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

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

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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 compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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