In a quietly poignant story, a lonely woman finds a way to be less alone.

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TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM

A scientist weighs the big questions that her private trauma bequeaths her.

After Homegoing (2016) swept through seven generations, Gyasi’s wise second novel pivots toward intimacy. It unspools entirely in the voice of watchful, reticent, brilliant Gifty, 28, nearly finished with her doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford’s School of Medicine. Her formidable mother, a home health care aide, has plummeted into a second severe depression, and their family pastor has dispatched the limp woman toward Gifty via airplane from Huntsville, Alabama, “folding her up the way you would a jumpsuit.” The first episode, when Gifty was 11, arrived after an opiate overdose stole the life of 16-year-old Nana, the firstborn son and more cherished child. Both times the Ghanaian matriarch has crawled mutely into bed, but this time not before asking adult Gifty if she still prays. “No,” says Gifty, who turns her ontological questions on lab mice. She gets them addicted to Ensure and then opens their brains surgically, probing the neural pathways of recklessness, looking for clues to creating restraint. Gifty hopes to apply her results to “the species Homo Sapiens, the most complex animal, the only animal who believed he had transcended his Kingdom, as one of my high school biology teachers used to say.” This work, Gifty insists, has zero to do with her brother’s death. In 54 microchapters and precise prose, Gyasi creates an ache of recognition, especially for readers knowledgeable about the wreckage of addiction. Still, she leavens this nonlinear novel with sly humor, much more than in Homegoing, as the daughter of a traditional woman weighs what it means to walk in the world not quite a nonbeliever. The author is astute about childhood grandiosity and a pious girl’s deep desire to be good; she conveys in brief strokes the notched, nodding hook of heroin’s oblivion. In its wake, adult Gifty sits with the limits of both bench science and evangelical Christianity. Nowhere does Gyasi take a cheap shot. Instead, she writes a final chapter that gives readers a taste of hard-won deliverance.

In a quietly poignant story, a lonely woman finds a way to be less alone.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65818-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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: 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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