Even if someone left the cake out in the rain, it’s delicious.

TRIO

A novelist, a producer, and an actress confront their demons on and off a film set.

British author Boyd's 16th novel takes place in Brighton in 1968 and revolves around the making of a film called Emily Bracegirdle's Extremely Useful Ladder to the Moon. The titular trio consists of Elfrida Wing, an alcoholic novelist who hasn't written a book in a decade and whose marriage to the film's director is hanging by a thread; Talbot Kydd, the film's producer, a closeted gay man also in an unhappy marriage; and Anny Viklund, the young American actress playing Emily, who is sleeping with her hunky co-star and continually dosing herself in classic 1960s movie-star style from an abundant pharmacopeia of pills. In addition to these three, a slew of other interesting characters fills out the corners of the novel, giving it the feel of one of Robert Altman's high-spirited ensemble films of this era. Boyd deftly juggles serious and comedic elements, generally favoring the comic, as with Elfrida's many pathetic attempts to convince herself she's getting back on her game. Having been annoyed for most of her career at being compared to Virginia Woolf, she takes it in her head to write a novel based on Woolf's last day on Earth. Over and over she writes the first paragraph—Woolf wakes up, sees a shape the sun is making on the wall (a rhomboid? a parallelogram? a diamond?), has no idea it's the last morning of her life—at which point the author pours herself a glass of vodka to celebrate, and there goes that day. Another running joke involves Talbot's being tormented by the idiotic lyrics of the song "MacArthur Park," which seems to be playing on every radio in the country. His deeper torment regarding his sexuality is highlighted by the changing mores of the period, and he's also got real problems with his movie, which has to be constantly rewritten to work around problems created by its cast.

Even if someone left the cake out in the rain, it’s delicious.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31823-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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