A captivating maritime story, both subtle and dramatic.

DEAD RECKONING

A historical novel combines a personal drama among sailors on a naval ship with a navigational catastrophe.

In 1923, Eugene Dooman, secretary at the American Embassy in Tokyo, disembarks from the SS President Cleveland in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose Barbary Coast is “famed for sin and depravity from its earliest days.” Despite being a “worldy wise” man who has traveled widely, he’s robbed by swindling sailors who make off with his wallet, leaving him without money or identification. Serendipitously, he runs into Capt. Edward H. Watson, an old friend, who invites him aboard the USS Delphy, headed to San Diego. Watson promises to do his best to track down the miscreants who purloined Dooman’s wallet, apparently unaware that the gang is among his own crew. Meanwhile, Emmett Haines, the leader of the misfits, meets Ruby, who kindles in him a desire for something more: “I’m good at what I do. I’m good at separating a man from his money, at least in small amounts. But I get the feeling I could be good at something bigger. Something more important.” Ray and Vannier tantalizingly chronicle the way in which the Delphy becomes a dramatic tinderbox—Watson pursues the thieves, and Haines has a falling-out with the gang members. All the while, the ship, due to faulty navigation, heads toward an avoidable disaster. Based loosely on a real event—the ship calamity—the authors skillfully explore the dislocation of a sailor’s life, permanently unmoored and perpetually enticed by seedy temptations. In addition, the romantic spark between Haines and Ruby is electric—they seem to notice in each other both a casual indifference to conventional morality and a longing for a fuller life. As she puts it: “A grifter knows a grifter.”

A captivating maritime story, both subtle and dramatic.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-940776-06-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Baaa Press

Review Posted Online: June 28, 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 welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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