Nugent manages—the mark of the master satirist—to be simultaneously compassionate and ruthless. Splendid.

FRATERNITY

Nugent won the 2019 Terry Southern Award, Paris Review's annual prize for humor, and this collection of eight interconnected stories makes it easy to see why.

The comedy in Fraternity, as befits its subject, is dark, uncomfortable, even disturbing. The stories are set in a Massachusetts college town (clearly Amherst), and the focus is on young men who are in many ways the usual suspects: hearty-partying casual misogynists, macho tribalists, the toxically masculine. But Nugent understands that satire is a means not only of exposing or ridiculing its subject, but of making them, using the rules of their own skewed logic, understandable, even sympathetic. They're a varied group. There's the genuinely sweet, universally admired chapter president, Nutella, object of an unsanctioned desire in the brilliant opening story, "God" (and narrator of a subsequent story set years after he leaves college); there's Swordfish, whose atrocious sex-toy prank during an anti-rape march ends up bringing a wooden house mascot to demonic life in the magical-realist "Ollie the Owl"; there's Petey, the gung-ho frat officer who's always up for anything ("The Treasurer"); there's the thoughtful non-Greek freshman from Long Island (in the poignant "Cassiopeia") who comes to think of fraternities, despite an instinctive distaste for them, as a potential refuge from the anything-goes ethos of Amherst and wanders one night into a house where he has an utterly unexpected encounter; there are the idiot powers that be in "Hell" who, eager to concoct fresh humiliations for new pledges, invite an alumnus, a naval intelligence officer, to help them—and very soon find themselves contemplating deeper, darker types of initiation rituals than they'd intended. Nugent writes memorable women here, too: the title character in "God"; a wunderkind film director; the homeless, cocaine-selling dropout, Claire, who narrates the final story, "Safe Spaces." This is a book about the awkward, awful passage between adolescence and adulthood and about the way these unwary, ill-prepared boys negotiate it, or try not to.

Nugent manages—the mark of the master satirist—to be simultaneously compassionate and ruthless. Splendid.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-15860-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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