Rich, elegiac meditations on art, sex, and death.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2021

BETTER DAVIS AND OTHER STORIES

Gay life and the gathering AIDS epidemic are seen in the reflected glamour of showbiz in these nostalgic short stories.

Walker’s tales set fictional and real-life creative figures—drag queens, sitcom stars, Broadway impresarios, movie divas—in the early 1980s, when gay entertainers were emerging from the closet just as the HIV virus was starting to decimate their ranks. Jim J. Bullock, co-star of the TV comedy Too Close for Comfort, ponders past bruising relationships and his own HIV diagnosis while enacting a bizarre “very special episode” in which his character is raped by two women; and Natalie Wood spends the night of her drowning flirting with Christopher Walken and fighting with her jealous husband, Robert Wagner, while wondering if Wagner is gay. Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton follow their stage performance in The Little Foxes by trading acting tips and quips and then repairing to a drag club; drag impersonator Better Davis haunts a man’s reminiscences of the shriveling gay demimonde in Washington, D.C.; an airline steward continues his hyperpromiscuous sexploits while hiding his Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions; and Michael Bennett, director of the musical A Chorus Line, coldly prepares to replace a cast member who has AIDS—which will kill Bennett himself a few years later. Walker’s yarns probe the deep symbiosis of the entertainment industry with gay life as they feed off each other’s styles and sensibilities and a common fascination with identity and role-playing. His sparkling prose often has an Old Hollywood feel to it; sometimes it revels in bitchy repartee—“ ‘You drink too much,’ Liz said. ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’ said Maureen. ‘You marry too much. Why?’ ”—and sometimes it’s suffused with a romantic glow. (“When Troy and Grayson shook hands,” Harrison “saw something happen immediately….It would be too cliché to call it ‘electric’ but it was as if someone had dimmed the lights in the entire restaurant and illuminated the two of them from below with a floor light, casting everyone else in the room as mindless extras who were only there to observe and comment on the two main characters discovering each other as soulmates.”) The result is a wistful, absorbing re-creation of lives and loves caught up in a cultural transformation that is both fertile and tragic.

Rich, elegiac meditations on art, sex, and death.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-94-196015-8

Page Count: 98

Publisher: Squares & Rebels

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 36

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more