Adam Morgan is the editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books, a contributing writer at Chicago magazine, and a book critic for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. His writing has also appeared in The Paris Review Daily, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers, and elsewhere. He tweets at @adamm0rgan.
RaveThe AV ClubMore than 1,200 pages into James’ trilogy, one thing is clear: Moon Witch, Spider King is even better than Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Unlike Tracker’s fragmentary and impressionistic narrative, Sogolon’s story is mostly linear and rich with detail, filling in many of the gaps introduced by Tracker in regards to the trilogy’s plot, settings, and characters. And while Black Leopard, Red Wolf’s confounding quest in the wilderness didn’t exactly live up to the billing of \'an African Game of Thrones,\' Moon Witch, Spider King’s palace intrigue certainly does ... And here’s where Moon Witch, Spider King gets really, really good. Tracker rarely took the time to describe James’ fantastical cities, but Sogolon notices everything in the capital of Fasisi ... while Sogolon’s story isn’t as bloody or breathlessly paced as Tracker’s, it’s more suspenseful and rewarding because of the way time moves forward ... wildly inventive, genre-defining works of fiction on the level of The Lord Of The Rings and the Broken Earth trilogy that deserve to be studied, dissected, and argued over.
RaveThe A.V. ClubIf you approach it without genre-specific expectations, The Perishing is a startling, luminous love letter to Los Angeles and one of the best books of 2021 ... consistently gorgeous prose ... In its final 50 pages, The Perishing’s immortal frame narrative takes center stage again and sprints to a surprising conclusion. If you’ve enjoyed Lou’s chapters purely as historical fiction, the denouement may strike a dissonant chord. But it’s as brilliant and unprecedented as the rest of the book, sheds new light on the opening chapters, and sews all of Deón’s narrative threads back together in a uniquely satisfying way. Grace may have announced the arrival of a singular new voice, but The Perishing does not sit in its shadow; it burns as bright as the Hollywoodland sign once did, \'studded with four thousand light bulbs.\'
MixedThe A.V. ClubThere’s a stunning 250-page collection hidden within this 400-page book ... The title story belongs in a different collection altogether ... \'Dispatches From The Cradle: The Hermit—Forty-Eight Hours In The Sea Of Massachusetts,\' a travelogue set in a future ravaged by climate change, at times resembles a Wikipedia summary more than a work of fiction ... Like a lot of genre fiction, most of Liu’s stories are puzzle boxes; you don’t get the full picture until the final page ... makes many of these stories emotionally poignant and powerful, but when read one after another after another, all of the dead children and traumatic flashbacks become exhausting. One starts to lose interest in opening more boxes.
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
RaveThe Chicago TribuneA masterful work of speculative fiction ... An unforgettable literary thriller full of atmospheric horror.
PositiveThe A.V ClubKimi Eisele’s debut novel, The Lightest Object In The Universe, might be the most optimistic post-apocalyptic story ever written. It’s Sleepless In Seattle meets Station Eleven ... Some people will find The Lightest Object In The Universe impossibly naïve. Instead of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Eisele gives us bicycle networks and community gardens ... tension is missing from too much of The Lightest Object In The Universe, which is perhaps 75 pages too long and 20 percent too preachy about capitalist greed. But the leisurely chapters are full of beauty, the characters are layered and nuanced ... To be fair, there are plenty of horrors in Eisele’s version of the apocalypse. A lot of people die. But unlike The Road, The Lightest Object is mostly interested in the survivors who are kind to one another. If that sounds naïve, maybe Cormac McCarthy made us all too cynical.
PanThe A.V. ClubFKA USA is exhausting. Instead of telling a story, the author packs every page with as many convoluted world-building references and one-liners as possible. It feels less like a novel and more like a movie treatment crowdsourced by studio executives, who then passed the writing off to one of their teenage nephews ... the \'jokes\' are more Adam Sandler than George Saunders ... the truth is—despite a great cover and a clever premise—there are Wikipedia pages more narratively compelling than FKA USA. The map on the endpapers is the best part of the book.
Natalia Ginzburg, Trans. by Minna Proctor
PositiveChicago TribunePublished in Italy in 1973 and appearing in English for the first time, it’s primarily a series of letters between the estranged son and his friends and family back home. If that sounds uneventful, rest assured it’s just as compelling as The Dry Heart. Ginzburg’s sentences are deceptively simple, often no longer than a single clause.
RaveThe A.V. ClubA handful of living science fiction writers have attained godlike status—N.K. Jemisin, Cixin Liu, and Ann Leckie, to name a few. But Ted Chiang is the only one who’s done it without writing a novel ... oh, his stories. They’re a religious experience ... In Exhalation, which could be subtitled \'Black Mirror For Optimists,\' every story seems crafted with one objective in mind—pure awe ... The three longer stories in Exhalation are Chiang’s finest work to date ... Savor all nine of these stories. Read them one sitting at a time, somewhere still and quiet, and let them sink in.
Charlie Jane Anders
PositiveThe A.V. Club\"... a stylish sci-fi adventure that combines the social and environmental themes of Le Guin with a Guillermo del Toro creature feature ... It’s all very suspenseful for the first third of the book, as Anders builds expectations for both a social revolution and a heist. But neither of these things happens, and Anders leaves Xiosphant largely unexplored ... Nonetheless, Anders takes the final third of the novel in some interesting and unexpected directions, both geographically and thematically ... The City In The Middle Of The Night is far less ambitious [than Le Guin], but still a fine piece of popcorn sci-fi that will inevitably become a TV series.\
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesJoy’s third novel, The Line That Held Us, may have a lower body count than his first two, but there’s still plenty of gore ... The things that capture Joy’s attention are often grounded in the physical world. He devotes nearly an entire page to the mechanics of fieldstripping a pistol, another half-page to the composition of a concrete block-laying crew, and is often preoccupied with what his characters are doing with their bodies. Lines like, \'Calvin walked back toward the couch with one hand down his sweatpants, the other holding his drink against the center of his chest,\' are common, but don\'t always serve the story ... within Joy’s otherwise powerful, lyrical fiction, Appalachia’s real-life complexity and diversity aren’t often apparent ... Despite some shortcomings, The Line That Held Us is a suspenseful page-turner, complete with one of the absolutely killer endings that have become one of Joy’s signatures.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"If depression is a clouded lens that distorts reality, Lacey, who lives in Chicago, is perhaps the finest crafter of these lenses in American fiction ... These narrators, one after the other, would be suffocating were it not for Lacey’s sublime prose. On every page, she slips a tiny gem into your palm, a little miracle of perspective ... This is all to say that Certain American States is exactly what you would expect from Lacey: perfect sentences, penetrating insights, devastating epiphanies. Like the most intense chapters of her novels, reading this collection takes an almost physical toll. Each story inflates like a balloon until, with the very last line, Lacey cuts the string tethering it to the ground.\
PositiveChicago Review of BooksJones writes with great serenity of soul as he constructs a false autobiography: highlighting travels to London and Paris; the separation, contemplation and reunion with his wife in the Italian countryside; morning tea with his daughter and running with his sons; flights with a pioneering aviator father and conversations with a deaf mother.
Edouard Louis, Trans. Lorin Stein
PositiveThe Chicago Tribunea shocking, powerful book that doubles as an indictment of homophobia and racism in French culture — just don’t judge it by the opening sentence, which is so tangled and dense that diagramming it would require a grammatical savant.
RaveThe Star Tribune\"...never mind that I believe Richard Powers’ 12th novel to be a masterwork sculpted from sheer awe. Instead, know that reading “The Overstory” will convince you that we walk among gods every time we enter a forest ... Powers’ greatest achievement here is his ability to convey the genuine magic of trees — specifically, their impenetrable intelligence and sensual delights.\
Veronica Gerber Bicecci, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
PositiveThe Star TribuneBicecci’s debut novel, Empty Set, is full of secrets...some of which remain hidden after the final page. It’s a fascinating puzzle of a book that I can’t stop thinking about—an experimental mix of prose, diagrams and literary artifacts that is also, somehow, breathlessly plotted.
László Krasznahorkai, Trans. by George Szirtes, Ottilie Mulzet & John Batki
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"True to form, Krasznahorkai’s latest collection of fiction is intentionally difficult, if less bleak than some of his vaguely apocalyptic novels. Laced with the dark, existential humor familiar to readers of Kafka and Samuel Beckett ... Make no mistake: Krasznahorkai is an avant-garde stylist with little interest in the traditional short stories we’re all familiar with from literary magazines. The stories in The World Goes On are the reading equivalent of climbing a volcano instead of sitting by the beach on your honeymoon. But the rewards — the sudden, knife-like insights so cerebral they seem the work of an alien intelligence — are worth the effort.\
Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneJames has made a surprising career shift by writing about true crime, and with the help of his daughter Rachel may have stumbled upon something truly spectacular … Though all well told, the chapters begin to feel as relentless and repetitive as ‘The Part About the Crimes’ in Roberto Bolaño’s classic novel, 2666. But the book shines when we get to see the Jameses’ thinking. Like the recent Netflix documentary The Keepers, it’s fun to watch these amateur detectives solve a puzzle. And solve it they do — after 400 pages, when Rachel discovers the killer’s first crime way back in 1898. Did they get it right? I’m pretty sure they did.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star...a quiet, brilliant little novel begging for a Netflix adaptation ... I never realized I wanted a postapocalyptic Amish novel, but the premise is so perfect I can’t believe that it’s never been done before — or that someone did it so well on the first try ... It’s a gorgeous, moving book that’s creepier than you might expect. Williams’ use of tension, suspense and compression is masterful, calling to mind the distilled prose of Ron Rash. In the past decade, pop culture may have become oversaturated with postapocalyptic stories, but this one is fresh, unique and unforgettable.