Long and diffuse, but, as with all Oates, well worth reading.


An already frayed family disintegrates in the wake of a tragedy.

Oates doesn’t always write long, but when she does, as in The Accursed (2013), the story enfolds a wealth of detail. Whether all of it is necessary is debatable. In this instance, John Earle McLaren, a respected elder in a small New York town, formerly its mayor, stops to admonish two cops who are rousting a "dark-skinned" motorist. Tased to the ground, McLaren spends what’s left of his life in the hospital, though it takes a few signatures for Oates to finish him off. The event draws together his very different children, who had always “contended for the father’s attention.” It wasn’t that Whitey, as he was widely known, was a cold fish so much as he was committed to the notion of being self-sufficient—and secretive, too, as the hidden bank accounts that turn up after his passing demonstrate. Meanwhile, daughter Beverly in particular is incensed that the siblings she regards as unworthy receive equal shares of the inheritance while Jessalyn, their mother, is set for life. Death pulls brothers and sisters together and apart. The most likable (and completely realized) character is son Virgil, who disconsolately flirts with death himself—“He’d drowned, but not died. Died, but was still here.” Daughter Lorene, too, a high school principal, undergoes a transformation that makes her at once more vulnerable and more human. Oates’ storyline would be the stuff of comedy in other hands—think of the recent movie Knives Out, for instance—but she makes of it a brooding, thoughtful study of how people respond to stress and loss, which is not always well and not always nicely. Yet, somehow, everyone endures, some experience unexpected happiness, and the story ends on a note that finds hope amid sorrow and division.

Long and diffuse, but, as with all Oates, well worth reading.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-279758-2

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.


In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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