A working-class drama finds the grit beneath Portland's gentrification.


Need propels a heroine's long night of the soul.

Vlautin’s fiction is full of working-class strugglers doing their best to survive a rapidly changing country. Most of them, including the protagonists of his propulsive new novel, have been priced out of comfortable living, or even stability. And so they turn to unsavory means to get by. This book plays out like a modern noir take on a Tennessee Williams play, its desperate characters harboring old resentments, its hard-luck heroine settling scores throughout a long, bloody night in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. Thirty-year-old Lynette wants to buy the run-down rental house she shares with her embittered mother and her developmentally challenged brother. But she needs cash, especially after her mom’s most recent starburst of irresponsibility. She’s owed money around town, and it’s time to collect—and then some. Vlautin’s supporting characters—meth-heads and pimps, waitresses and mechanics—occupy a rung of society that rarely gets its story told in any kind of convincing way. His language is always vivid. Here’s Lynette studying a tweaker: “Bursting red blisters ran from the back of his neck, around his left ear, and completely engulfed his left eye and forehead. He was young, in his twenties, but his teeth had gone bad and his eyes looked pushed into his head like an old man’s.” Such is the company that Lynette comes to keep in her quest for an instant nest egg. Her nocturnal journey is gripping, but much of the book’s power derives from more quotidian questions: Can I get a loan to make that down payment on the house? Can I balance that introduction to econ class with my two jobs? Will my car start? And what happened to my city? “I’m realizing that the whole city is starting to haunt me,” Lynette tells a friend. “And all the new places, all the big new buildings, just remind me that I’m nothing, that I’m nobody.” Vlautin has written a soulful thriller for the age of soulless gentrification.

A working-class drama finds the grit beneath Portland's gentrification.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06303-508-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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


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.


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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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