“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library

Genre: Literary/Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pub. Date: Feb. 11, 2021

For someone who loves to read in the wee hours of the morning, how could I not want to read a book with the title, “The Midnight Library?” The novel did not disappoint. It reminded me of the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The book is marketed as literary/women’s fiction.  This reviewer did not think it was either. It is more of a fantasy and feel-good read. The fact that this is a heartwarming tale is interesting because the novel begins with a young woman who has just overdosed on purpose. She wakes up to find herself not in heaven or hell but an immensely large magical library.  Did I mention that she is an avid reader and spent most of her childhood in a library?  Yes, there is a connection. It turns out that this library is the place people go when they find themselves dangling between life and death and not entirely sure about which way to go. I get that a religious person would take issue with this concept. However, if you believe in quantum physics and that we live in multiple universes at the same time you will be thrilled to know that there are other believers out there.  There is even mention of Schrödinger’s cat. It is okay if you never heard of the cat it will be explained to you.

In this magical library, our protagonist meets a kindly librarian who shows her her very own “book of regrets.” We all have them. Now here comes the fantasy. She jumps into each life where she could make a different choice than she did before and that would lead her to a happier existence. In one life, she is a rock star, in another, she is an Olympic Swimmer. In yet another, she is a happily married wife and mother. Still, she doesn’t care to live any of these better lives because it becomes clear that she doesn’t know what she wants. At first reading her alternate lives were fun. Who hasn’t wished they could jump into another life? But, after a while, it becomes tedious to read one after another. I would have been happier with fewer lives. Still, the author manages to keep the story fun because when entering a new life she knows nothing of this life. But, everyone knows her.  She must look for herself online, read her social media accounts, to know who she exactly is in this particular life, which creates humorous dialogue as we observe her winging it.

The author seems to be saying that the universe is full of infinite possibilities, but the story here remains tightly focused on the life of a single woman and all her might-have-been lives. Once you finish the book, or probably before, the moral of the story becomes obvious.  “Oh, Auntie Em – there’s no place like home!” My only real issue in this tale was thinking about people who lost someone to suicide.  How painful it could be reading this fantasy and wishing that their loved one could have also time-traveled to come back to life. Overall, it is clear that Haig pushes her readers to ponder his or her own book of regrets, and make us wonder what we can do to keep from making the same mistakes again. He gets his point across very well.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review

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“Redhead by the Side” of the Road by Anne Tyler

Genre: Literary FictionRedhead
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Pub. Date: April 7, 2020

If I was to host a dinner party with my favorite female authors whose first name is some sort of derivative of “Ann” my guests would include Ann Napolitano, Ann Patchett, Anna Quindlen, and Anne Tyler. In Tyler’s latest novel, the narrative’s tone is overflowing with laugh-out-loud dry wit.  Her protagonist, Micah (an example of a difficult name to remember that I just switch to Michael in my mind) Mortimer is another likable yet quirky character, the kind that the author favors. It takes talent to write comedy with a rather dull hero.

Micah is a fastidiously well-organized 43-year-old tech geek who follows his routines to the point of bordering on OCD.  He heeds all rules, big or small, believing that this gives his life a sense of order. He pretends that there is a Big Brother-like Traffic God watching his every move in the car, which is why he always, always signals—even in his own driveway! When those living in the building he manages do not follow the guidelines, he writes them “friendly” reminders. Most residents get one or more per week. And the poor guy can’t figure out why women keep dumping him.

Micah is the extreme opposite of his lackadaisical family, which makes for some very funny dialogue between himself and the other Mortimers. His brother-in-law asks him “What day is it today? Is it [your] vacuuming day, a dusting day? Is it a scrub-the-baseboards-with-a-Q-tip day? In all seriousness, Micah replies, “it is kitchen day.” His family roars. Halfway through the novel, we meet a new character. A teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son. Since Micah is not built for life’s unexpected developments, his world becomes unmanageable. It is not a spoiler to inform you that the redhead in the title is not referring to the boy. Tyler cleverly uses the word redhead throughout the novel as a metaphor for the protagonist’s powerlessness to see clearly.  Is that a redhead child? No, it is a fire hydrant.

Micah fails to understand the ‘need’ to accept—or at least try to accept—the yin and yang of life. He stubbornly refuses to see that he might be the problem.  In the hands of a lesser author, he could easily come off as Mr. Magoo. Tyler keeps him human. She also makes us wonder. Is Miach even capable of change?  Are any of us capable of change?  In the tradition of “Akin” by Emma Donoghue, or “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, “Redhead” is a feel-good story about having second chances in life. Wouldn’t we all like a do-over? Yes, you have read this story before. Still, right about now in these crazy times, can’t we all benefit from a heartwarming tale?

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