Uneven and very slow to gather momentum but worth the effort for admirers of serious literary fiction.

THE NORTHERN REACH

First-time novelist Winslow follows the intertwined (mis)fortunes of several families across a century in a small Maine town.

The opening episode, in February 1977, limns the harsh natural world that has shaped the hard inhabitants of Wellbridge, Maine. It’s been one year since Edith Baine’s husband and eldest son drowned in a storm while collecting lobster traps, and throughout the novel nature is an adversary, “from the dry-bone crack of winter [to] the purgatory of mud season.” As Winslow’s dour tale winds back to 1904 and then rolls forward to 2017, we meet generations of unhappy folks mired in bad marriages, alcohol, and class resentments. Some try to distance themselves from their relatives by ostentatiously embracing the more judgmental denominations of Protestantism. Others, like Edith, disdain the highfalutin ways of outsiders like her French daughter-in-law, who dares to bring a salad of cold string beans and pickled beets to dinner. This relentless litany of disappointment and disapproval wears thin over six bleak chapters, but the narrative slowly gets more textured, beginning with a blackly comic 1992 funeral, following which anxious Victoria Moody is unable to prevent her fiance from joining the drunken efforts of her no-count kin as they try to dig up her father to put a rabbit’s foot in his coffin. The dead man narrates a brief portion of this chapter, and from that point on several ghosts and another dead protagonist appear; they deepen the novel with suggestions that people are more than the sum of their actions and final judgment should wait on full understanding. In the lovely, melancholy closing chapter, Edith’s granddaughter comes back to her hometown because “there’s nowhere to be but here,” and she resumes work on a long-abandoned painting of the old Baines farmhouse, “collapsing in on itself with the weight of all that surrounds it and all that has gone before.”

Uneven and very slow to gather momentum but worth the effort for admirers of serious literary fiction.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-77648-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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