Insidiously absorbing, like quicksand.

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THE DANGERS OF SMOKING IN BED

STORIES

Twelve gruesome, trenchant, and darkly winking stories set in modern-day Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Belgium.

One of the great advantages of genre fiction is its ability to use metaphor and distortion to explore realities that may otherwise feel too large or terrible to confront head-on. Enríquez, a journalist who grew up in Buenos Aires during Argentina's Dirty War—a trauma that echoes across these stories—is a pioneer of Argentinian horror and Spanish-language weird fiction, warping familiar settings (city parks, an office building, a stretch of neighborhood street) by wefting in the uncanny, supernatural, or monstrously human. Drawing on real places and events and spinning them out in fantastical ways, she disinters the darkness thrumming under the smooth, bureaucratized surface of urban life, exposing powerlessness, inequity, abuse, and erasure. Colonial Catholicism, pop culture, grotesquerie, and local legends intertwine in images of rotting flesh, altars that conceal their true nature, and ritual magic while themes of loss, fate, mental illness, state violence, fear and disdain for the other, and familial obligation—both the abnegation and upholding thereof—run throughout. In "Angelita Unearthed," a young woman lives with an unexpected burden of inherited grief. "Rambla Triste" introduces us to a woman visiting old friends in Barcelona who is soon confronted by a potent and inescapable reminder of the neighborhood's tragic, buried—and questionably authentic—past. In one firecracker, "Our Lady of the Quarry," a volatile mix of teenage vanity, jealousy, and rage leads to a summoning of dark powers and disproportionate revenge. And in the creepy and desolating "Kids Who Come Back," the lost, sold, and rejected children of Buenos Aires begin to return, sparking dubious joy out of even more dubious grief and exposing an entire populace steeped in guilt but determined to reject its culpability. As entertaining as it is affecting and channeled into English with almost clairvoyant percipience by translator McDowell, this is one not to be slept on for enthusiasts of weird fiction and literary horror and of writers like Samanta Schweblin, Amber Sparks, Ayse Papatya Bucak, and Carmen Maria Machado. An atmospheric assemblage of cunning and cutting Argentine gothic tales.

Insidiously absorbing, like quicksand.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13407-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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