This is a writer who thinks hard and deep about the country that forges his fiction.

GLOSSARY FOR THE END OF DAYS

STORIES

A collection of stories in search of an America that resists road mapping.

In nine stories and two short “interludes,” Stansel presents protagonists from all over the country in search of their identities (from sexual orientation to musical category), attempting to come to terms with mortality (their own and others), trying to find meaning and order in a world of chance and chaos. Wherever they go, they find themselves—and they generally find themselves adrift.  But, as one of the narrators advises, “The world tells us things if only we bother to hear it.” With story formats ranging from question-and-answer to the alphabetical glossary of the title story, the centerpiece of the collection is “The Caller,” based around a radio call-in show. The protagonist, Max, concocts a tale to share on Voices for the Lost, a program about people who have disappeared in the Mexican drug wars, saying his brother disappeared near Juarez. He did lose his brother to drug violence, though not to a Mexican drug cartel, and he invents the story to provide a connection with others on the program, a connection that can offer some relief from his aimless torpor, “a sad amazement at still being alive.” Inevitably, though, connection leads to consequences beyond his control. Elsewhere, the thematic ambition turns heavier handed. In “North out of Houston,” a family faces a metaphysical crisis as they're stalled on the highway while trying to evacuate ahead of a tropical storm. Mother, father, and son must each confront and attempt to resolve some issue related to sexuality amid a storm that is plainly metaphorical as well as natural. There is just too much symbolic baggage for a single story to carry.  In “Modern Sounds in Country and Western,” a Brooklyn band’s progression from indie to alt-country results in a breakthrough hit and a terrorist attack. There’s a lot going on in these stories and a lot at stake, but the philosophical weight is sometimes too much for the slighter among them to bear.

This is a writer who thinks hard and deep about the country that forges his fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

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.

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 compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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