Poems of craft, power, and compassion: a fine collection.

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WOMEN IN THE WAITING ROOM

Kapur’s collected poems compellingly respond to afflictions and healing in women’s lives.

This second collection for Kapur, following Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist (2015), was a finalist for the National Poetry Series; many of the poems first appeared in literary magazines while two won awards and were anthologized. Several threads weave through the book, including Hindu mythology, conversations on a crisis hotline, and the ravages of illness for both sufferer and onlooker. Much of the work addresses the corrosive ways girls are portrayed as responsible for their own rape and abuse. Drawing on the Hindu epic Ramayana, in which Sita, wife of Rama, must prove her innocence via fire ordeal after being kidnapped by a demon king, Kapur writes in her opening poem that “Every girl can be taught / her middle name is shame.” Whether ancient or contemporary, the same story prevails, as suggested by the poetic form in “Steubenville Ghazal” (referring to the 2013 Steubenville High School rape case). An Arabic poetry form dating to the seventh century, the ghazal is written in couplets that repeat an ending refrain—in this case, a preposition plus him. Narrated by the survivor, the building up of this phrase leads to a devastating conclusion: “My name is redacted, it no longer applies. / I end every line writing him, him, him,” just as media accounts tended to focus on harm to the promising futures of the accused.

The spareness of Kapur’s lines throughout the collection speaks of emotions that must be contained; in the hotline poems, fragmentary lines halt and hesitate across the page as the callers struggle to articulate their stories. “I wish the old me would         just,” reads one unfinished, perhaps unfinishable, thought. Such lines thrum with coiled tension. Throughout, the speaker’s role is often to bear witness, sometimes in ways that can find expression only on the page. As a hotline worker, she’s been trained not to react with shock; as a hospital visitor, in the poetry cycle that gives the collection its name, she must be circumspect: “I watch the last / whip of light blurring the far bank slip away. / It will be back tomorrow. I know better than to say so.” Kapur’s craft is everywhere evident, as in these lines from “Waiting for Sleep, I Imagine Sita in Her Youth,” a poem that also uses imagery from Sita’s captivity, though the she in the poem could be any Indian woman: “From the window she could see / women from every corner of the city // walk into the river, disappear / then rise clean, saris soaking.” The sibilants in these lines onomatopoeically recall the rush and rinse of water, as they do in the final stanza when the speaker imagines herself with Sita in the river, “so we might both rise ready / to wring out the story.” The alliteration of window/women/walk and rise/ready/wring skillfully enacts both the connection described and the process of transforming experience through the work of art making.

Poems of craft, power, and compassion: a fine collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62557-823-5

Page Count: 85

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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