RaveNPREntire towns (albeit small ones) in Millhauser\'s geography take on a certain glow ... Let\'s call these stories borderline pieces — easily described as magical realism, or perhaps, turned on their heads, tales of realistic magic. However we might describe it, Voices in the Night is a smorgasbord of deftly created short fiction by a great imaginative talent. Millhauser stands tall in the company of a growing number of contemporary American masters of magic, from Ursula K. Le Guin to Aimee Bender and Kelly Link.
RaveNPRMunro focuses on every aspect of our ordinary existence and makes it seem as extraordinary as it actually is ... Most of these stories take place in the small Ontario towns that serve as unpretentious settings for Munro\'s powerful propensity to reveal the profound in the everyday. And though we travel a lot, we settle in fully realized scenes and recollection, and in forceful exposition in these ordinary places where the extraordinary takes place ... The ride, the jump, the surmise; it\'s that feeling of holding on for dear life and then letting go that these stories reward us with.
PositiveNPRBoianjiu works in simple, direct prose, with which she gives us the frustrations and annoyances of military service — as when the recruits have to leave the female dorm early in the morning to head for a checkpoint ... Exhibitionism, sexual fantasies, slack attitudes toward regulations — not much war here in these pages, just small doses of bad behavior on both sides of the line, and nearly 350 pages of frank and episodic scenes about female life in the IDF, which by midway through the book begin to lose their charm ... The frankness in the novel is refreshing, the episodic nature of its progress I found wanting.
PositiveNPR\'The Bridge Stories,\' gives us a fanciful Caribbean in which people wear little bridge symbols around their necks and actual bridges connect many of the islands to each other. Here, the writer gives voice to an island itself ... But these longer stories I didn\'t find either completely satisfying or completely whole. They each had moments: the vitality of a crowded dance floor, the intensity of the first kiss in a new love affair, but the shorter stories stole my affection and make the book worth the buying.
MixedNPRIn this new book, Everett, a character himself, gives us a series of encounters with his father in a nursing home, where the old man has gone to go to pieces. As the book moves along, the question of the narrator\'s identity constantly comes into play — is it the younger Everett who is narrating or is it the father? Or the painter or the physician, characters whom the father seems to have conjured up in a manuscript that the son seems to have appropriated? ... Real, fascinating, important dramas lie buried beneath distracting passages of self-referential rhetoric ... Metafictional asides and intrusions clog the flow of the story and drag down what might have been a fine novel about fathers and sons.
RaveNPRSheila Heti seems to have done them one better in this book, making an ugly confessional novel both funny and pathetic, heroic and unassuming at the same time ... I read this eccentric book in one sitting, amazed, disgusted, intrigued, sometimes titillated I\'ll admit to that, but always in awe of this new Toronto writer who seems to be channeling Henry Miller one minute and Joan Didion the next. Heti\'s book is pretty ugly fiction - accent on the pretty.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"A first novel that reads like the accomplished work of a long-time pro, the book draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction ... Flynn\'s book goes deeper than your average thriller. It has all the narrative drive of a serious pop novel and much of the psychological complexity of a mainstream character study. All in all, a terrific debut.\
Mario Vargas Llosa, Trans. by Edith Grossman
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...a powerful new work of political fiction … The novel plunges the reader into a three-tiered narrative about the effects of Trujillo's mostly devilish attempts at God-like rule. But the book is no hysterically correct political polemic. From the beginning, the writer establishes some distance from the period even as he introduces us to the human cost of dictatorship … He clearly and boldly dramatizes the reality of the Trujillo decades at a pace that seems remarkably steady, despite the circuitous turns in time: the constant intrigue at the presidential palace, the growing ruthlessness of the secret police, the lively but miserable gallery of characters, many of them historical figures.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleDespite a slow, if not stately, opening couple of dozen pages, the author eventually delivers, I promise you, more combat than you may be ready for, most of it seen through the eyes of a fresh new second lieutenant named Mellas … Marlantes keeps both eyes open as he tells the story of these Marines that will take your heart, and sometimes even your breath, away. Few war novels give you life, and death, in the field this vividly, with all of its furor and spraying blood and feces, its hunger and near-madness mixed with the utterly rational descriptive sense that a good novelist is endowed with.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...a pastiche of the noir detective novel … The new book turns on its head the conventional wisdom that if you remember the '60s you weren't there as it plunges ahead full steam with a story about the abduction of a Southern California millionaire developer and the short and stoned hippie private eye named Doc Sportello who goes in search of him … After reading the opening paragraph, I found myself charmed and pleased with the way Pynchon meets the genre square and fair, on its own terms, and makes it his own. My second thought was about how much I enjoyed the rhythm and music of the sentences, and how much I wanted to read — read ‘sing’ — along with them.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIts half-dozen long stories put her light-years ahead of most story writers in terms of capturing the feeling tones of the world around us and the people in it … Though Eisenberg's sense of character is sharp and distinctive, as in the bereaved Uncle Lucien of the title story, or, with his musical talents and his tranquil sense of composure, the longtime companion William of the second, or the pathetic but compelling Kristina of the beautifully imagined ‘Window,’ a story of post-hippie life in a Virginia backwoods cabin, Eisenberg's sense of language and how to sound it makes those emotive states possible.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIn this case, it’s a gathering of what she calls Nine Tales, most of them relatively long stories by comparison with her earlier work, a gathering that I couldn’t be happier to have ...first three pieces — endearing, subtle, quite brilliant in their execution — create de facto skein of characters, a group of Toronto writers and poets who have known each other, and become romantically entangled with each other, for some decades ...rest of the pieces in this volume each stand alone ... Even as Atwood takes a vacation from publishing a new novel, the effects are pure, simple and stunning.
RaveNPRHow to tell a true war story? That question, once posed by Tim O'Brien, comes to mind when you read The Yellow Birds. Kevin Powers chooses to tell his story by throwing sequential narrative to the Iraqi desert winds. This moody, petulant, often darkly beautiful and shell-shocked account of a young recruit on the ground in Iraq, moves us back and forth between the war and the main character, machine gunner John Bartle's return to his Southern country home … How to tell a true war story if you're more a poet than a novelist? Tell it as a poet would. Tell it as Kevin Powers does. Tell it as a poem.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleThe comedy of that collision has a distant echo in the talented Colson Whitehead's new work of fiction, Zone One, in which we see a reverse mashup –– the stately, near-Austenian sentences of one of our more interesting and innovative writers pressed into a worn zombie plot that, at best, seems a pale imitation of Max Brooks' much more impressive and entertaining World War Z ...Whitehead's prose bogs down the plot in similar fashion. The writing weighs the story down even in some overtly sensational moments...Alas, Whitehead's manner of telling the story creates its own sort of barricades against enjoying it.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneMueenuddin's Pakistan is populated by seekers and dreamers young and old, the content and the terribly restless, men and women with talent and no vision, visionaries with hopes and no talents. In other words he has given us a country like our own, but different enough in landscape, religion, hopes, dreams, flaws and fears, so that we can easily contrast – if we dare – our own troubles and triumphs against theirs … If there's a young American writer who's doing for the U.S. what Mueenuddin has accomplished for Pakistan, and for the story in English, from the sentence level to the mastery of complex psychological states, I haven't read him yet.
PositiveNPRA Tale for the Time Being offers a huge pun in its title. The time being means for our current days and also refers to one of the main characters in the book, a suicidal 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl named Naoko ... She discovers the schoolgirl in a diary preserved against the ocean, a diary which, thanks to the recent Japanese tsunami, washes up on the shore of her British Columbian island residence. Yes, Ozeki turns herself into a character in this book and portrays herself as reading the diary in a race against a huge wave of oncoming time ... As we read Nao's story and the story of Ozeki's reading of it, as we go back and forth between the text and the notes, time expands for us. It opens up onto something resembling narrative eternity.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune[Roth’s] latest novel, intriguingly titled The Plot Against America, couldn't be more amazing. An excursion into alternative history, it is in conception as daring as any of the best of such creations … The Plot Against America stands almost in a category by itself, a book driven by twin engines of historical curiosity: the anti-Semitic strain in American culture as exemplified by the isolationist views of Charles Lindbergh, and Jewish paranoia … Roth's novel turns disaster into an engaging story. Parallel to the rise of Lindbergh's proto-fascist American presidency, with state visits by Nazi luminaries and a plan to relocate and ‘Americanize’ East Coast Jewish families, is young Philip's education into the realities of his own family life. His father wrestles with the problems created by the new government, his mother endures, his brother Sandy flirts with the Lindbergh policies, and his aunt's husband, a Newark rabbi named Bengelsdorf, becomes a figurehead for the new relocation program.
RaveNPRFlanagan has written a sort of Australian War and Peace, centered on the extraordinary Dorrigo Evans, a heroic yet philandering doctor … Flanagan's descriptions of the daily round of increased labor, diminishing food and nightmarish hygiene make for difficult reading. The set-pieces showing off Japanese cruelty seem almost beyond credulity, as when one Japanese officer describes in great detail how an older officer instructed him in the proper way to behead prisoners, or when we hear eyewitness testimony about the experimental live dissection of a prisoner of war, or the stark physical descriptions of prisoners in various states of sickness and dying. All this makes for a portrait of war in the Pacific that could have been rendered by Hieronymus Bosch.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveNPRChimamanda Ngozi Adichie has delivered a big novel about life in modern Nigeria during wartime. The war in question is the Biafran War of the 1960s, during which the southern region of Biafra fought unsuccessfully to secede. The book's title comes from the Biafran flag, a symbol of the rebellion. We get a clear description of the flag's colors from Olanna Ozobia,a beautiful, well educated Igbo woman … The book mainly follows the fortunes of Olana and those of a psychologically fascinating and varied cast of characters, from high society colonials on down to Ojukwu, an Igbo country boy. Though their daily lives and destinies as well are tied to the end of peace and the rise of war, Adichie makes them, above all else, interesting, even compelling, as sharply defined individuals. This lends to the novel a powerful psychological element that we don't always find in historical fiction.
RaveNPROne major strand in this beautifully composed novel follows the New York City adventures of Biju, an immigrant worker from northeastern India. The second narrative strand takes us to Biju's home territory, the district of Kalimpong, where his father works as a cook for a retired British-educated Indian magistrate and the judge's inquisitive granddaughter Sai … While Sai immerses herself in her books, we get a look at the world around her, where indigenous Nepalese exiles, the cheap labor of the region, rise up to call for an independent state within a state … This story of exiles at home and abroad, of families broken and fixed, of love both bitter and bittersweet – you can read it almost as Sai read her Bronte, with your heart in your chest, inside the narrative and the narrative inside you.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleThere's little that's sweet on this plantation with respect to the lives of its inhabitants. Manon is a mean taskmistress … I wish I could say I felt the emotion behind Manon's pathetic discovery of her own worth, or lack of it, as a human being … Perhaps if Martin had made Manon's diction as accurate as her historical setting I might have felt more at ease with the story … Except for that extraordinary moment when she attaches her lips to Sarah's breast, she behaves as though she has no heart at all, only a vile hatred for everyone around her because of her recognition of her own moral enslavement.
RaveNPRThe title comes from Walt Whitman, and Whitman's fingerprints — or I guess I should say his voice prints — are on almost every page of these three linked novellas. In the opening piece, there's a young factory worker in Cunningham's vividly depicted streets of 19th-century New York City who spouts Whitman like a Tourette's victim ...second novella, 'The Children's Crusade,' young boys roam the New York streets, explosives strapped to their fragile bodies, reciting Whitman and blowing people up in the name of a better world ...there's just enough of the feel of a suspense film wedded to Cunningham's lyrical prose to make all this work quite beautifully ... There's more out-and-out science-fiction movie stuff in the third and final novella, 'Like Beauty.' This one also begins in New York, about 150 years in the future ... Specimen Days is an extraordinarily imagined book and, line by line, page by page, one of the most beautifully executed experiments of the decade.
Edward P. Jones
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleOne of the best black writers in the country — albeit one of the stingiest when it comes to publication — Jones takes on the subject of slavery in a long, deep book clearly born of much pondering and major ambition ...a panorama of slavery in the American South and the particularities of how this so-called peculiar institution was lived ... Jones has done interesting research into the period and the history of black-owned slaves and the life of the Virginia countryside. Or he has invented it ... The frequent insertion of the research materials into the story itself creates a persistently distracting temporal perspective ... Whether true or false, [the research materials] distract a reader from the immediate narrative, breaking up the time frame and constantly reminding us that we are reading a reconstruction of a time and place ... If only he had focused on the today of the 1850s, known or invented, what a marvelous novel this might have been.
Stieg Larsson, Translated by Reg Keeland
RaveThe Chicago Tribune…the end of more than seventeen hundred pages of clearly narrated and well-plotted thriller brought me much more satisfaction than dismay …if you enjoy contemporary thrillers with major, larger-than-life main characters, sharp social commentary, and forward moving plots please do pick up those first two volumes and play catch-up …you will find the plunge into the world of modern Stockholm and investigative journalism on the subject of corporate corruption, unsolved murders, and disappearing heirs well worth your time … It’s not Proust, but it’s not John Grisham either …in this third and final installment we see the ultimate repercussions of what began as a magazine journalist’s seemingly tepid new self-assignment …I lingered over pages, languished in them, not wanting the story to end even as the book moved inexorably toward one of contemporary fiction’s most triumphant trial scenes.
PositiveNPRTurkish novelist Elif Shafak's new novel, The Forty Rules of Love, takes us into the life of a middle-aged Jewish woman from central Massachusetts, who as a reader for a literary agent, has just picked up a copy of a novel by a modern Sufi mystic ... This friendship turns Rumi's life upside down and eventually brings about Shams' own murder. Over the course of a few weeks in June, reading their story turns Ella's life into glorious confusion, and she eventually comes up with a plan to change it all for the better ...a middle-aged love story and the inside story of one of history's great friendships, and on top of all that, the story of the battle within medieval Islam between the conservatives and the Sufis ...a little kitschy at times, but that's part of the fun of it.
Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel
RaveNPRBy climbing down those exit stairs, [Aomame] seems to put the world of 1984 behind her and enter a time that she comes to identify as 1Q84, an alternate realm and thus, the Q that bears a question … Murakami's main characters find themselves drawn toward each other as irresistibly, magnetically, hypnotically, soulfully as well as physically, in ways just as powerful as any characters in contemporary Western fiction. Despite the novel's enormous length, I felt the same attraction.
RaveNPRThe plot, which has as its center Thwait's rise and fall, is somewhat slow to build. What kept me going until it really kicked in with a vengeance were Messud's captivating powers of sentence and paragraph making. She has a wide arm span and broad powers of embrace, catching emotion in mid-flight and giving us the feel of thought rather than the usual thoughts about feeling that many writers deliver … [The Emperor’s Children is] one of the slyest, most intelligent and entertaining novels of the year.
RaveNPRA sad tale's best for winter, as Shakespeare wrote. The Snow Child, a first novel by a native Alaskan journalist and bookseller named Eowyn Ivey, suggests that if you face winter head-on — as do the childless homesteaders, Mabel and Jack, in this story about life on our northernmost frontier in the 1920s — you may find more hope after sadness than you had ever imagined ... Ivey's delightful invention hovers somewhere between myth and naturalism — and the effect this creates is mesmerizing ... Like Faina, the novel itself emerges lifelike and credible, with a delicate interface between fantastic story and realism that catches a reader's imagination from the beginning. Ivey describes an Alaska landscape that's harsh but wonderfully beautiful ... This terrific novelistic debut will convince you that in some cases, a fantastic story — with tinges of sadness and a mysterious onward-pulsing life force — may be best for this, or any, season.
RaveNPRNever before has she given us a novel with a single narrative voice so smart, rich and full of surprises as she has in The Round House. It's her latest novel, and, I would argue, her best so far … That long view — and the experience of having become, like his father before him, a tribal judge — gives Joe a clarity of mind and an emotional distance from that tumultuous period of his adolescence, when the harm done to his mother spurred him to commit even greater violence. All of this he describes in a voice that's smooth but never bland, nurtured by years of experience and honed by memory.
RaveNPRMost of the plot here is not so much a mystery as it is a lively surprise. Junior, or Arnold, is a nerdy but sympathetic kid who weeps at the drop of a hat, vomits from fear and nervousness, and draws whimsical cartoons to illustrate his story created for the book by Seattle artist Ellen Forney. This is a story about surviving small town schools, which any young adult reader can benefit from.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe Road is a postatomic apocalypse novel as we've never seen one before, a black book of wondrous paragraphs that reads as though Samuel Beckett had dared himself to outdo Harlan Ellison … Why read this? Why subsume your own optimism in the obsidian bleakness of this great stylist's vision of nearly utter despair?...Because in its lapidary transcription of the deepest despair short of total annihilation we may ever know, this book announces the triumph of language over nothingness.
RaveNPRAs silly as it sounds, King makes it work that there's a portal back to that year in the back room of the teacher's favorite local deli … The combination of King's love of the '50s and his deeper search into the Kennedy assassination make this novel a terrifically entertaining work of fiction.
RaveNPRTrain Dreams comes to us as a seemingly plain and stark depiction of an ordinary American man's life on the waning frontier in the early days of the last century. Denis Johnson works in what I would call emotive exposition, which lends declarative statements a certain kind of dramatic force. He works the story of Robert Grainier's unself-examined life with a sort of matter of fact tone that gives off its own vitality … What seems merely descriptive here becomes emotionally evocative. But this is more than just an exercise in style. Most people who read this beautifully made word-engraving on the page will feel Robert Grainier who dies in the 1960s living on in their minds.
PositiveChicago TribuneSands seems quite the paradigmatic spy – now we see him, now we don't – as the narrative weaves through the stories of several other characters … The breadth and length of the book require some patience from the reader...for a reader with stamina, the rewards come steadily … Johnson is a fine stylist of the world of soulful disaster...this time he merges his tightly tuned sense of language with the needs of an extended and complicated story … When it comes to creating the central metaphor of the book, from which the novel gains its title, it is surpassing in its brilliance.
RaveNPRLike the novels in the border trilogy, this story straddles the Texas-Mexico line and its still extraordinary, beautiful desert...But the meditative opening sequence from the point of view of Sheriff Bell hints more at hopelessness than hope … McCarthy in his previous blood-steeped books seemed himself to follow no rule but tell a good story, making beautiful prose however violent and terrifying. With this new book he's broadened his vision.
RaveThe Dallas Morning News\"We haven’t seen one of these events in quite a while, a serious literary debut of a gifted writer in her mid-20s who with a first book seems poised to have a long and brilliant literary career ... Obreht writes with an angel’s pen, creating a skein of descriptive passages, plush with apt details and ringing with lyrical diction — of city life, of country life, of private dreams and public difficulties — and about the way the past and present come together into a complex and seething whole ... I found one word in the entire book that rang false for me — and about a hundred thousand that rang entirely true.\
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIt's a baseball novel, meaning it's a novel from which one can extrapolate about all life on earth. It's a college novel and thus a coming of age novel. It's a novel about families, by birth and by life-choices, and a novel about how to live, how to love and how to die. It's a novel about how to read and how to write, and it's all in all the most delightful and serious first book of fiction that I have read in a while … The loves, friendships, duties and betrayals, both of self and others, drive a clear and appealing plot.
MixedNPRThere's nothing like this variety of plot for creating suspense and expectation on the part of a reader...Except that right from the start, the timeline of the plot lies broken into annoying fragments, for no good narrative reason that I can discern … Doerr is an exquisite stylist; his talents are on full display in brilliant passages … It's a marvelous thing, to read a book studded with epiphanic sequences like this, sentences ringing beautifully on every page. But there's just something about the ragged time-line that makes Doerr's approach and execution all too jarring.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneMann, Camus, Borges, Garcia Marquez--an ethereal crowd with which to associate any contemporary writer, and of course amazingly difficult to compare with. But Murakami can stand the heat … Murakami's main characters always suggest a Westernized sensibility, and Kafka Tamura is no different, with his references to the music of the Beatles and Radiohead, the poetry of W.B. Yeats and Federico Garcia Lorca, the fiction of Ernest Hemingway and the movies of Ingrid Bergman. But he also is obviously thoroughly Japanese in his declared affinities and fascination with the fiction of Lady Murasaki, Natsume Soseki and other native writers, and with his straight-forward description of sexual encounters...and the reality of ghosts … It's not just international borders that this novel straddles. Given the seeming miracles wrought by the older Nakata and the sexual adventures of our young hero, the novel crosses other lines of demarcation with respect to reality and mores. And ultimately it dares to ignore the boundaries imposed by the relations between individual consciousness and the world.