A wrenching story undermined by convoluted prose.


Centered around picturesque Trinidad, an emotionally arresting story about one woman’s struggles and epiphany.

Joseph’s second book of fiction (PROSE in the Key of Life, 2009) is a labyrinthine narrative in its multiple contours and even its dialogue. For example, in one scene, the protagonist laments: “I’ve lost my son; my daughter thinks my sister is her mother. The only man I’ve ever loved I abandoned for the high life. So whatever happens to me now, I don’t really care.” Loss is a recurring theme. Toward the end of the book, the protagonist, Annabelle, mourns the passing of her “dearly departed relatives”: in order, “Ricardo, Rosabelle, Ma, Pa, Troy, and Aunt Katherine.”  This is an eventful tale: Annabelle Castello escapes the banal squalor of her hometown, Bristol Village; she seeks (and ultimately finds) fame and fortune in urbane Port-of-Spain. But despite her material success, she remains fundamentally unsatisfied, always pining for a simpler, more fulfilling life. She returns to Bristol to locate the man she loved and left behind and the daughter she abandoned. Instead, she finds the love of her life has died and that a knot of drama awaits her. After multiple husbands come and go, and a funerary parade of relatives leaves this world, she also manages to become a drug mule. While the author’s style sometimes borders on lyrical, it has a tendency to drift toward the overly ornate. For example, one character is described as a “tall, exquisitely attired woman who appeared exceedingly conspicuous amid the staid ambience.” Among the author’s flashes of elegance are many clumsy and overwrought descriptions. Still, the novel remains an absorbing account of its hero’s slow and painful maturation.

A wrenching story undermined by convoluted prose.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475948356

Page Count: 326

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2013

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

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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 blackhearted but wayward yarn.


A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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