A strongly conceived, though inconsistently rendered, scrapbook from a dark chapter of the belle epoque.

CITY OF INCURABLE WOMEN

An innovative novel examining the experiences of the female “hysterics” at the infamous Salpêtrière Hospital in 19th-century Paris.

The photographs of the women of Salpêtrière range from pity-inducing to horrific. In black and white, the portraits show women in “passionate attitudes,” the phrase used for the phases of hysteria. The women in the photos suffer from a multitude of issues: anorexia, religious fervor, epilepsy, and other conditions, some of which were little more than moodiness. In Casey’s unusual collection of short pieces that blur lines among fiction, poetry, and essay, these photos and other historical records, such as manuals and case notes, are used as the basis of poetic meditations on the collective and individual lives of these “incurables.” Some of the women have names: “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” tells the story of Augustine, who escaped from the asylum by dressing as a man. “Father, Ether, Sea” illuminates the life of Blanche, who falls into the category of “best girls,” women who were exploited into performances in the asylum amphitheater to show off their ailments and the doctors' “cures,” which often cross the line into abuses of all kinds. Some of the chapters are about the women as an anonymous group, such as “In the Before,” told in the first-person plural about the types of lives the women had before they came to Salpêtrière: They were orphans or children of manual laborers, impoverished, hyperactive, or melancholy. These stories belong most closely to the tradition of ekphrastic poetry, poems written based on visual art and often written in the voice of a figure from the image. The results are most successful when the soaringly lyrical language illuminates, rather than overshadows, the women’s compelling experiences.

A strongly conceived, though inconsistently rendered, scrapbook from a dark chapter of the belle epoque.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-942658-86-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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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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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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