Starts off strong but collapses under the morally suspect musings of a dead man.

SUPERIOR SACRIFICES

Kellis (The Word That You Heard, 2010, etc.) explores a tight-lipped family’s private pain and guilt in a novel that plays out among small-town gossip in the Upper Peninsula.

Fraternal twins Marcia and Mitch Harrison share the power of “thought transference.” As the last people to see Howard Barstow before he disappeared on homecoming night 35 years ago, they also share a dark secret. Marcia struggles with the memories of the rape inflicted by Howard on that horrible night. She’s also haunted by the child she gave up for adoption, a daughter she calls Daisy. Torn between wanting to know her child and fearing what scars the girl might reveal, Marcia leads a quiet life as a bookstore owner with her loving husband, Evan, and their boisterous boys, Owen and Simon. After Mitch dies in a car accident, Marcia discovers a notebook among his possessions. In random entries listed from October 1975 to August 1976, Mitch tells of his role in what Marcia calls “the tight circle of our secret.” As an added layer, Kellis introduces Daphne Hallorhan, a newly downsized architect looking to solve her own mystery as she searches for her birth parents, Marcia and Howard. Mitch’s allusions to the Rockford Files and the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in nearby Lake Superior bring the Watergate years to life, while the notebook chapters seem more concerned with filling in the gaps left by Marcia’s version of events than trying to expunge the guilt and fear Mitch claims to feel. His observations seem too self-aware, his phrasing too polished, and the specifics a little too convenient to be convincing. His reaction to his sister’s rape makes him less than sympathetic, particularly since the police are never called and charges are never mentioned. The only justice Mitch will accept is vigilantism, and his justification for that borders on psychopathology. The complete story of what happened that night reveals itself in the final pages, but by that point, most readers will find the author’s abrupt, anticlimactic conclusion unrewarding.  

Starts off strong but collapses under the morally suspect musings of a dead man.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2012

ISBN: 9781478210900

Page Count: 284

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 29, 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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