Few short story writers do as much in so few words as the economical, enigmatic Oates.


Crackling with pent-up emotion and deadly devices, a suite of neatly intertwining stories by a masterful storyteller.

“Whichever side the Professor espoused in an issue, the wife felt obliged to take the opposite side. Sometimes in the midst of their squabbles the wife lost interest abruptly and allowed the subject to fade.” If Oates has a trademark theme, it is in people talking past and against each other instead of getting a clue. In the first story in this collection, a woman, addressed in the second person, who has given up most of her dreams to live in a small town near Buffalo, “gnawing at your embittered heart,” thinks only fleetingly about what might have been. Though she seems to have accepted her lot, we have reason to think that, now late in life, she might have regrets. So does the woman who goes to a place the reader will see several times, the Purple Onion Café, where something terrible will happen. It would be a spoiler to say what, but Oates expertly folds the episode up in a Twilight Zone–ish wrinkle in time, one that we will return to at several points. One character dies in a way of which Edward Gorey would surely approve; most, in these stories laden with somber meditations on death (“For when ‘hospice’ is uttered, it is at last acknowledged—There is no hope”), succumb to the ordinary: cancer, accidents, and now terrorism. “Their friends and neighbors are collapsing all around them!” ponders one academic, aging but not yet old, who has been playing a parlor game of sorts in guessing whom the Reaper will harvest first. In the end, not many people in Yewville or the leafy suburbs of New York make it out of Oates’ pages without at least a few scars, and the Purple Onion suffers plenty of dings as well, which makes it a book that seems just right for the times.

Few short story writers do as much in so few words as the economical, enigmatic Oates.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-303520-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

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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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

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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