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 novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

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THE SENTENCE

The most recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction—for The Night Watchman (2020)—turns her eye to various kinds of hauntings, all of which feel quite real to the affected characters.

Erdrich is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis and, in this often funny novel, the favorite bookstore of Flora, one of narrator Tookie’s “most annoying customers.” Flora wants to be thought of as Indigenous, a “very persistent wannabe” in the assessment of Tookie, who's Ojibwe. Flora appears at the store one day with a photo of her great-grandmother, claiming the woman was ashamed of being Indian: “The picture of the woman looked Indianesque, or she might have just been in a bad mood,” Tookie decides. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day 2019 with a book splayed next to her—she didn't have time to put a bookmark in it—but she continues shuffling through the store’s aisles even after her cremation. Tookie is recently out of prison for transporting a corpse across state lines, which would have netted her $26,000 had she not been ratted out and had the body not had crack cocaine duct-taped to its armpits, a mere technicality of which Tookie was unaware. Tookie is also unaware that Flora considered Tookie to be her best friend and thus sticks to her like glue in the afterlife, even smacking a book from the fiction section onto the floor during a staff meeting at Birchbark. The novel’s humor is mordant: “Small bookstores have the romance of doomed intimate spaces about to be erased by unfettered capitalism.” The characters are also haunted by the George Floyd murder, which occurred in Minneapolis; they wrestle with generations of racism against Black and Indigenous Americans. Erdrich’s love for bookselling is clear, as is her complicated affection for Minneapolis and the people who fight to overcome institutional hatred and racism.

A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-267112-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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