We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.

THE COLD MILLIONS

Irresistible hobo brothers, an evil tycoon, a pregnant union organizer, a burlesque star, and a shady private eye light up a tale of the great Northwest in the early 20th century.

The fact that the same author has written books as wildly different and all as transporting as The Zero (2006), The Financial Lives of the Poets (2009), Beautiful Ruins (2012), and now this latest tour de force is testimony to Walter’s protean storytelling power and astounding ability to set a scene, any scene. Here it’s Spokane, his hometown, circa 1909. Orphaned Montana brothers Gig and Rye Dolan, 23 and 16, have wound up there along with so many others—“they floated in from mines and farms and log camps, filled every flop and boardinghouse, slept in parks and alleys…and, on the night just past, this abandoned ball field, its infield littered with itinerants, vagrants, floaters, Americans.” The violent adventure that befalls Rye and Gig the next morning becomes the centerpiece of a story that Rye ends up reciting onstage when he goes on the road with 19-year-old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a suffragette and union organizer and one of several real-life characters in the book. The free speech riots the Dolan brothers get involved in and end up incarcerated for are taken from history as well. At intervals, chapters are narrated by first-person characters both major and minor, several of whom die on the page midsentence, a literally breathtaking fictional flourish. Two favorite voices are Ursula the Great, the vaudeville performer Gig falls in love with, and Del Dalveaux, a detective in the employ of Ursula’s patron. Noted for her singing and her way with a live cougar, Ursula displays food-writing talent as well: “We were served a French red wine, a fine local beefsteak, scallops from Seattle, and gnocchi that might have been pinched from the ass of an Italian angel.” Dalveaux is a hard-boiled piece of work: “Spokane gave me the morbs. Right blood blister of a town. Six-month millionaires and skunk hobos, and none in between….The city was twice the size of the last time I’d hated being there.”

We have heard that Jess Walter writes nonstop: Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Please, never stop.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06286-808-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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