The Midnight Library: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Robinson, Machado, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Marilynne Robinson, Carmen Maria Machado, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Jack: “Robinson’s stellar, revelatory fourth entry in her Gilead cycle (after Lila) focuses on Jack Boughton, the prodigal son of a Gilead, Iowa, minister, and the beginnings of his romance with Della Miles before his 1957 return to Gilead in Home. Jack, who disparagingly styles himself ‘the Prince of Darkness,’ finds his life spiraling out of control in St. Louis, where, after dodging the draft during WWII, he spends several years increasingly prone to bouts of heavy drinking, petty theft, and vagrancy. His tailspin is interrupted when he meets Della Miles, an English teacher from a prominent Black family in Memphis. Despite a disastrous first date, the details of which are hinted at in the beginning, and over the numerous objections of Della’s family and white strangers, Jack and Della fall in love, bound by a natural intimacy and mutual love of poetry. Robinson’s masterly prose and musings on faith are on display as usual, and the dialogue is keen and indelible. (‘Once in a lifetime, maybe, you look at a stranger and you see a soul, a glorious presence out of place in the world. And if you love God, every choice is made for you,’ Della tells Jack.) This is a beautiful, superbly crafted meditation on the redemption and transcendence that love affords.”

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bestiary: “In Chang’s vivid, fabulist debut, three generations of women contend with the mythology of their Taiwanese heritage. Chang opens in 1980, with Mother as a young girl searching for the gold her father brought from mainland China to Taiwan to Arkansas, then flashes forward to present-day California, where Mother raises Daughter on a steady stream of legends, such as that of Hu Gu Po, a tiger spirit who wants to be human but must consume the toes of children to keep her form. (Some of Mother’s toes are missing.) Daughter takes the story of Hu Gu Po as her own when she grows a tiger tail from a wound on her back, the result of a whipping Mother gave her and her brother for digging holes in their front yard. When Daughter befriends a classmate from China, the girls explore their desire for each other, as the holes in her front yard spit up letters that seem to be written by Daughter’s grandmother, leaving it up to Daughter to make sense of her lineage. The narrative arc meanders through the characters’ various relationships, but the prose is full of imagery. Chang’s wild story of a family’s tenuous grasp on belonging in the U.S. stands out with a deep commitment to exploring discomfort with the body and its transformations.”

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Midnight Library: Haig (How to Stop Time) draws on quantum wave theory in this charming if sometimes laborious account of the many possible lives of a depressed woman. Nora, in her mid-30s and living in the small English town of Bedford, suffers from ‘situational depression’—though, as she wryly observes, ‘It’s just that I keep on having new… situations.’ After she gets fired from her job and her cat dies, she attempts suicide, only to wake up in a book-lined liminal zone, where she is guided by a librarian: ‘Between life and death there is a library… Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.’ There, Nora discovers what would have happened had she not abandoned her promising swimming career, called off her engagement, or left the rock band she started with her brother. Each time an alternate life disappoints or doesn’t feel quite right, Nora exits, reappearing in the library to continue browsing for the perfect story. While the formula grows repetitive, the set changes provide novelty, as Haig whisks Nora from Australian beaches to a South American rock concert tour to an Arctic encounter with a polar bear. Haig’s agreeable narrative voice and imagination will reward readers who take this book off the shelf.”

Whale Day by Billy Collins

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Whale Day: “The playful 13th collection from Collins (The Rain in Portugal) is packed with his signature quirky humor and small epiphanies grounded in the everyday. Between poems about the correct way to peel a banana and the imagined embarrassment of an English rose expiring ‘by degrees of corruption/ in plain sight of all the neighbors passing by’ are light meditations on mortality. For Collins, ‘death is the magnetic north of poetry,’ giving his work direction and substance while remaining infused with an inventive lightheartedness. In ‘My Funeral,’ he imagines the attendees of his funeral as animals gathering at the pub after the ceremony, and ‘it’s even okay/ that the bartender turns out to be a horse.’ Moments that are simultaneously ordinary and tender appear throughout the collection, as he confesses that he has already sailed ‘some time ago/ into the quiet cardigan harbor’ of his life. Fans of the former poet laureate of the U.S. will be delighted with this latest, but those new to Collins’s work may find the collection does not dig deeply enough into complex emotion or pain.”

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado and Dani

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Low, Low Woods: “Machado (In the Dream House) makes her graphic novel debut with a gloriously unnerving tale of monsters, sinkholes, witches, and yearning teenage dreams. Shudder-to-Think is a town where men died ‘hacking up pieces of lung or crushed beneath ten tons of rock’ in the mines and women lost their memories, or just went missing, regularly. That’s what happened to El and Vee, two best friends who at some point in the 1990s wake up in a movie theater with no recollection of the film and decide to investigate the mystery behind that gap in time and the strange happenings around the community. As they dig deeper, they realize Shudder-to-Think’s cruelties and erasures—and the grotesque creatures in its woods—share a nefarious connection. As it happens, in this place where a fire has burned for years underground, humans can be the worst monsters. Within the horror plot lives a touching tale of friendship, choices, grief, and empowering rage, with a female-centered queer and diverse cast of characters. Machado also offers a rare look at magic as karma: ‘Magic is, among other things, a metaphor. It’s a kind of sacrifice. What I do to others I do to myself,’ intones one of the mystical, ageless forest dwellers. The eerie, sketchy art by Dani suits the mood: her brooding figures skirt the edge of disappearance. This will surely call out to fans of Machado’s searing prose, and it will also hit the spot for comics fans who like their horror heartfelt.”

Just Like You by Nick Hornby

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Just Like You: “Hornby (State of the Union) lives up to his reputation as bard of the everyday in this thoughtful romance that crosses lines of race, age, and class. Lucy, a white, not-quite-divorced schoolteacher, first notices Joseph, a part-time butcher, soccer coach, and aspiring DJ who is black and 20 years her junior, while listening to her friend flirt with him across the counter at the butcher shop. Lucy hires Joseph to babysit her two precocious boys, who adore him, and soon Lucy and Joseph’s relationship becomes romantic. Each takes a turn trying to end the affair (‘you and me are like something between brackets,’ she tells him), but their connection persists as Lucy juggles parenting and teaching and Joseph determines to expand his DJ career. Hornby is good company on the page and offers insights on his characters with aplomb, demonstrating an investment in each of their voices and an interest in the forces that draw people to one another. This is great fun.”

Bonus Links:
Up on the Roof: A Review of Nick Hornby’s ‘A Long Way Down’
Our World Is Straight-Up Surreal: The Millions Interviews Carmen Maria Machado
A Year in Reading: Carmen Maria Machado
On Carmen Maria Machado’s Body Horrors
Thinking Again: Marilynne Robinson’s ‘When I Was a Child I Read Books’
Marilynne Robinson’s Singular Vision

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