A challenging, risk-taking work marked by a wry and compassionate intelligence.

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FOREGONE

A man nearing death tries to tell his wife certain things about himself in this dark, affecting work.

Leo Fife, a documentary filmmaker and teacher, sits in a wheelchair at home with a morphine drip and a bladder bag, dying of cancer at 77. For most of one day, April 1, 2018, he’s on the other side of the camera as former students want to record him explaining how he made his famous films. Leo has other plans, namely to reveal to his wife of more than 35 years facts about himself, tapping into “a tsunami of memories.” They include dropping out of college with plans to fight for Castro, divorce, drinking with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, betraying a longtime artist friend, and his real Vietnam War draft status. The novel’s structure, which alternates two very different narrative segments, seems awkward at first and then strikingly effective. There are the bare, Beckett-like present-day sections in which Leo as talking head delivers his tale to the camera under one spotlight and chats testily with those in the room. Longer, time-hopping sections present Leo’s past in a less-flattering light than his public persona enjoyed. It can be hard to know what’s true in any of this, for Leo is a highly unreliable narrator given his illness, his medications, his own doubts about his memory, and the challenges his story elicits from the former students, who regard him as hero and mentor, as well as from an unexpected source. Banks, who turned 80 this year, explores aging, memory, and reputation in thoughtful and touching ways, enhanced by the correspondence between aspects of Leo’s life and the writer’s own history. At one point a character says, “It’s like trying to tie a novel to the author’s real life.” Maybe setting the story on April Fools’ Day is the broadest nod to such delusive links and to the deceits and truths of creativity.

A challenging, risk-taking work marked by a wry and compassionate intelligence.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-303675-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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