MixedBookforumA decision to eschew the omelet and order a salad instead would be a testament to the efficacy of Deb Olin Unferth’s unnervingly vivid descriptions of industrial egg production in Barn 8 ... journalistic passages and others devoted to chickens in myth and history...vie for attention with a plot that grows increasingly predictable, despite the introduction of storytelling switch-ups like interrogation transcripts and journal entries ... Janey and Cleveland, whose backstories and intriguing odd-couple friendship take up the novel’s first seventy pages, get somewhat lost amid the heist’s hectic doings...and a welter of characters ... Meanwhile, Janey’s maturation in the wake of her maternal loss, the origins of Cleveland’s discontent, and the psychological nuances of their pseudo-mother-daughter relationship could have been further explored; indeed, these women alone might have carried the entire book ... Barn 8’s chief draw and accomplishment is Unferth’s adeptness at wringing lyricism from the sordid domain of animal farming. The strong notes of reportorial advocacy...strike with memorable imagistic force. From her unflinching focus on cruelty and excrement she raises her discerning, prophetic eye ... Who does care about \'stupid chickens\' is a question that infuses this novel with a piercing, personal intensity. Unferth makes the unseen shit visible, and reminds her reader that however much we want to look up or look away, it is stubbornly always there, right at the end of our forks.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewLethem\'s actual plot is hardly crackerjack detective material; the slow pacing and predictable turn of events...reveal the genre model to be a convenient rack on which to hang his off-kilter humor and dead-on observations ... It\'s in such parodies of detective novel set pieces that Lethem signals his fondness for the genre along with a prickly ambivalence. Clearly, he\'s a fan, but one who recognizes its weariness ... To meet the expectations predicated by the hard-boiled format, a writer must hit the right notes -- bloody crimes, tense interrogations, blind alleys -- and do so with snap, crackle and pop. Yet in the other novel Lethem wants to write -- an ambling Bildungsroman that meditates on language, neurology and the chemistry of perception -- those notes are really just background music ... In Motherless Brooklyn solving the crime is beside the point. If you\'re a mystery maven, this might bother you. Instead, this is a novel about the mysteries of consciousness ... Unlike the stock detective novel it shadows, the thriller in which clarity emerges on the final page, Motherless Brooklyn immerses us in the mind\'s dense thicket, a place where words split and twine in an ever-deepening tangle.
Paul La Farge
PositiveBookforumPaul La Farge's intricately constructed novel about an apocryphal Lovecraft text, explores this passion binding us to stories and storytellers ... By freely mixing historical facts and fictional incidents, La Farge establishes an ever-shifting narrative ground, urging the reader to consider the tricky boundaries between the real and the imaginary ... At times the intensity of the reader-writer relationship—one that enlivens nearly every page of The Night Ocean—slackens due to the ever-compounding plot complexities. Digressions and narrative feints, slyly instructive though they be, sometimes enervate the characters' emotional charge ... With The Night Ocean, La Farge continues to press adventurously into the complicated moral terrain around the making of art and the provisional nature of truth. His sure-handed world-building around these ideas and the empathy that undergirds that vision suggest a circle of La Fargeans will someday soon emerge.
RaveBookforumRuefle has shown a talent for elevating her acute observations and narrative inclination well above mere anecdote to create quietly disquieting moments—a literature of barbed ambiguity and unresolved disruption ... The variations in approach may render My Private Property unclassifiable. Ruefle is offering statements—words conjured and arranged not according to rules but solely by the force and direction of her thoughts ... The conversational fluidity permits the ordinary and extraordinary to mix comfortably and thus lull the reader into erasing the difference: We enter the poet's peculiar understanding of the color only to recognize it as our own ... In all likelihood, we don't own our own heads, or our words, but they can be shared. And Ruefle's words should be shared as widely as possible.
PanBookforumWhen you finish Nicholson Baker’s seven-hundred-plus-page tome devoted to a day-by-day, minute-by-minute account of his several-week stint as a substitute teacher in rural Maine, you will be exhausted by the accumulation of minutiae, irritated by the endlessly distracted chatter, and numbed by the sheer relentlessness of human interaction in large groups ... Unlike typical books by teachers, this one offers scant insights into big topics like social class or disruptive students and really no prescriptions for overall 'change'; nor is there the troubled kid who is either saved or lost and whose ups and downs provide a convenient narrative arc.