PositiveAsymptoteOne of the greatest appeals of many novels is that, because we are all the protagonists in our own story, we see ourselves as the special ones and readily identify with characters who are singled out—regardless of whether our hardships align with theirs. But Earthlings subverts this old formula. Natsuki and Yuu fail to escape formal society, and instead of a grand, redemptive journey, their lives are an endless struggle to assimilate ... And so the novel is rather cynical. Despite the bleakness of its message, Earthlings is not overtly misanthropic. Its satire is padded with a sense of earnestness.
Jessi Jezewska Stevens
MixedPopMatters... a short, meandering book ... one waits for [Percy] to run into someone special or happen upon an epiphany that snaps her out of this benumbed state. But when such a revelation comes, Percy hardly changes at all ... She only considers herself ... Percy\'s solipsism is undoubtedly one of Stevens\' main preoccupations, but it\'s also the book\'s biggest weakness ... Persephone Q is in many ways a character study of a woman who refuses to settle, much less coalesce into a compelling character. \'I never love where I am, I would always rather be somewhere else,\' Percy says. It\'s much to the novel\'s detriment that we\'d often rather be somewhere else, too, and with someone else ... Percy, for all her quirks and navel-gazing, is ultimately a dull and impassive character. Only she finds herself interesting, or at least wants to ... Persephone Q is a little bundle of curiosities with limited appeal. Stevens\' prose style is promising – this is clearly the work of a talented writer – and yet much of the writing is stunted by an odd, dreamy formality that reeks of an MFA workshop. It\'s not Percy\'s flatness that fails the book, but her lack of perspective.
MixedPopMattersThe issue with these first two sections, and with the book as a whole, is that the characters\' psychodramas, when externalized, amount to little more than vague philosophical tête-à-têtes. These intellectual reveries are charming at first, but in repetition they mostly serve to distance the characters from the realities of their suffering. As such, their sudden romantic entanglements feel like convenient bandages to much deeper wounds ... At best, these meet cutes feel a little unrealistic; at worst, some of the more graphic scenes feel due for a nomination from 2019\'s bad sex awards ... The upside to Find Me is that Aciman\'s prose is as gorgeous and measured as ever. Although the story\'s philosophical insights don\'t amount to much, he certainly puts up a good fight trying to convince the reader otherwise. The act of reading the novel itself is a pleasurable one, even if ultimately disappointing. Some threads are quite fascinating ... Their happily ever after does just what literary fiction shouldn\'t, providing an unambiguous ending to the tentative, fleeting love of the original source material ... sticks an addendum of fated certainty onto a love story made all the more passionate by the restrictions of time, cheapening it with its own closed-ended revisionism.
RavePopMattersThough the book is studious and astute, it\'s not by any means an academic text bound by inflexible jargon or stuffy prose. It\'s also a breeze to read, and Tolentino\'s luminous and slyly funny personal voice makes arguments that are based just as much in morality and decency as they are in facts and logic ... the book, which could easily have been a collection of previously published works or a natural career move for the promising young writer, turns out to be the ideal extension of Tolentino\'s talents and resources. The works are palatable but demanding in scope; always self-aware and never pretentious ... Not all essays in Trick Mirror are equally sharp. Some of them feel slightly out of place in the larger work ... Tolentino\'s voice is best when she hones in on Internet culture, and the strongest work in Trick Mirror already has the sheen of classic nonfiction. She is a millennial through and through — part of a special generation that grew up synonymously with the explosion of the Internet and the invention of social media and reality TV. Trick Mirror isn\'t the first book -- and won\'t be the last -- about this generational shift, but its scope, intelligence, and infectious personal voice ensures that it ought to be seen as one of the best.
PositivePopMatters... a short novel at just over 200 pages, but its quick developments are strengthened by Whitehead\'s unflinching, matter-of-fact language, which refuses to make a show of racist violence without sparing any of the necessary details. Although it takes place in a different time period and adheres more closely to unadorned realism, the book is a successor of sorts to The Underground Railroad. The two books seem to be part of the same project — that of resurrecting the traditional slave narrative for modern audiences ... Whitehead\'s work has always been distinctly American because of how it holds the nation\'s atrocities unsparingly up to the light. The Nickel Boys is no different, and in fact may be the novelist\'s most straightforward look at institutionalized racism yet. For a writer with an evident gift for genre flourishes, the new novel relies very little on special tricks, instead presenting a very real moment in history for what it is. For that, Elwood, Turner and the others are all the more real, and the violence they face is especially potent. In the third decade of his career, Whitehead is still finding new ways to innovate.
RavePop MattersTed Chiang\'s science fiction is like Black Mirror,but also not. His short stories are often bleak — haunting, even — but they\'re never cynical. His work forecasts hope ... Throughout the collection, he returns to the idea of meaning and purpose, concluding that much of what we know about the universe, and of free will, is bogus; we humans are not the center of the universe, but rather just another inevitable cog in a massive overarching scheme ... Chiang himself seems to regard this fact with wonder rather than despair ... Exhalation is a groundbreaking work of science fiction, but not just because its influence can be felt across many corners of the mainstream. When confronting life\'s biggest questions, there\'s something undeniably powerful about being able to stare oblivion in the face and retain hope at the same time. It\'s unfortunate that short fiction doesn\'t have the reach of other art forms, but we can only hope Chiang\'s work continues to exert its influence on us. In another decade or so, as more climate disasters rapidly dismantle the inhabitability of our planet, may there be another collection of his work to offer a guiding light.
PositivePopMatters\"Normal People is inarguably interesting, regardless of how aware a reader is about Rooney\'s rise to fame; the opinion of this reviewer is that the book is also a formidable literary achievement ... It can be startling how adept Rooney is at weaving the unspoken in with the spoken, hinting at internal motivations and insecurities without making them overt. The directness of the prose, and of the dialogue, gives off the impression of simplicity, but the social dynamics are intricate.\