cover image What Just Happened: Notes on a Long Year

What Just Happened: Notes on a Long Year

Charles Finch. Knopf, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-31907-9

“Life [was] simple: Don’t go anywhere and be afraid,” writes novelist and critic Finch (The Inheritance) in this perceptive chronicle of his experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. After he was commissioned in March 2020 by the Los Angeles Times to document his observations during lockdown, Finch logged the grief, hope, and desperation he encountered day by day as the pandemic took hold. From the start, his takes are remarkably prescient: “However serious this ends up, the virus is being politicized,” he notes on March 11. Readers will feel an intimate familiarity with the bewilderment that imbues his early observations, as he laments not being able to make certain foods because of scarcity issues (“Will we see canned peas again?” he half-jokingly asks) while simultaneously dealing with shock and frustration at the Trump administration’s resistance to “admit the full danger of the virus.” His writing inevitably dips into cynicism as the death toll rises, but plenty of humorous moments break through, including his hilarious roasts of Trump’s officials, such as “Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo (whom I think we have to take as nature’s last word on how closely a human can resemble a toad).” Even at its darkest, this serves as a moving testament to the resilience of humanity. Agent: Elisabeth Weed, the Book Group. (Nov.)