanning "The Swimmer" into a story in which a man suffers a heart attack on his riding mower and then, dead, cuts a gently arcing swath across his town before crashing into a silo. But these stories are often sneakily ambitious, sneakily moving. Singleton has Charles Portis' gift for writing a satire both ruthless and lined always with affection, and like that Southern icon, he's a master of and evangelist for the joys and idiosyncrasies of speech, especially the loquacious talk of barrooms and Little League fields and scrapbooking shops.

For the uninitiated, a wonderful introduction to a Southern original.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-938235-69-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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