A vivid book about lives visited by violent strangeness but lived with authentic humor and hope.

PARAKEET

One week before her wedding, The Bride is confronted in her Long Island hotel room by the spirit of her dead grandmother, embodied in the form of a parakeet, who begs her to reconnect with her estranged brother, a reclusive playwright who has made his career by staging the worst moment of The Bride’s own life.

The main character of this self-assured, strange, and winning book is a young woman in the final stages of preparing for her wedding to the groom, an elementary school principal whom she likes because he “doesn’t have to be drunk to dance.” However, as the wedding date approaches, The Bride’s psychological landscape becomes increasingly hazardous, and all her life’s certainties come under review. Following her grandmother’s avian visit, The Bride—who works as a biographer for people with traumatic brain injuries, helping them reconstruct their lives prior to their traumatizing events—travels back into the city to finalize her wedding plans, meet with her current client, pick up a new wedding dress (her original one has been liberally befouled by parakeet granny), and arrange a meeting with her brother, Tom, whose acclaimed play, Parakeet, is back on Broadway. The Bride lost contact with her brother over the course of the 10 years that have passed since their grandmother’s death and her own traumatizing event, a random act of violence that forms the central story of her brother’s play. When she finally does manage to hunt Tom down, she discovers that in those 10 years he has transitioned into Simone and must reenter her life, if she deigns to, as The Bride’s sister. From there—in the bright, prismatic, and fleeting language of the internet age—Bertino traces The Bride’s ping-pong journey in and out of the lives, and sometimes literally the bodies, of her frosty and judgmental mother; her professionally competent best friend; strangers who might be former lovers or alternate versions of herself; parakeet costumed performers who are being paid to reenact the Bride’s past, present, and potential future; and a Japanese lifestyle-blogging reptile in a suit and tie, to name a few of Bertino’s many memorable characters. The book’s linguistic pyrotechnics and the shimmering, miragelike nature of Bertino’s images demand a lot of the reader, but the relatability of The Bride’s honest and earnest attempts to do her best with the uncooperative life she has been given resonate on a deep, perhaps even universal, frequency.

A vivid book about lives visited by violent strangeness but lived with authentic humor and hope.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-22945-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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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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