Hubbard’s eyes and ears are in superb working order as she tells this besieged community’s life story.

THE LAST SUSPICIOUS HOLDOUT

Short stories brimming with societal nuance and human complexity offer a penetrating overview of urban Black America near the turn of the 21st century.

In her previous novels, The Talented Ribkins (2017) and The Rib King (2021), Hubbard showed narrative ingenuity, tough-minded intelligence, and a refined sense of character in her depictions of African Americans swept up by history. These virtues—and, it turns out, many others—are on display in this collection of 13 stories set in and around an unnamed Southern metropolis resembling Hubbard’s native New Orleans and arranged in chronological order from 1992 to 2007. “Trash,” for example, is set in 2005, the same year as Hurricane Katrina, and, in dealing with characters coping with the storm’s grisly aftermath, mentions many familiar landmarks and neighborhoods. The title character of “Henry" is a bartender who, in 1993, is struggling to keep his business afloat while helping to defend his activist brother, Leon, who was convicted of murder eight years earlier and has since become a cause célèbre in the Black community. A story set the following year, “Bitch: An Etymology of Family Values,” introduces Millie Jones, who makes anonymous phone calls alerting a Black councilman’s wife to her husband’s extramarital dalliances. Millie turns up again in the title story, set in 2001, this time working for the Leon Moore Center for Creative Unity, which has been implicated in the vandalism of a hamburger franchise in the neighborhood. By the way, that story is the collection’s centerpiece, not just for its novellalike length, but for the astute social observations, textured characterizations, and deep affection for its landscape that are emblematic of Hubbard’s writing. Nothing seems lost or shortchanged in presenting this panorama of Black lives, whether disparities in social class, creeping gentrification, or the arduous, at times heroic efforts of even the poorest community residents to retain grace, decorum, and some autonomy over their surroundings.

Hubbard’s eyes and ears are in superb working order as she tells this besieged community’s life story.

Pub Date: March 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-297909-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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