An offbeat and gripping novel of family pain.

THE ANCESTOR

In Goldberg’s novel of the past and present, a 19th-century man finds himself in modern-day Alaska.

In 2020, a mysterious man finds himself stranded in the freezing wilderness. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there, or even his name. He’s about to be eaten by a pack of wolves when a pair of hunters save him by shooting off their guns. From a distance, the man notices that one of the hunters looks exactly like him; he hides and sneaks into the back of the hunters’ truck. It ends up in Laner, Alaska, where Travis Barlow, the look-alike, lives with his wife, Callie, and their son, Eli. Travis’ father, Stu, is the town sheriff, and Travis’ grandfather Clifford lives nearby. Travis once had a brother, Bobby, whose cause of death remains a mystery. The newcomer finds a journal in his coat, which helps his memory. His name is Wyatt Barlow, and in 1898, he left his Washington farm to seek gold in Alaska. He determines that he must be a Barlow ancestor who somehow ended up in the future; he also misses his wife and son and recalls a horrible crime he committed. At first, Wyatt scavenges around Laner for food and shelter while taking trips to Travis’ house to spy on the family: “Is this the wife and son he craves?” Eventually, Wyatt presents himself to Travis, who experiences “the awe that a doppelgänger can unearth.” The moment gives them the feeling of “eras colliding.” Travis helps Wyatt get a job, and he, too, becomes fascinated by his double. Travis has been in a rut, and Wyatt’s presence fills him with a sense of adventure, but Wyatt’s plans are less clear as he plots his own future.

Over the course of this novel, Goldberg demonstrates an impressive command of his ensemble, smoothly differentiating multiple characters and detailing their arcs through time. He always keeps the plot moving forward, even when characters turn to the past, such as Stu, who can’t let go of Bobby’s death, and Wyatt, who wishes his wife and child had followed him to the present. Moments of humor brighten the story, as when Wyatt, at length, recalls a fellow traveler correctly identifying him as a gold-rusher: “What gave it away?” Wyatt asks. The man replies, “There ain’t a stench of fish or God on ya.” At other points, Goldberg’s writing is more meditative and reaches an impressive level of emotional clarity, as when Travis considers the sea: “This ocean that brings the town life, but has taken it away too. The final resting place for his brother who went out high on bad shit. He never stood a chance, not even from birth.” The small-town setting, the family dynamics, and the abnormal circumstances of Wyatt’s arrival result in a story that blends the familiar and the supernatural in a manner that call Stephen King’s work to mind. That said, Goldberg’s book possesses a flavor all its own—a distinctive mélange of the sincere and the strange.

An offbeat and gripping novel of family pain.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64396-114-9

Page Count: 329

Publisher: All Due Respect

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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