As clean prose dissects messy lives, these stories combine an empathetic heart with acute understanding.

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A collection of stories that find politics gone crazy, girls and women navigating their ways through social media minefields, and identity refracted through celebrity culture.

The title story generated considerable attention when it appeared in the New Yorker in 2017. On one level it's about a father’s attempts to decipher the life of his 12-year-old daughter through her Instagram posts, some of which appear to be suggestive, or maybe that’s just to him. Here's one: “New post: a pair of lips, shining wetly.” Another: “New Instagram post: a peeled-off pair of ballet tights, splayed on the white tiles of a bathroom floor.” Just what is it she’s trying to communicate, and with whom? When he tries to talk with his daughter, she's often silent or, perhaps worse, complains that she has no friends. Beyond the father-daughter relationship, the story, set against a backdrop of a dysfunctional culture whose presidential election defies understanding, captures a more general malaise. So many of the stories here are about trying to understand, failing to connect, and interpreting the signs from a relentless barrage of media. The stories evoke myth (“The Erlking”), fairy tales (“Young Wife’s Tale”), and science fiction (“The Burglar”), with dreamlike reveries that find protagonists not quite clear on what they're experiencing, let alone what it means. Throughout, Bynum combines a firm command of tone (often warm, even when dark) with precise detail. In "Many a Little Makes," the longest story and the collection’s centerpiece, a woman named Mari gets a long text from an old friend and finds it reviving all sorts of memories of girls on the cusp of adolescence, how a few years found them changing so dramatically in different ways, how boys and parents complicated the relationship. Bynum's characters struggle to determine who they are, how they are, and how they were, in a distant time before smartphones and cyber-media.

As clean prose dissects messy lives, these stories combine an empathetic heart with acute understanding.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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