Studio Puisto Have Designed a Stunning and Incredibly Unique Hotel in Rovaniemi, Finland

Studio Puisto have designed this stunning and incredibly unique hotel in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, the northernmost province of Finland – and the coldest. The hotel was designed in 2016 and covers a total area of 1,450 square meters. The concept for the Arctic TreeHouse, as it is called, came inspired by Nordic nature and culture as well as from the nearby Santa Park, an amusement park and visitor..


With massive granite towers stretching skyward and…

With massive granite towers stretching skyward and building-sized boulders scattered in valleys, there’s no need to ask how City of Rocks National Reserve in Idaho got its name. Dramatic geological features make for excellent nature study and even better climbing. You can also learn about unique plants, wildlife, and the history of Native Americans and early settlers at this fascinating park. Photo by National Park Service.

6 Simple Habits For More Productivity, Happiness And Fulfillment

Research tells us that willpower is like a muscle. You can work on making it stronger, but you can’t keep it flexed forever.

In other words:

Willpower is a limited resource.

There’s no better use of one’s willpower than on forming the right habits. The right habits serve as the bridge between where you are and where you want to be. Once those habits are formed, you don’t have to exert willpower on them anymore. Your journey towards success is effectively put on autopilot.

Try and adopt at least one of the following six productivity habits and reap the fruits of increased happiness and fulfillment.

Join the 5 a.m. club

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”

– Ben Franklin

Waking up early is a habit common among the world’s highest achievers. Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Immanuel Kant and Thomas Jefferson are all examples of men who were early risers.

Turns out:

Several studies have correlated waking up early with success.

In a 2008 Texas University study, college students who woke up earlier earned a higher point than those who study and sleep late (3.5 vs. 2.5).

Also, Harvard biologist Christoph Randler found that early risers are more proactive and more likely to respond positively to statements like “I spend time identifying long-range goals for myself” and “I feel in charge of making things happen.”

And if that isn’t enough, psychology research also tells us that early risers are happier and healthier than night-owls.

When you wake up early, there are less distractions and more time for you to focus on planning your day and doing what needs to get done.

Check out this actionable guide to discover how to burst out of bed every single morning.

Meditate Daily

meditate everyday

“The thing about meditation is: You become more and more you.”

– David Lynch

After interviewing more than 200 world-class performers like Jamie Foxx, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Amelia Boone for his podcast (The Tim Ferris Show), Tim found that the most consistent habit among his guests was some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice.

Meditation is a practice that is a thousand years old. Only recently has science begun to discover the profound effects that it has on the brain.

A group of Harvard-affiliated researchers reported that, over time, meditation can increase the brain’s gray matter. This is the region of your brain associated with decision-making.

What is life but a sum total of your decisions?

If something as simple as 10 minutes of daily meditation can improve the quality of your decisions, imagine what it can do for your overall quality of life.

Meditation has also been shown to reduce stress, improve concentration, increase self-awareness, slow down aging and increase happiness. It’s a habit that can improve every area of your life.

Don’t know where to start? Check out this beginner’s guide to meditation.

See Also: Benefits Of Meditation: How You Can Change Your Life In 10 Minutes

Read for 30 Minutes Everyday

read a book everyday

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.”

– Socrates

I compare reading to taking the red pill because it’s what snapped me out of the matrix of societal conditioning. Reading the works of great men and women showed me the extent of what’s really possible.

When we hear about Richard Branson in the media, we see him as the cool and suave, self-made billionaire. However, when you read his autobiography, you’ll learn about the mistakes he made, the obstacles he overcame and the lessons he learned. It has a sort of humanizing effect on him and you’ll realize that what one man can do, another can do as well.

Expose yourself to a wide variety of books and ideas to develop a dynamic and empowered perspective on life.

Need help getting started? Check out this step-by-step guide on how to read more.

Practice Gratitude

“Gratefulness is a higher organ of perception, through which you can accurately appreciate a fundamental truth: the universe works in mysterious ways, and you’re the constant beneficiary of its generosity.”

– Phil Stutz

Practicing gratitude teaches us to love the life we have while in pursuit of the life we want.

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to those who have more than us. But, when we realize the simple miracles of everyday life (e.g. access to clean water, the ability to walk, a warm bed to sleep in, etc.), it puts things in perspective.

The power of gratitude has been demonstrated in multiple studies. Here’s one that I like in particular:

Researchers brought participants into a lab and asked them to write a few sentences each week focused on a particular topic. One group wrote about the things they were grateful for while the other wrote about daily irritations or things that displeased them.

After about 10 weeks, the participants that wrote down what they were grateful for were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, exercised more and visited their physicians less.

Practicing gratitude literally changes your brain and makes you a happier and more fulfilled person. Make it a habit to write down 5 things that you’re grateful for every single day.

Skip Breakfast

“Since I’ve started intermittent fasting I’ve increased muscle mass, decreased body fat, increased explosiveness, and decreased the amount of time I’ve spent training.”

– James Clear

This habit might come as a shock to you. After all, we’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This idea, however, is quickly being laid to rest as the benefits of intermittent fasting have become too many to ignore.

See Also: Breaking the Fast: What I Have Learned Using Intermittent Fasting

Did you know that digestion is actually one of your body’s most complicated and intensive functions? That’s right.

By skipping breakfast, you extend your overnight fast and allow your body to focus its resources on other important tasks, like controlling blood sugar and facilitating cellular recovery.

Furthermore, a short-term fast can boost testosterone and growth hormone levels. These two factors can seriously enhance your progress when trying to lean down.

Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet. It is a pattern of eating. To get started with IF, you only have to follow one rule:

Eat within a 6-8 hour window.

So, if you wake up at 8 a.m., simply skip breakfast and have your first meal between 12-2 p.m. Have your final meal between 8-10 p.m. It’s as simple as that. For a more intensive resource for, you can check out James Clear’s guide.

Since adopting IF, my productivity has also shot up. My body is not involved in digestion and I find myself more focused on work. By the time I have my first meal, I’ve already gotten so much work done that the rest of the day is pretty much just a bonus.

Make Your Bed

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

– U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McCraven

Making your bed in the morning will set the tone for the rest of your day. As the first task of the day, it will set the momentum for your next set of tasks. By the end of the day, it will be like a domino effect that has carried over.

As McCraven mentions in his University of Texas commencement speech:

“Making your bed will reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made – that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”


The post 6 Simple Habits For More Productivity, Happiness And Fulfillment appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Francis Spufford: The Benign Dicator

“Slush for small minds, sir. Pabulum for the easily pleased.” That is Tabitha Lovell’s opinion of novels; unhappily for her, she is a character in one, Francis Spufford’s new book, Golden Hill. Fortunately, however, Golden Hill is a delight: largely set in 1746 Manhattan, it tells the story of Mr. Smith, a young Englishman who shows up with a note saying he is owed a thousand pounds, and finds himself an object of suspicion for most members of the still-rather-small colonial city, including the sharp-tongued but flirtatious Tabitha; her father, who may have to pay the bill; the governor’s secretary, Septimus Oakeshott; and Septimus’s secret lover, Achilles, the governor’s slave. The tale of the mysterious Mr. Smith, published last year in the United Kingdom, was named the best novel of 2016 by the British Sunday Times.

It also won the Costa Book Award for best first novel, despite arguably being Spufford’s second novel, after the hard-to-classify Red Plenty, his engrossing, ambitious retelling of the early years of the Soviet Union. (“It’s like a rigid tree of historical explanation with nice, juicy fictional fruit growing on it,” Spufford suggested of that book.) Before that hybrid work, Spufford spent a couple of decades writing nonfiction on a dizzying array of subjects, including British inventors (Backroom Boys), polar exploration (I May Be Some Time), a defense of Christianity (Unapologetic), and a personal history (The Child That Books Built).

I spoke with Spufford on a Skype connection to his home in Ely, an English town just north of Cambridge. (He sent a friendly email in advance of the conversation, warning, “I’m an Englishman who struggles with wearing a tie, and other really basic types of form and ceremony.”) Spufford slouched in his chair as words came tumbling effortlessly out of him. “I’m the king of my books, I’ll have you know,” he said with amiable hauteur. He laughed, and reconsidered — toning down his bravado, but only slightly. “The benign dictator for life, anyway.” The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. — Gavin Edwards

The Barnes & Noble Review: Do you have an ideal reader?

Francis Spufford: No. I’m writing the books I want to exist because I’d like to read them, so maybe there’s a mirror image of me on the other side of the table. But whoever it is, ideally, they should be a glutton for irony. They should like story for the sake of story — and long, intricately braided and knotted sequences of events. They should be curious. They should like weird facts for their own sake, and they should also like the taste of language in the mouth. They should be the kind of person who opens a dictionary and goes, Ooh, it’s a picnic.

BNR: Your books’ subjects have ranged from polar exploration to the economic history of the USSR — how did you end up with such a broad remit?

FS: The things I’m interested in writing about are very often things that don’t fall within my tastes and my temperament. I like reaching out over the edges of myself because that’s more interesting.

BNR: So how did you end up writing about Manhattan in the 1740s?

FS: A random effect of visiting New York: suddenly realizing that once you got down below the grid, the southern tip was strangely like the city of London, down to the same street names. And like the city of London now, also burned down by great fires. So you’ve got a pre-modern net of lanes with enormous glass temples of international finance growing out of them. And I thought, heavens, this is still haunted by the city that was.

I got a photocopy of an eighteenth-century street map and tried to walk lower Manhattan to see if it was still there. And it kind of is, apart from the fact that the shoreline has gone outwards about a block all the way round. There’s nothing above ground level so far as I could see, apart from the tombs in Trinity Church and Bowling Green — which has the same railing around it, although the crowns were snipped off the top with the Revolution.

BNR: Oh, Bowling Green must have literally been a bowling green.

FS: It was, for the colonists to enjoy on Saturday afternoon. Imagine men in wigs and ladies in full skirts playing skittles there. And I thought, there is a buried sisterhood between this city and London. Wouldn’t it be interesting to think about the moment before one shared Anglo-American identity split into two different things? But I also had a story I wanted to tell, and I realized the setting and the story would fit very nicely together.

BNR: The story had been bubbling in a separate pot?

FS: The pot that it eventually went into seems so inevitable now that it’s slightly difficult to remember. But I did have bubbling away in my mind a storyteller’s question: What would happen if a con artist fell in love with a compulsive liar? Those are not accurate descriptions, as it turns out, of either Mr. Smith or of Tabitha. But that was my starting point: two people who are unable to tell the truth to each other but who are doing the dance of mutual attraction. What would happen there?

Then I thought, this needs to happen in a very small setting, the classic village of fiction where everybody knows everybody’s business. There should be a stranger coming to town, and the stranger should be from a city. The stranger should be convinced that he’s a sophisticate among the rubes, but actually he’s somebody who has no idea how to cope in an environment where everybody knows everybody’s business.

BNR: There’s a line in the musical Hamilton that New York City is “the greatest city in the world.” While that’s flattering to Broadway audiences, I don’t think most people in the eighteenth century thought of New York as the greatest city in the world.

FS: They didn’t. The strange thing is that it was urban in feeling, even though there was hardly any of it. But Philadelphia was the financial center; New York was this slightly provincial place that exported flour to slave plantations down in Barbados and Jamaica. And in return, turned sugar into rum. Not cosmopolitan. On the contrary, rather suspicious and narrow, Anglo and Dutch and African and very suspicious of the outside world, particularly if it spoke French.

In some ways, satisfyingly the opposite of everything you associate with New York City now. Very small rather than huge, ethnically exclusive rather than a vast melting pot. Very pious rather than being possibly one of the secular places on earth. Very closed and paranoid about the outside world rather than open and curious. And yet, to my fascination, I could still see a recognizable New York−ness in the New York of the 1740s. Even when you can walk end to end in ten minutes, even when everybody in it thinks they’re British or Dutch, there is still something about it as a deal-making city living on its wits, already sure that it’s the center of something, even if they don’t know what yet.

BNR: And it was littered with coffeehouses.

FS: Only two! There were two rival coffeehouses, which is why Mr. Smith is confused, given that London has got hundreds of the things. That’s all you needed to cover the population. There was one slightly more glamorous and high-end coffeehouse, which is the one Mr. Smith does his coffee drinking in. And one slightly down-market rival, and the rest were basically cellars where you could drink gin.

BNR: There are some interesting moments when your narrator is trying to catch up with the action of a card game or swordplay. I don’t want to give the identity of the narrator away . . .

FS: That particular secret I’m going to try and keep back even though, you know, it takes one second on the Internet to find this stuff out. I’m going to behave as if there’s still a point in putting in spoilers. But what I wanted to happen was for the reader to work out gradually that there’s actually a game going on inside the game. What you think is a classic omniscient eighteenth-century narrator, like Henry Fielding in Tom Jones — he knows everything about everything and can launch into a charming, rambling disposition about it at any moment — rather than being that, you would gradually realize that the voice of the novel was literally a voice and that somebody was speaking to you. And of course, to make it satisfying, that has got to be somebody you know from within the cast. And the clues are supposed to build up gently, like the first flakes of snow falling to the ground. It’s a very wintry novel.

BNR: What unites your diverse catalog of books?

FS: Not a lot. I’m a really slow writer. The un-mysterious truth is that by the time I’ve finished laboring my way to the end of a book, I’m ready for a change of subject. Possibly something has appeared in the corner of my eye, an illicit indulgence I shouldn’t be thinking about because I should be finishing this thing. But there’s usually some kind of thread. My next novel is about London, because London has been in my head because of thinking about Mr. Smith being a Londoner

Before that, there is, strangely enough, a connection between Golden Hill and my previous book, Red Plenty: they’re both novels about economics. They’re novels in which the way people deal with money is kind of a big part of the human story, only I’ve gone from twentieth-century Russia and long-lost utopian fantasies about what Communists could do with computers, back two centuries to the even-longer-lost world of how people transmitted money round the globe in the centuries before the Internet, before Western Union, before instantaneous communications. How on earth, short of physically moving a large steamer chest full of gold coins, do you move a large sum of money across the Atlantic in the eighteenth century?

They had answers to this question. But they depended fascinatingly on relationships of trust and on paper trails and on what economists would call symmetrical information, where each party in the transaction knows about as much as the other. If one of those things goes wrong, if somebody is keeping secrets or there’s a reason not to be trusting, then you’ve got a story.

BNR: Does writing induce the same fugue state for you that reading does?

FS: When writing’s going well, it doesn’t seem to have any discernible sensation at all. You’re aware of the work rather than being aware of yourself — until hours have gone past and you need the bathroom or you’ve suddenly discovered you’re hungry. And in some ways, that is very like my childhood experience of being lost in somebody else’s book.

Weirdly, I don’t read like that very much as an adult now. I’m much more easily distractable — thank you, smartphones, thank you, parenthood. Also I think I’m not sure I’m as good as I was a child at just being handed a world like that. I think I’m talking back to what I read more these days. I haven’t actually ever made that connection but on good days there is a connection between the way I used to read and the way I write.

On bad days, writing is an endless, chafing misery of self-criticism and frustration: I could never do this, it was an illusion for the last twenty years of being some kind of bizarre fever dream, and actually I am incapable of this. I am a laughable pretender, and it gets even worse when you go into a bookshop because it’s full of highly competent writing by other people.

BNR: Is this the room where you write?

FS: Not that often. I’m addicted to writing in cafes, because my coffee intake rivals Mr. Smith’s, and I like the gentle noise of a cafe around me. I find it easier to concentrate and tune in to the soundtrack of whatever it is I’m writing if there’s something human going on around. Whereas this room is very quiet and very beautiful and there’s an enormous cathedral outside the window, can you see that?

BNR: I can!

FS: My wife’s an Episcopalian priest, and she works just over there. But it’s almost intimidatingly lovely around here, so I seek out coffee and normality.

BNR: There was a line in your introduction to the anthology The Ends of the Earth: “Being in Antarctica is also a constant reminder of language’s secondary status, of description’s belated appearance on any scene.” I was wondering if the inadequacy of language for describing what is actually around us was part of the impulse that led you towards fiction.

FS: Yes. I am somebody who habitually lives both quite a lot in my head and quite a lot in words. And every now and again you get an important collision with everything which isn’t you and isn’t made of words. One of the reasons I was interested in ice and snow and wilderness, why I started my writing career, is that that was an environment that people could mythologize to their heart’s content, but it was also an environment that put up total silent resistance to the things people say about it. If you’ve ever been to the Arctic or the Antarctic, the idea that some polar explorer on some tiny ship could be in a position to say what all of that means is just ridiculous.

So I am both a language person through and through and somebody very much aware that words have limits. It seems to me that fiction, if you’re lucky, lets you do a kind of tricky judo on what’s not sayable, and you can throw the arms of words around lumps of what words actually can’t do.

BNR: What have you been reading and enjoying lately?

FS: I’ve got Lincoln in the Bardo in the stack beside my bed. I teach writing, so I’ve got a lot of student work underneath Lincoln in the Bardo, but they’re just going to have to wait until I get to the end. A lot of books about London, one way and another. I still haven’t read Donna Tartt’s third one; there’s a copy of The Goldfinch waiting for me to have time to do it properly. There is a steady flow of science fiction. Robert Jackson BennettCity of Stairs, City of Blades, City of Miracles — he’s very good indeed. I rate a New Zealander called Elizabeth Knox, who writes both YA fiction and adult literary fiction. I read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao [by Junot Díaz] about ten years after everybody else did and I thought that was great. N. K. Jemisin, I’m reading the fantasy trilogy [the Broken Earth series] with seismology as its secret source. They’re marvelous. A British expat writer in New York called Felix Gilman, who wrote a completely wonderful book called The Half-Made World. I could keep going.

BNR: What has been the most surprising thing about the reception of Golden Hill?

FS: Well, my bar for success was set low, because I was genuinely apprehensive about letting go of the handrail of nonfiction and not having any verifiable real-world story to tell anymore. So my first ambition for the book was that it would not cause people to laugh and point in the street. I achieved that, I’m proud to say. But I was not expecting it to take off in the U.K. as much as it has. It has sold a large multiple of the amount any of my previous books has sold. It’s winning prizes. Total strangers are reading it and writing me letters about it in a way that suggests that they’re invested in the reality of the characters. They want to know what really happened at the end.

BNR: Do you have an answer to that question?

FS: Ummmm . . . maybe. The truth is I have a half-definite idea. I opened a whole can of futures at the end. I know that some of them didn’t happen. I would have preferences. Who am I to say, really?

BNR: Just wait a few years. Someone will offer a large check for a sequel, and you’ll find you have very definite preferences.

FS: Actually, I tried my best to eliminate the possibility of a sequel, with a combination of being destructively definite about some things and categorically vague about other things. I can actually see the possibility of a prequel in which Septimus and Achilles do espionage among the Iroquois.

BNR: See, you’re clever enough that you’re already finding ways to wriggle out your own straitjacket

FS: This is the trouble with the straitjackets you manufacture yourself. You know where all the straps and buttons are.


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The Barnes & Noble Review

Beautiful Structure Located in Chilmark, Massachusetts Designed for Gray Organschi Architecture

This beautiful structure is located in Chilmark, a town on Martha’s Vineyard in Dukes County, Massachusetts, United States. It was precisely this location which became the focus for its décor, as the home was designed with a multigenerational family in mind. The area, a former sheep herding field, with views to the vast Chilmark Pond, and where the Atlantic is also visible, is bordered by a series of stones that..


Waterfront Farm Residence in Canada Was Designed by the Architectural Firm Trevor Horne Architects

The Cobourg residence is a waterfront home located on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes that sit at the border between the United States in Canada. As the owners had previously lived on a farm, they wished their new home to feel as similar to it as a modern home can feel. Taking this cue, Trevor Horne Architects, the architectural firm responsible for the home’s..


Staying Out Of Debt: 3 Money Habits You Should Be Doing

Falling into debt is easy. Repaying that debt is much harder.

A recent study found that more than a third of all Americans have personal debt that’s at least 180 days past due. While occasional overspending is common, most of these people see debt as a part of their lifestyle.

Debt can pile up for a number of reasons, but it’s particularly problematic when people make major purchases without concern for the consequences. Whether it’s buying a new flat-screen TV for the big game or committing to a costly vacation rental with friends, this you-only-live-once attitude can create major problems.

Once debt piles up, the interest payments and fees alone can be enough to cripple even the most responsible borrower. It’s a tough challenge, but the incentives for battling back to “even”- or avoiding debt in the first place- are tremendous.

Debt Is a Dirty Word

Carrying too much debt in relation to your income goes beyond making it a challenge to pay bills. It can also lower your credit score.

Late or skipped payments can make matters even worse. When you become a bad credit risk, it will become more difficult and expensive for you to borrow in the future. Lenders will look for any reason to be leery of an application so you could end up paying much higher interest rates. Skip enough payments and you could end up in court or dealing with the repo men.

But, it isn’t only lenders who look at credit scores. Cable and utility companies use them to vet potential customers, too. Landlords can sometimes consult your credit score to find out how reliable you will be about paying your rent. Anyone who thinks you’re a credit risk could charge you with a higher rate or deny you services altogether.

Some employers consult credit scores before making hiring decisions. Your resume might get your foot in the door, but your credit score could torpedo your chance of earning money to repay your debt.

The main reason to avoid being a chronic debtor is that it makes you feel crummy about yourself. People often lie about how much credit card debt they have. And these aren’t little white lies. We’re talking under-reporting to the tune of about $400 million. When confronted about those lies, people admit they feel a social stigma about having a hefty credit card debt.

3 Tactics to Manage Debt During Major Purchases

Staying out of debt isn’t as much fun as getting into it, but it’s important to think ahead when making any major purchase. With proper discipline and three simple habits, just about anyone can avoid debt while enjoying the finer things in life.

Buy only what you can afford

buying necessities

To determine what big purchases you can afford, create a monthly budget. First, calculate how much after-tax income you earn each month. Once you have that figure, add up the expenses you must pay on a regular basis. These are your “needs.”

Those needs should include your rent or mortgage, car loans, credit card debt and student loans. You can also include utilities, grocery bills and any other routine payments you make in this list. If a bill varies from month to month, such as groceries or utilities, average out your past three bills to create a ballpark figure.

Subtract your needs from your income and you’re left with a pot of discretionary money. As long as your basic needs are covered on a monthly basis, you can feel comfortable socking away that leftover money for big purchases.

Maintain multiple accounts

Consider maintaining separate accounts for different areas of your budget. You can have one for your living expenses, one for utilities and another for groceries. This will allow you to not exceed your monthly budget for each category while carefully tracking your spending patterns in various areas.

If you have a big purchase on the horizon, open a separate account to save toward your goal. You might set up an automatic withdrawal from each paycheck that deposits a small amount of money directly into that account. Once you hit your budgeted goal, you can feel go ahead and make that purchase.

See Also: Saving Money Basics: How to Build a Solid Savings Fund

Think outside the bank

rewarding yourself

It’s important to give yourself incentives for meeting financial goals. You can also consider tying big purchases to life goals.

For example, you could reward yourself with a new pair of running shoes if you’re able to commit to visiting the gym at least 15 times in the next month. Or, if you desperately want to visit Japan, task yourself with becoming conversational in Japanese before you can spend a dime on travel.

This approach ensures you’re truly committed to your big purchase before you rack up any debt. Plus, it gives you ample time to set aside money for those expenses. Make sure your goals are measurable and tangible so you can definitively know when it’s time to loosen the purse strings.


Used responsibly, credit cards are amazing tools that allow people to cover expenses when they’re short on funds. But, when debt lingers, it can work against you.

See Also: 9 Valuable Credit Card Perks

By planning ahead, you can make big purchases without taking on insurmountable debt. Whether you want a new car or an upgraded smartphone, managing your money is less about what you want today as it is about making sure you can pay for what you need tomorrow.


The post Staying Out Of Debt: 3 Money Habits You Should Be Doing appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Modern Gods

“Tender” is not the first word you think of when you think of either Northern Ireland or Papua New Guinea, each place green in its own way but also harsh in its own way. Yet Nick Laird’s new novel, set in both places, is above all tender. Which, in this case, does not mean sappy. The violent prologue to Modern Gods makes that clear. “A surge of bodies away from the door now, pushing across the lounge bar and much screaming . . . There was a loud dull pop-pop-pop-pop, and a little puff of redness erupted from the side of the head of an old man.” Two masked gunmen kill five people (“four Catholics, a Protestant”) in a Northern Ireland roadhouse in 1993, in the past that Laird goes on to show is never past.

Decades later, in quiet Ballyglass (“bacon factory, cheese factory, cement factory”), life putters along. The Donnelly family is getting ready for a wedding: Alison, schoolteacher and mother, is marrying again; Liz, the intellectual, is flying in from London; Judith and Kenneth, the parents, are keeping Judith’s returned cancer a secret. This could be the setup for a Maeve Binchy or Anita Shreve novel, and it is no insult to Laird to say that he moves things along as expertly as any bestselling novelist would. In a few exquisite vignettes, he introduces his characters and conveys the essence of love or pain, often with a simple gesture. “Something in her voice,” he writes of Judith fretting over flowers, “some new alarm, some warning — made him turn to her. He softened as he always did at the sight of sadness and stood up in his new, tentative way, and went to her. She was sobbing now and fell into him, and held him while he repeated — although he knew the answer — ‘What’s wrong, what’s wrong, whatever’s wrong now?’ ”

While Liz still smarts from her latest boyfriend’s infidelity, Alison, about to marry bland Stephen, persuades herself that “there was something attractive about a mind that moved in a straight line.” Never mind Stephen’s sectarian tattoos and his violent nightmares. Adding to the unease are glimpses of the long-dead shooting victims, captured in a few brief descriptions of their last day, their final minutes. In one flashback, for example, a man at the bar commiserates with another, recently widowed:

“Now it’s a shame.”
“It is.”
“You haven’t had to seek your troubles.”
“We all have our crosses to bear.”
In silence they looked down at their drinks and considered their crosses, then looked up at the band going full throttle.

The pub door bangs open and death enters.

Then it’s back to the present, to Alison’s wedding preparations and a perfectly timed revelation that spawns fresh anguish. As her sister’s honeymoon turns into a hostile standoff, Liz travels to the jungle outpost of New Ulster in Papua New Guinea to narrate a BBC documentary on a new religious cult founded by a woman called Belef. This sounds contrived — and it is a little. Only toward the end, however, does Laird belabor the themes of tribalism and religious fanaticism that connect two places, worlds apart. “Liz lay there now in the dark and thought she had spend her lifetime studying the differences, how one tribe does this, another that — and all the time there was no difference, not really, just tiny variations on a theme of great suffering, great loss.” Belef, a wonderfully odd creation, is disfigured by grief just as the widower who confronts his wife’s killer in Ballyglass is undone. Yet the suffering prophet remains weirdly clear-sighted. In her view, the lure of American evangelicalism, for example, is no mystery: “Before the mission came, there were many families here,” Belef explains of her village. “They grew scared of the darkness and moved to Slinga. They were all afraid of Hell, this new place they heard of. And all the villagers who went got shoes given ’em. All the others were getting on and they were not.”

In a domestic drama — and Modern Gods is at heart just that — shuttling back and forth between Ballyglass and Papua New Guinea is a risky maneuver. But Laird is an agile writer who effortlessly switches location and point of view without sacrificing the empathy we feel for each character. Even on alien terrain where “in the all-day permanent gloaming, beasts crawled on their stomachs, crept on all fours, stalked and pounced, rutted and died and rotted,” the mood remains intimate and often lyrical. But Laird is at his best on his home turf. A poet as well as a novelist, he has a well-tuned ear for the speech of his native place and a keen eye for Northern Ireland’s shifting light and brooding sky. Here’s Kenneth, for example, surveying a morning: “The sky hanging over the black hills was heavy with rain about to get falling. Sidney, his older brother, would be heading up to the cattle in an hour or so.”   And here is Judith, awakened by terror, contemplating her attenuated life: “She’d wanted a nice home with nice things. On the farm there was never enough of anything. Except for work. There was enough of that . . . She wanted to sift her life through her fingers, to weigh the thing and not to find it wanting. To find that everything was worth it in the end.” Laird wisely leaves that question open.


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