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

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 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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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