PositiveAstraIt’s a rare thing to fall in love at first conceit. But...it’s as if Hernan Diaz’s latest novel, Trust, was built in a lab to hit my pleasure nodes ... And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing here, like a gorgeous cut of meat that needed a touch more seasoning and a bit more sear ... Though I quite like Trust, and recommend you read it, it’s a book whose own sparseness feels mismatched with its gilded action, and a book which may be just a touch too tidy for its own good ... I liked it best of all, though, when Trust was researching itself. A vignette from one character’s childhood recurs over the book in multiple sections and modifies itself until a memorable, disturbing climax when it reappears in an unlikely mouth. Part 4 is the highlight of the novel, a masterful segment of a character’s diary with a tiny bit of magic and a twist I won’t spoil ... One of the most admirable traits of Trust is its novelistic ambition ... What is odd is that Trust fully blooms when out of sight — I’ve liked it more in the writing of this review, as I’ve circled back through, relishing the characters and hijinks.
RaveThe Atlantic... an explanation of why stories like Febos’s are powerful, and moreover, why they take so much work. In their attempts to write in the confessional form, my students inevitably encounter dilemmas—including struggles over sentence sequencing and the fear of problematic ex-boyfriends reading their work—that Febos wants to help resolve ... Febos maintains an emphasis on form that is nicely balanced throughout the book by some charming, low-level woo-woo ... Even when Febos reaches a thesis that I disagree with, I’m persuaded by her argument for the need for creative honesty ... Body Work helped me learn how to work alongside and through my ongoing pain by forging a creative outlet. I’m grateful to Febos for the lesson in how to do it.
RaveThe RumpusI’ve seen Intimacies described as chilly, which I suppose I understand because its characters’ reactions to major drama are often understated and delayed. But beneath the surface of Kitamura’s prose thrums emotion, despair, and a sequence of complex ethical questions: is it appropriate to help someone who has done horrific things; should we look the other way if something amoral is happening; do we take people at their word or trust our own intuition? The text itself is linguistically funky, a watercolor of shadows whose dialogue sometimes melds into the narrator’s thoughts ... I’m particularly fascinated by how Intimacies often shrinks major beats down to infinitesimal size. Take the radical compression of the first paragraph, as a lifetime of plot is boiled down to an expository vignette that flavors the entire book ... The work of the narrator throughout is also the work of the reader—she, like us, tries to assemble the seemingly disparate threads of the novel into a cohesive whole that will centralize her and let her reckon with what she is going through with Adriaan. Kitamura’s achievement is that one leaves the novel with a sense of completion, though a traditional dénouement is not quite in the offing ... Intimacies might look like a two-dimensional beauty from the comfortable distance of a back jacket. But what is really here is something far more sensual, brimming with intense flavor.
PositiveGuernica... marvelous ... doesn’t reach the soaring heights of her masterpiece, The Story of a New Name, that is mainly an issue of the Ferrantean accumulation—deep networks of supporting characters, all with rich inner lives—being limited by the confines of a mere 320 pages ... sharply translated ... It’s almost as if Ferrante wanted to test herself, to see how far she could push her skill with signifiers. What should be ludicrous is instead delicious, as if Tolkien’s One Ring was forged to socially aggrieve ... The book’s tight focus on plot and character gives it an interesting fairytale aspect, but I found myself missing the contextual backdrop of The Neapolitan Novels. It takes a bit of work to find out we’re in the 1990s, and, with an almost total lack of time stamps, too much more work to remember ... The novel works as a stand-alone—the denouement resolves the question of the bracelet nicely—but as the opening salvo of a larger work, it would be still more effective. I wanted to go to the shelf, find the next volume in this series, and continue. Let’s hope that’s what Ferrante has in mind.
PositiveGuernica... marvelous ... Ferrante is at heart a writer of objects. In Lying Life, sharply translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, a single piece of jewelry sets the runaway train of causality in motion. The hot-potato bracelet of hazy provenance will, by the end of the novel, have appeared on six different Neapolitan wrists across three generations of three intertwined families, provoking multiple plot devices of escalating absurdity. It’s almost as if Ferrante wanted to test herself, to see how far she could push her skill with signifiers. What should be ludicrous is instead delicious, as if Tolkien’s One Ring was forged to socially aggrieve ... The book’s tight focus on plot and character gives it an interesting fairytale aspect, but I found myself missing the contextual backdrop of The Neapolitan Novels. It takes a bit of work to find out we’re in the 1990s, and, with an almost total lack of time stamps, too much more work to remember. This is also true of Naples itself, which feels strangely like anywhere ... The novel works as a stand-alone—the denouement resolves the question of the bracelet nicely—but as the opening salvo of a larger work, it would be still more effective. I wanted to go to the shelf, find the next volume in this series, and continue. Let’s hope that’s what Ferrante has in mind.
RaveGuernicaNo contemporary writer I know of conveys desire better than Garth Greenwell. His second book of fiction, Cleanness, is an audacious wonder, whose nine stories of intensely textured personal interactions form an unusually hard to define novelistic whole. The book is an argument against convention, both structurally and on the character level—the melding of forms makes Cleanness feel both unique and familiar as it explores the boundaries of longing and the turbulence of love ...
I should mention up top how good Cleanness’s sex scenes are. Shatteringly hot. I was never sure if I should hide the book from people next to me on the subway or lend it to them ... Cleanness most brilliantly captures the way that love can sometimes cause us to cherish even oblivion. Because desire obliterates reason—and in so doing it can alter our self-perception, our long-established limits. This process of undoing is one of literature’s fundamental elements, and it’s what gives Greenwell’s highly specific work an underpinning that is consciously, cannily, canonical.
T. Kira Madden
RaveGuernicaT Kira Madden’s Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is the forerunner of a new phase of creative non-fiction ... You might spot shades of Renata Adler or Elizabeth Hardwick in those confident, descriptive sentences, but with the time shifts and object fixations that give this book a lurking instability all its own ... LLtToFG is an ode to the 1990s, that special, horrible place ... you might feel that you know T Kira. That’s good. It means the machine is working. But because of this, it’s all too possible that the book’s reception will stop being about her creativity and zero in on her biography ... that would be a shame, because this book is exquisitely crafted ... The cascading close of the book sets this memoir further apart from what I’m used to seeing, and made this feel like the forerunner of something very new—the very idea of a bound essay collection fractures ... With Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, we have a job done intricately, intensely, over years of labor. Something that should be celebrated.