RaveThe New York Time Book ReviewWe need the touchstone, we crave it as the stories go on, jumping in time and between different perspectives ... An ancestor is more than just an antecedent, and the short stories stand mighty on their own. The transitions between these distinct voices are sometimes jarring. This is intentional: As in life, the chapters are shaped, shaken, cut short by what it means to be an American — Black American, American immigrant, Caribbean American, qualify and hyphenate at will ... As with words on either side of a hyphen, it takes reading these stories side by side, front to back — taking them as a whole — to truly understand the characters’ history ... Across her borderless, boundaryless novel, Yanique is telling us a myth of her own. By the end it is clear that this is our mythology. On this tumultuous mapping of American magic, we find ourselves at the center. This novel boldly tells us: You are here.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAlam’s two previous novels have proved he’s gifted with an acidic wit, one he uses to break down contemporary life at the cellular level. His wry observations about the structured chaos of vacation life might go on indefinitely — but then comes a knock at the door ... All those functions that never seem to exist in fiction are on artful display here, an intimacy that is also a challenge. Why are you cringing? Why are you looking away? ... Alam doesn’t dwell in the specificity of apocalypse, which has been the obsession of writers since the Flood. Instead he lobs a prescient accusation: Faced with the end of the world, you wouldn’t do a damn thing ... Comfort comes from the where-were-you-when stories that will someday be all that’s left of our current crisis. That Alam anticipates this psychological reflex, that he articulates it with depth and self-flagellation, and that he has been proved so right by the world we’re living in now, is what makes his narrative both beautiful and unbearable. Stop cringing. Stop looking away ... For all this, Alam’s early tragicomedy-of-manners approach to race falters. The arrival of the Black, genteel older couple creates, as the narrative bruisingly points out, an opportunity to play Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Their interiority never arrives ... Self-consciously, Alam sticks with whom he seems most comfortable: the NPR-listening, Carroll Gardens-dwelling, New York Times-reading every-person ... Still, if the first half can turn a mirror on you, the second half will shatter it. Leave the World Behind teeters on that seesaw-edge question in horror fiction: to reveal the monster or not? Ultimately it totters too far to one side, but there is still the primal nail-biting need to know what-the-hell-is-going-on. This propulsion, which drives much of the characters’ decisions, likewise drives the reader onward to a breathless conclusion that, if not altogether satisfying, is undeniably haunting.