A masterwork that should cement Bina (and Schofield) as one of the great voices in recent fiction.

BINA

A NOVEL IN WARNINGS

An elderly woman in western Ireland holds up her life as a cautionary tale.

Partway through the tale told by Schofield’s garrulous 74-year-old narrator, she reflects on what her story could be if she were a woman with plenty of time left to her: “She’d lace up paragraphs that would absorb you and you’d believe her, because you’re easy this way. I am not that woman. I’m not easy.” She’s right: Bina and her story are anything but easy. The story of her later life unspools, often meandering down the page in broken lines like poetry (an effect achieved because she’s partly writing on the backs of receipts and bills) and including footnotes for digressions. Bina is especially concerned with warning readers not to end up as she did after helping a man—the bullying Eddie—who ruined her life the day he landed in a ditch on her property after a motorcycle accident. She tells of her unwitting role as a kind of counterculture icon to a group of young radicals she calls “the Crusties” after being jailed for hitting an airplane with a hammer during a protest. (She was thinking of Eddie.) And she speaks of her secret work with a dying-with-dignity group and the adjacent grief it brings into her life, especially when a much-loved friend is involved. But the plot, emerging in fits and starts, is really beside the point: Schofield pulls off such a virtuosic feat of voice that Bina’s utterances, by turns aphoristic and rambling, grief-soaked and mordantly funny, haul the reader through the book, as immersive as being trapped inside her rural kitchen with the kettle on.

A masterwork that should cement Bina (and Schofield) as one of the great voices in recent fiction.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-68137-549-6

Page Count: 328

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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