A great read, full of local color, from an author to watch.

THE OLD NIGHT OF YOUR NAME

In Leahy’s intriguing debut mystery, an officer searches for a missing hunting guide in the wilderness of southeastern Alaska and uncovers secrets and lies among a village’s residents.

Life isn’t easy in the tiny village of Yakutuk. For starters, there’s the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness and its dark, frigid winters. There are multigenerational racial conflicts festering between the native people and non-natives, as well as conflicts between the poor and the not-as-poor. Add an abundance of alcohol and guns, many more men than women and an American West mythology. Men are definitely men in Yakutuk, but Norma Faunce, this novel’s female main character, refuses to be pushed around. Faunce, Yakutuk’s newly named peace officer, leads an investigation to find out what happened to the fearless, skilled hunter Ward Hubble. In a village where everyone has enemies, ex-Marine Norma is universally liked. She’s always been able to navigate the uncertain territory between the Yakutuk’s Tlingit residents and the whites and between its most unsavory elements and its upstanding citizens. But is Norma up to the task of solving a murder case? The author confidently portrays harsh Alaskan village life with verisimilitude, offering a sort of noir version of Cicely, Alaska—the charming fictional town in the 1990s TV show Northern Exposure. (For the record, Yakutuk, Alaska, doesn’t exist; however, Yakutat, in the same region, is a real place.) The village’s quirky, eccentric characters harbor burning resentments and hatreds, but many band together when the need arises. First-person narrator Norma takes readers along on her uneasy quest to solve Hubble’s disappearance as she unearths layers of family secrets, infidelities and blood feuds. She harbors her own contradictions and surprises but remains consistently well-drawn and believable throughout the novel. The book’s poetic title and its acknowledgement to poet Rainer Maria Rilke are a bit odd and the only discordant notes in an otherwise well-balanced narrative. Overall, the story’s steady pacing, complex characters and suspense will likely draw readers in.

A great read, full of local color, from an author to watch.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478259695

Page Count: 234

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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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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