Caring for a spouse with Alzheimers is an ever more common heartbreak, illuminated by this tender portrait of a marriage.


A superstar literature professor is struck down in his prime in the cruelest possible way.

“So you’re sleeping with your professor,” Camille said. “Weren’t you the one lecturing about the casting couch?” OK, it’s a #MeToo novel, you’re thinking, set at Columbia in the 1970s, about a relationship between a 22-year-old Ph.D. student named Prudence Steiner and her only-six-years-older Shakespeare professor, Spence Robin, a dashing, auburn-haired campus idol who rides her around the Upper West Side on his moped. But Henkin’s fourth novel turns out to be a different sort of story entirely—tragedy rather than outrage. Pru drops out, gets married, gets pregnant while Spence gets two Guggenheims, a Mellon, and a MacArthur. But talent and good luck are ultimately no match for early-onset Alzheimer’s. Pru is 51 and Spence 57 and their only child, Sarah, has just left for medical school when discomfiting things begin to happen. Spence is cold all the time, misreads a party invitation, and, most critically, can’t seem to make any headway on his book project, a new, annotated Shakespeare—though it would provide income they desperately need to support his disabled sister and his son, Arlo, from his brief first marriage. Henkin specializes in melancholy stories about complicated families, and this one is a real heartbreaker. His portrait of Pru is nuanced and sensitive, following her into one of the darkest places a spouse can go and hitting the notes just right. The other point-of-view character is Arlo, a dyslexic genius raised haphazardly by his bohemian mom and his underinvolved dad—his trajectory is interesting but distant from the emotional core of the story. Some of the most powerful moments in the book are sudden insights into Spence’s experience—more of these would have been welcome.

Caring for a spouse with Alzheimers is an ever more common heartbreak, illuminated by this tender portrait of a marriage.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4835-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


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.


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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