A fascinating concept that might have been a terrific novel.

MARGARET AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING BODY

Nancy Drew meets The Baby-Sitters Club meets Girl, Interrupted by way of Judith Butler.

This elaborately constructed novel begins with 16-year-old Margaret in her car, listening to Fiona Apple, obsessing about food, and sadly reminiscing about the club for junior detectives she led as a tween. Her one-time friends have long outgrown amateur sleuthing, but Margaret hasn’t found a new identity for herself since Girls Can Solve Anything disbanded. Margaret has become a mystery to herself. After this prelude, the narrative takes us back to a happier time, a time when the mysteries Margaret confronted were much easier to solve. “The Case of the Stolen Specimens” centers on the theft of rare butterflies from the local botanical garden. After beginning in a realist mode, Milks takes a hard left into science fiction. It turns out that the thief Girls Can Solve Anything has been hunting is using butterfly DNA to turn herself into a bug. The case that gives this book its title involves a client who wakes up to discover that she no longer has a body. When the novel shifts gears again, Margaret is in a residential treatment program for teens struggling with disordered eating. And, once again, a realist narrative opens up to the fantastic. The facility where Margaret is staying is haunted, and a ghost leads her and two other patients on a terrifying quest. The final portion of the text is, essentially, an essay explaining the novel. It’s here we learn that the protagonist we met as Margaret no longer identifies as a woman. What Milks presents here is thought-provoking, but the novel they’ve written never quite coheres as the project they describe. “What is the difference between the fantasy of anorexic body mastery and the magic of hormone-based transition? I don’t know,” Milks writes. It’s fine to not know, but it’s odd to append this very interesting question at the end of a novel where it might have been more thoroughly explored. There are a few moments in which we see Margaret struggle with her sexuality and question her gender, but those moments get trampled by distractions like a disembodied brain and a spectral suffragette. The ultimate problem is that the fantastical apparatus doesn’t help the reader understand the novel’s central character; instead, it pushes the reader further away from understanding.

A fascinating concept that might have been a terrific novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952177-80-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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