A thoughtful, realistic portrait of uncompromising femininity.

ARDOR

A NOVEL

In Thomas’ debut coming-of-age novel, a liberal, headstrong girl lives her life in the conservative South.

Ardor is a young woman determined to live whatever way she pleases. As readers learn through various flashbacks, her childhood home broke when her father ran off with another woman, sending her mother into a series of vacant love affairs that distracted her from her children. The one bright spot in Ardor’s life was her beloved older brother, who served as both corrupter and protector, but even his presence is eventually snatched away. Ardor remains fierce, though, and doesn’t let tragedy stop her from going about her life. She’s well-liked and can make friends with relative ease. She makes lovers with relative ease, too. Ardor has had plenty of flings throughout her young life, causing many in her community to label her a slut, but she takes it all in stride. She never lets the watchful eyes of others stop her from doing what she wants, whether it’s kissing another woman in a committed relationship or sleeping with a married man. With such a long list of vices, it’s little wonder that she’s drawn to nonjudgmental people. Ardor is nonjudgmental herself—unless, of course, someone hurts her or happens to have a value system stricter than hers, in which case, nothing can stop her wrath. She’s not above chewing someone out or lighting a lawn on fire. Readers with a rigid value system may find Ardor’s attitude difficult to swallow at first, but if they can adjust, they’ll be rewarded with a realistic story about the joys and pains of growing up. Along the way, Ardor falls into a typical trap: failing to acknowledge her own judgmental tendencies. Still, it’s a human, realistic fault to have, especially for young people, which highlights the novel’s well-developed coming-of-age motif. Like many young people, Ardor knows everything and lives for the moment. For all the fun she has, however, her life remains quite empty. The vignettes that form the novel’s narrative are somewhat nonchronological, which draws attention to the haphazard, scattered history of lovers who meant nothing. Oddly enough, it’s in the moments she experiences loss that her life seems to hold the most water.

A thoughtful, realistic portrait of uncompromising femininity.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-1477682920

Page Count: 256

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2012

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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 welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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