A fine collection by a true craftsman, thematically rich and deeply humane.

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Aging, illness, and death provide the recurring chords in this satisfying concerto of new stories.

A blocked writer finds a use for blank typing paper by laying it on his carpet to check for fleas, but he soon turns to dealing with his late wife’s ailing cat. When a strange noise disturbs a woman, she notices many daddy longlegs in her house before going out to find her wandering, dementia-suffering mother. In 1940, a mother hears that her son, presumed dead after his ship recently was torpedoed, may be visible in a newsreel featuring survivors. In his sixth collection, the 79-year-old, Belfast-born MacLaverty brings humor, sympathy, and an unshowy eloquence to the conventional short story. He knows what disquiets the aging—the strange noises that jar a home’s familiar silence; the suddenly absent grandchild—and the anxieties of those with an elderly parent. Returning to his hometown for a business meeting, a man worries about his mother’s increasing distractedness and about getting credit for being a good son. A woman shleps her harp back home to entertain her crippled father and then plays for passengers on the return ferry. (MacLaverty doesn’t shy from big symbols like a harp in an Irish setting.) One of the four stories with historical settings, and the collection’s standout, is “The End of Days: Vienna 1918,” in which the artist Egon Schiele cares for his pregnant wife as she lies dying from Spanish flu. MacLaverty's mastery is evident throughout, in carefully chosen details, in the way he illuminates the inescapable need to create that compels Schiele to sketch the corpse, and in the framing of the story with two different keyhole references—alluding perhaps to the voyeurism of Schiele’s own art and the story’s invasion of his private suffering.

A fine collection by a true craftsman, thematically rich and deeply humane.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-393-88159-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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