An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all—but not without considerable pain.

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JACK

From the Gilead series , Vol. 4

A sometimes tender, sometimes fraught story of interracial love in a time of trouble.

“I have never heard of a white man who got so little good out of being a white man.” So chides Della Miles, upbraiding John Ames Boughton at the opening of Robinson’s latest novel, set in an unspecified time, though certainly one of legal racial segregation. Jack hails from Gilead, Iowa, where so many of Robinson’s stories are set, and he has a grave waiting there that he seems in a headlong rush to occupy. He drinks, he steals, he wanders, he’s a vagrant. Now he's in the Black part of St. Louis, an object of suspicion and concern, known locally as “That White Man That Keeps Walking Up and Down the Street All the Time.” Della is a schoolteacher, at home in Shakespeare and the classics. Jack is inclined to Milton. He is Presbyterian by birth, she Methodist and pious—but not so much that she can’t laugh when he calls himself the Prince of Darkness. Both are the children of ministers, both smart and self-aware, happy to argue about poetry and predestination in a Whites-only graveyard. The arguments continue, both playful and serious, as their love grows and as Jack tries his hand at the workaday world, wearing a tie and working a till—and, more important, not drinking. Pledged to each other like Romeo and Juliet, they suffer being parted more than they do having to deal with the disapproval of others, whether White or Black, though Della's father, aunt, brothers, and sister all separately tell Jack to leave her alone, and once, when Jack's landlady finds out that Della is Black, she demands that he leave. The reader will by this time doubtless be pulling for them, though also wondering how the proper Della puts up with the definitively scruffy Jack, even if it’s clear that they love each other without reservation. Robinson’s storytelling relies heavily on dialogue, moreso than her other work, and involves only a few scene changes, as if first sketched out as a play. The story flows swiftly—and without a hint of inevitability—as Robinson explores a favorite theme, “guilt and grace met together.”

An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all—but not without considerable pain.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-27930-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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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