A treat for fans of Cortázar, Bolaño, and other adepts of the literary enigma.

NATURAL HISTORY

An odd assemblage of characters moves across time and space in Costa Rican novelist Fonseca’s latest intellectual puzzler.

As in Colonel Lágrimas (2016), Fonseca populates his latest novel with smart people who don’t always behave as intelligently as they might. The narrator is a museum curator (whence the title) obsessed with the five-pointed shape called the quincunx, which figures in the wing patterns of certain tropical butterflies. An article he has written for a British natural history journal catches the attention of a beguiling, beautiful fashion designer who works against type: If some think fashion is meant to call attention to oneself, she is a believer in “the art of anonymity in the jungle.” In various aspects of her orbit stands an odd constellation of characters: a woman who seeds the press with learned, utterly false stories that, to her delight, cause people to freak out and markets to plunge; an Israeli traveler who shelters a secret; a photographer who is drawn into the darkest recesses of the Earth to find his subjects. Throughout, as with that earlier novel, Fonseca takes the occasion to venture odd connections and prolegomena for future projects; one of his characters, for instance, insists that the novel has been stagnant since the time of Cervantes and needs to be reimagined so that it becomes geological, “novels of multiple layers, novels that could be read the way you read the passage of time on the surface of rocks.” Everything is contingent in Fonseca’s story, and nothing is quite to be trusted; as it draws to a close, Fonseca begins to play with stories within the story, marvelous concoctions of, for instance, “an odyssey that gradually stretches out, from motel to motel, train station to train station, that grows in leaps and bounds, like the man’s conviction.” The novel is an elegant meditation on art, inconstancy, and hiding, with a deftly woven subtext of camouflage that emerges as the narrative progresses.

A treat for fans of Cortázar, Bolaño, and other adepts of the literary enigma.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-21630-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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