Sharp, elegiac, angry, funny stories with a searing loneliness often just underneath the surface.

YOUR NOSTALGIA IS KILLING ME

Weir's linked collection of bittersweet, often witty stories elucidates almost 50 years in the life of a gay White man in the U.S., from enduring school taunts in 1970s New Jersey to experiencing the horrors of AIDS to that epidemic's continuing reverberations for a scarred (and mostly HIV-positive) generation.

The first of the book's three parts, harrowing and sometimes bitingly funny, centers on a narrator who's the caretaker, nursemaid, and faithful sidekick to a friend—not a lover, but a beloved—who's dying. Watching that friend waste away, enduring his hostile outbursts and caustic jokes, indulging his whims: Weir writes powerfully and with nuance about what it's like to grieve someone into the grave and beyond and what it's like to have that grief haunted and needled at and undermined, in a way, by how unpleasant and hateful the beloved became as his health deteriorated. The second section, "Long-Term Survivors," follows this same narrator—his name is John Weir, a stratagem that sometimes seems clever but that can also feel coy—through the next 30 years. Two stories in this section feature his mother. A standout is "Humoresque," in which the narrator, now in his 50s, has come down to Pennsylvania to check on his octogenarian mom, just out of the hospital after a brain bleed she wasn't expected to recover from. She's the kind of person often called indomitable, which (accurately) makes her seem formidable in the way of a battleship or a frosty screen idol; the narrator describes her as "a movie star without a movie to star in." Their impatient, affectionate banter—she's another big personality to be helpmeet to, co-star with, the narrator's preferred (if also resented) role—is lovely and persuasive, and Weir uses it to illuminate what's going on in the narrator's love life; he's here in part, as his perceptive mother intuits, to claim her car so he can drive north to pursue another of his doomed, barely or nonphysical love affairs with another inaccessible man.

Sharp, elegiac, angry, funny stories with a searing loneliness often just underneath the surface.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63628-029-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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