Ten artful stories conjure contemporary North Carolina, mouthwatering and matter-of-factly haunted.

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IF I HAD TWO WINGS

Boars, monkeys, adulterers, charlatans, and ghosts all chase the characters gathered here.

The slyly soulful Kenan takes his time between books. Now he rewards readers who have waited almost three decades for a return to his fictional Tims Creek, North Carolina, home to the novel A Visitation of Spirits (1989) and the story collection Let the Dead Bury Their Dead (1992)—though this new collection opens with a smile by starting “When We All Get to Heaven” in New York City. A 58-year-old plumber from Tims Creek explores midtown and is improbably swept up into Billy Idol’s entourage. Ed Phelps finds the music silly but the day full, and as he drifts off to sleep, he hears his grandfather’s voice singing. This pitch-perfect ending is evocative of the thin, beckoning veil between the seen and unseen, the quotidian and the preposterous, that Kenan hangs throughout his fiction. Yet appetite—carnal and gustatory—also fuels these stories. In “I Thought I Heard the Shuffle of Angels’ Feet,” the narrator introduces his lover: “Six foot six inches of beige, Portuguese-accented brawn, the Brazilian wunderkind. He moved like a dancer, he spoke like a poet—and Americans are such suckers for accents.” He tops that poem with 15 words to sum up their union: “Ten tumultuous years. It had not been bliss, but mostly happy, usually fun, always interesting.” As this story ends, something new has begun and something old is set right. “The Eternal Glory That Is Ham Hocks” ladles the historical Howard Hughes into its fictional stew, delivering a nice kick. A Tims Creek diner—“The eggs are still greasy, the ham tough as shoe leather, the coffee fit for removing toilet clogs”—serves as backdrop. But do not imagine this a book of grits and honey. In the complex, mesmerizing “Resurrection Hardware; or, Lard & Promises,” the speaker shares the author’s first name inside a tale of ghosts, strivers, and roasted goose, “succulent, flavorful, the fat a thing of pure joy.” It is a feast.

Ten artful stories conjure contemporary North Carolina, mouthwatering and matter-of-factly haunted.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00546-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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

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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