Lock continues to experiment and push against narrative conventions.

AMERICAN FOLLIES

Lock’s novel blends history and delirium in a thrilling, unnerving portrait of 19th-century America.

The books in Lock’s American Novels cycle—of which this is the seventh—have ranged from the wryly philosophical (A Fugitive in Walden Woods, 2017) to the metafictional (The Boy in His Winter, 2014). This book, which shares a few characters with Feast Day of the Cannibals (2019), both stands on its own and carves out a distinctive space—one part novel of ideas, one part madcap adventure. In an author’s note at the end, Lock calls this novel’s subject “America for the disenfranchised and powerless.” And so the story follows one Ellen Finch, who goes to work for Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1883. Ellen is pregnant when this new position begins, and halfway through the novel, she gives birth—at which point her newborn son vanishes. With the aid of P.T. Barnum, Ellen and her allies determine that the Ku Klux Klan is the responsible party, at which point the novel takes on a more stylized tone—one which echoes the occasional forays into fever-dream imagery in the book’s first half. While Lock’s focus is largely on 19th-century politics, there are a few moments that recall the current political scene—including one of a group of Klansmen shouting, “Build a wall! Build a wall to keep them out!” Lock juxtaposes critiques of racism and sexism with snappy dialogue: "In Mr. Barnum’s opinion, twelve clowns should be sufficient to fluster a Grand Cyclops and turn a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan...upside down” is perhaps the most ornate example.

Lock continues to experiment and push against narrative conventions.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-942658-48-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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 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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