THE SILVER SPOON

In this domestic drama, a young woman fights for the well-being of her family and learns a thing or two about trust, community and forgiveness along the way.

Twenty-five-year-old Lizzy Wallace is being forced to grow up fast: Her mother is dying of cancer, her grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and Lizzy must take care of them both. Her only other blood relative, her aunt Tanya, is interested not in the health of her family, but in the material possessions that might be left to her in the wake of their deaths—specifically, a set of silver cutlery. As Lizzy’s mother takes her last breaths, Tanya begins a series of deplorable attempts to gain what she believes is hers—no matter the cost. Enlisting the help of an adoring small-town Alabama community, Lizzy is forced to fight for her family, even as their darker secrets are revealed. It’s a distraught and frustrating saga, one that pits Lizzy’s determination and love for her family against the maddening will of an embittered woman—readers  with a particularly vicious relative will probably relate. But where many family dramas can be intricate and complex, this one unfortunately falls flat. Other than the drawn-out tug  of war between two quarreling women—along with every mundane detail that occurs in between a funeral, multiple court dates, and moving in and out of various homes—not much happens in this book. It’s well-written, fast-paced and heartbreaking, but it leaves the reader wanting much more. What’s missing is character depth: Other than vague references to her job, and even though we’re told her every thought, we still somehow know virtually nothing about Lizzy; Aunt Tanya is entirely one-dimensional, an unbelievable caricature of evil; and a host of other characters—Lizzy’s best friend, two concerned caretakers, a kindhearted but ailing grandmother and an estranged father—scratch only the surface. Instead of developing these people and their stories, and truly excavating emotional turmoil, the book instead relies on exposition and sentimentality, making it difficult to find much substance. An emotional family melodrama whose characters, conflicts and resolutions often seem as trivial—and tarnished—as the silverware.

 

Pub Date: June 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450232036

Page Count: 260

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2012

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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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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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