Readers who share the protagonist’s cultural passion—his crusade, really—may enjoy this tale.


A debut novel takes on the academic and cultural establishment, especially in New York City.

Young David Green is a lavishly talented pianist and composer. He is also a rebel, disgusted with modernism and postmodernism in music (and the other arts). His self-appointed mission is to turn back the clock and revive the classical music—Romantic, most of all—that he loves. This is no less than a heroic quest to save modern culture, a culture that has become a cesspool in every regard. He wants—demands—no less than a second Renaissance. To this end, he recruits some like-minded young talents: an architect, a painter, a sculptor, and a poet. This gang of five becomes the Second Renaissance Artist Group. It does not go well. David’s unyielding zealotry drives them all off eventually, and the musician spirals down to an attempted suicide. With the help of the New York City Police Department, Dr. Bill Leornig, a psychologist, talks David off the Brooklyn Bridge. Leornig takes charge of the troubled David’s recovery. Will David ultimately soldier on alone in his noble cause? While his prose is sometimes a bit awkward, Magnet displays talent. In fact, as a kind of lagniappe, there are four quite clever short stories following the novel itself. He does strive mightily to make the characters, especially David, real and believable, a novelist’s prime job. And he is fervently committed to the view that David stands for. But a thesis novel, a work that is really written in the service of One Big Idea, runs the risk of sinking under the weight of that concept and of having its characters be merely puppets and mouthpieces. Such fiction/essay hybrids are always problematic. At one point, Magnet invites readers to skip, if they like, a long disquisition on art and psychology and get back to the plot (David hanging off the bridge), something akin to an actor’s breaking the fourth wall. This, then, is a book for readers who are intrigued by the hero’s artistic cause. (There are useful notes in the back.)

Readers who share the protagonist’s cultural passion—his crusade, really—may enjoy this tale.

Pub Date: June 19, 2019


Page Count: 422

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.


The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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