Smart, funny, and bighearted.

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DETRANSITION, BABY

A wonderfully original exploration of desire and the evolving shape of family.

Reese’s specialty is horrible married men—and she has carefully analyzed all the reasons why. She is, in fact, exquisitely self-aware when it comes to her self-destructive tendencies. When her ex, Ames, asks her to be a second mother to the baby his lover, Katrina, is carrying, Reese knows exactly why she doesn’t say no: She believes that motherhood will make her a real woman. Ames has issues of his own. Fatherhood is not a role he wants for himself—which is not to say that he doesn’t want to be a parent. It’s his hope that, by bringing Reese into their ménage, he might make Katrina consider other, less binary, possibilities. Set in New York and peopled with youngish professionals (and folks who are, at least, professional-adjacent), this novel has the contours of a dishy contemporary drama, and it is that. What sets it apart from similar novels are the following details: Reese is a trans woman, and, when she and Ames were together, Ames was Amy and also a trans woman. Detransitioning—returning to the gender assigned at birth after living as another gender—is a fraught subject. People who change their minds about transitioning are often held up as cautionary tales or as evidence that trans identity is a phase or a sickness, not something real. Peters, a trans woman, knows this, and, in Ames, she has created a character who does not conform to any hateful stereotype. Ames is, like every other human, complicated, and his relationship to his own body and his own gender is just one of his complexities. Reese is similarly engaging. She’s kind of a mess, but who isn’t? There’s no question that there will be much that’s new here for a lot of readers, but the insider view Peters offers never feels voyeuristic, and the author does a terrific job of communicating cultural specificity while creating universal sympathy. Trans women will be matching their experiences against Reese’s, but so will cis women—and so will anyone with an interest in the human condition.

Smart, funny, and bighearted.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13337-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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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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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

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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