Varied, inventive, uncanny, and playful: a gifted fabulist's cabinet of curiosities, his book-length memento mori.

THE GHOST VARIATIONS

ONE HUNDRED STORIES

Brockmeier's latest is a collection of 100 tiny tales, each precisely two pages long.

But these ghost stories do their haunting in a wide variety of tones and moods and modes. These miniatures aren't always long on narrative. Many are thought experiments, meditations, fables, allegories, head-of-a-pin paintings. What unites them is first and foremost Brockmeier's questing sensibility, a fascination with abstract ideas that find form in fiction the way spirit is said to find form in phantasm. The book's central idea, it seems, is that death is a permeable membrane—indeed, it's here crossed casually and constantly, from every side and in every conceivable way. The dead aren't dead, nor is alive the other half of a simple binary. Instead, Brockmeier's world has a perpetual hum of oddity, a numinous glow. He's a master of defamiliarizing the everyday, of what the Russians call "making strange." Uncanny and unsettling but also consistently amusing, the book shares a title with Robert Schumann's tortured final work but not that work's tone. Pachyderms overhear a scientist's recording of a dead friend and—fooled by this aural ghost—search the savanna for her ("Elephants"); a commercial logger with a mania for clear-cutting finds that it extends into the afterlife ("A Blight on the Landscape"); a woman communicates with her dead lover by way of their mingled aromas ("Bouquet"). One minor disappointment: It seems that, perhaps to make this feel more like a novel and less like an anthology, Brockmeier has created an elaborate organizational schema. Not only is the book divided into 11 thematic sections ("Ghosts and Time," "Ghosts and Love and Friendship," and so on), but there's also a 20-plus-page "Partial Concordance of Themes." Ultimately this apparatus seems labored, clunky—but that minor flaw doesn't detract much.

Varied, inventive, uncanny, and playful: a gifted fabulist's cabinet of curiosities, his book-length memento mori.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-524-74883-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

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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