The characters’ star turns are upstaged by the vastness of the set.


Kaplan’s sweeping novel, spanning the years 1917 to 1937, portrays the life of Kay Swift, one of Broadway’s first female composers, extracting her from the shadow of her colleague and lover, George Gershwin.

Katharine Swift, who is renamed “Kay” by Gershwin, marries Jimmy Warburg for love, but the money doesn't hurt since he’s the scion of a family of prominent Jewish financiers. The marriage is happy at first but, over time, gently implodes—mostly due to each partner’s tolerance of the other’s infidelity. Kay, a gifted classical pianist and conservatory star who met her husband while performing at his father’s country estate, misses her professional career. But when she compares her labored compositions with those of her soon-to-be lover, Gershwin, she fears her music is just (George’s term) “machinery.” Eventually, she will achieve a degree of lasting renown—primarily as the tunesmith of the standards “Can’t We Be Friends,” and “Fine and Dandy.” Abetted by its often omniscient narration and long passages of historical context, the novel seems intent on hewing as closely to nonfiction as possible. The history is engrossing, particularly to students of early Broadway—there’s name-dropping aplenty in this and other cultural and political arenas. Gershwin seems to be friends with simply everyone who is anyone in the arts: Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Langston Hughes, “Dick” Rodgers and “Larry” Hart, Fred and Adele Astaire to name only a few. The Warburgs’ Upper East Side dinner parties also attract luminaries—“Dottie” Parker always has quips to offer Kay about men. Although Kaplan’s propulsive style imparts a momentum of its own, narrative tension is all but absent—the Warburg marriage is not exactly a hell demanding escape, and Gershwin is not exactly a port in a storm. The many disquisitions, on topics as varied as the underpinnings of American anti-Semitism to the misappropriation of Black culture by well-intentioned Whites, are interesting and important, but they do interrupt the novel’s flow.

The characters’ star turns are upstaged by the vastness of the set.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0400-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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


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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