In these searing stories, the gulf between who we think we are and who we become when gripped by desire is ever widening.

SEX WITH STRANGERS

Eight stories about men and women in the thrall of vertiginous desires, negotiating the precariousness and joys of sex, love, and commitment.

The stories in Lowenthal’s latest collection simmer with fearless honesty as characters struggle with intimacy and learn that we are as much strangers to ourselves as we are to others, even those whom we most fiercely cherish and love. Frenzied by longing and loneliness, these diverse characters startle themselves with their own thoughts, desires, and behaviors and reckon with what their shortcomings and mistakes must mean about who they are. In “You Are Here,” a newly ordained priest is granted the position of chaplain on a cruise through the Caribbean, though this reward for graduating at the top of his class becomes a hurdle when a middle-aged married couple confides in him about the wife’s infidelity and he reencounters an ex-girlfriend, a crew member of the ship. Should an oath be rescinded for the sake of one’s happiness? he asks. And what does it mean that he’s suspended in ongoing attraction and love for his ex when he has renounced corporeal desires in service to God? In “Uncle Kent,” a single mother observes her teenage daughter mature beneath the gaze of a dear family friend. How does she protect her daughter from someone they both trust, and what is the cost? In the collection’s final and most poignant story, “The Gift of Travel,” a young gay man nurses his mentor, a writer afflicted by AIDS, and struggles to salvage a relationship he ruined by cheating. “Thomas had wondered what could be the point in pleasing strangers, but what I found was that I wasn’t focused on the other men, whose names I rarely bothered to discover; the stranger I discovered was myself.”

In these searing stories, the gulf between who we think we are and who we become when gripped by desire is ever widening.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-299-33264-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 36

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more