A midlife crisis story stifled by enough material for several TED talks.

THE BOOK OF TWO WAYS

An Egyptologist-turned–hospice worker contemplates the mysteries of fate, mortality, and love.

Picoult’s obsession here is the power of choices and what can happen when they are made under pressure. Dawn, a graduate student in Egyptology, is abruptly called back to Boston from a dig in Egypt by a family emergency. Her mother, who raised her and her brother, Kieran, alone, is in hospice, dying. This death and other circumstances conspire to derail Dawn’s cherished career—now she must raise Kieran, who is only 13. Security is offered by Brian, a physicist at Harvard, whom she marries after discovering she's pregnant. For 15 years, she curates a different life than the one she had planned. She’s now a “death doula,” a concierge hospice worker contracted by the moribund to help wind up loose ends. For Dawn’s client Win, winding up involves getting in touch with a lost love, abandoned for another life. Win’s situation evokes in Dawn renewed longing for her own lost love, Wyatt, an English earl she left behind at the dig. When fault lines emerge in her marriage and teenage daughter Meret is being extra surly, might-have-beens beckon. The nonlinear narrative ricochets between Dawn’s Boston life and her sojourns—past and present—in Egypt. The chronology can be confusing—and, in the case of the prologue, deliberately misleading, it seems. There are no datelines or other guideposts except for periodic headings like "Water/Boston” and “Land/Egypt.” Water and Land reference the “Two Ways,” alternate routes to the afterlife in Egyptian mythology. Whether on death and dying, archaeology, or quantum physics, Picoult’s erudition overload far exceeds the interests of verisimilitude or theme. Do lectures on multiverses bring us any closer to parsing Dawn’s epiphanous epigram—“We don’t make decisions. Our decisions make us”? This much is clear: The characters’ professions are far better defined than their motivations.

A midlife crisis story stifled by enough material for several TED talks.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more