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

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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