Bring your vocabulary chops with you; you'll be needing them.

LAST ORGY OF THE DIVINE HERMIT

Experimental storytelling keeps Leyner's latest novel whirling around.

Narrative form is an ever malleable plaything in Leyner’s ostentatiously acrobatic new novel. In the simplest possible terms, it’s about a decrepit old anthropologist and his daughter at work on a book about the Chalazian Mafia Faction. Much of the novel is written in the form of a play, in which a patient narrates the action from the words that appear on her optometrist’s eye chart. And so on. Bring a dictionary: The author delights in layering slabs of vocab onto the page (“In another version, the Father and Daughter (named Caesar and Little Madonna) are extinct, rodent-like mammals called multituberculates who’ve been kept in a cryostat for several years”). Folding in on itself in dizzying postmodern loops, setting up motifs and tweaking them in a jazzy frenzy, this is a book written by someone who knows how smart he is. It isn’t so much an invitation as a challenge—if you finish this novel and like it, you must be a being of superior ambition and intelligence. Either that or you have a very high stake in your own literary endurance. Leyner delights in unusual, world-in-a-grain-of-sand narrative delivery; the action in his 2016 novel/memoir/all of the above, Gone With the Mind, takes place in a food court, where the character Mark Leyner holds forth and tells the story to his mom. On the one hand it’s exciting when a book blows narrative convention to smithereens. That said, you don’t read Leyner’s latest so much as you work at it, one allusion-packed page at a time. There’s no distinction between high and low culture here. One moment Leyner quotes a long passage from dance critic Jennifer Homans; a while later comes a riff on “Ryan Murphy’s limited series about a nasal, anorexic, handcuffed Momofuku Noodle Bar dishwasher’s festering toupee fetish.” Because, why not? This is ultimately the book’s saving grace: It is frequently, shamelessly funny enough to make the toil worthwhile.

Bring your vocabulary chops with you; you'll be needing them.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-56050-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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