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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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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