A meditative tribute to perseverance and literary integrity.

LAST WORDS ON EARTH

A tale of artistic dedication inspired by the life of Roberto Bolaño.

The first novel in English translation by the Spanish-born author Serena isn’t strictly a roman à clef about Bolaño. For one thing, its hero, Ricardo Funes, is Peruvian, not Chilean. But the arc of Funes’ life bears a strong resemblance: an early hand-to-mouth literary apprenticeship in Mexico, a later move to Spain, then an explosion of global success until his career was cut short by illness. Here, Funes’ story is told by three narrators. Fernando, a fellow writer, recalls Funes from his early days in Mexico’s “negacionismo” literary movement that thumbed its nose at the literary mainstream. Funes' wife, Guadalupe, remembers their courtship in Spain and his yearslong efforts to balance his ambitions with marriage and parenthood. And Funes himself concludes with his own moody contemplation on his career. In each case, the prevailing theme is uncompromising commitment to artistic ideals, to the point where Fernando’s descriptions of the writer are nearly Christlike: “He held himself with the gravitas befitting a liturgy: his sandaled feet were planted firmly in the mud....” This sometimes gets repetitive and hagiographic, but Serena is also alert to details that color and complicate Funes’ obsessive character: his determination to woo Guadalupe (a megaphone is involved), his close critical attention to porn films, his needing to email manuscript instructions to his editor even as he nears death. And Serena channels his observations about creativity into elegant sentences (via Whittemore’s translation) that evoke the storm-clouded intensity of Bolaño’s prose in books like 2666. (This is the first of two companion novels by Serena; the forthcoming Atila is about the Spanish writer Aliocha Coll.)

A meditative tribute to perseverance and literary integrity.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-948830-32-4

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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