A readable, witty exercise in modernist urban erotica.

THE LAST GENTLE DENTIST

BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS

A police raid on the office of a San Francisco dentist sets in motion an erotic novel that offers plenty of laughing gas.

Dedicating this raunchy, picaresque tale “to women,” Pearl says “true events” inspired it. He opens with the line: “I was drawn to her like a rowdy boy to a silly girl on a sandy beach on a windy day.” That setup warns readers to expect hyperbole, and the book delivers generous amounts of it. The plot involves a hapless dentist whose San Francisco office is raided one day by “determined men in bulletproof vests,” who wave weapons and talk about massive-scale fraud. The narrator finds himself a wanted man and begins his odyssey through Europe and America, a fast-paced and often sexually explicit journey from one stranger’s bed, couch, bathroom and bungalow to the next. He attracts the attention not just of those bulletproof-vested men, but of the Russian underworld and an improbable number of voluptuous women. In the few calm moments in the book, he reflects on his life and recent past in a way that gives his tale the air of an elongated Chekhov story with overcharged credit cards and Vicodin. As the narrator falls in with two shady businessmen, Koshel and Shurkin, and the exotic dancer Anushka, the story moves along with verve and confidence that counterbalance its essentially ad hoc nature. The prose is lean and effective, and the terseness highlights Pearl’s talent for good lines. “I never actually fall asleep, just bob in and out of some oily porridge,” the narrator says. Elsewhere: “New York has no climate; it’s a carnage of moods.” The story has an ending rather than a conclusion—some readers may wish for less ambiguity—before it provides a helpful glossary of Russian-criminal slang.

A readable, witty exercise in modernist urban erotica.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2012

ISBN: 147765447X

Page Count: 202

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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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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