PositiveThe A.V. Club... while it can be fun to hear stories of out-of-control parties and behind-the-scenes bad behavior, the book’s real value comes through far clearer when the writer and his subjects grapple with the strange admixture of success in a punk subculture that often thrived in opposition to such a notion ... it’s a little surprising Ozzi didn’t simply opt for an oral history, letting only the artists’ voices shape the narrative. His style is briskly efficient and workmanlike, more often than not filling in the details and tracking the step-by-step history of what was happening, rather than offering his own opinions on the events ... It may be a bit inside-baseball at times for people who don’t follow these various scenes and their histories...but overall, it’s a compelling and sometimes hair-raising account of what it meant to throw in your future with a large corporation in hopes of translating that effort into units sold—and the promise of a career in rock.
PositiveThe A.V. Club\"The wicked pleasure of Hendrix’s book comes from just how effectively he sets up the life-or-death stakes of Lynnette’s situation—and how clearly outmatched her and the other women seem to be. This means the tension and go-for-broke pacing never really let up ... Hendrix nicely conveys Lynnette’s panicky desperation and sense that she can’t trust anything or anyone she thought she knew, and he sustains urgency through a series of increasingly fraught sequences, en route to a showdown that both pays homage to the slashers that inspired this novel and offers a smart meta-twist ... That’s not to say everything about the novel works. Hendrix struggles in the early going to set the stage, with some clunky throat-clearing and telling, instead of showing, the themes of why we as a culture are fascinated by violence, and particularly violence against women. His attempts at tough talk can be dreadful ... Still, once the action gets going, these missteps fall by the wayside and the fast-paced excitement takes center stage ... more rewarding is the artfully arranged nature of the story. This is a fine reworking of a genre exercise: pulpy without feeling trashy, conventional without feeling unintelligent, and always geared toward delivering maximum enjoyment. It’s about time we had another good slasher beach read.
RaveThe A.V. Club... a pulpy page-turner with as many twists, double-crosses, and mystery-box riddles as one of Dan Brown’s gimcrack potboilers. It’s not a fair comparison, of course, as Jeff VanderMeer is a terrific writer, while Brown struggles with any sentence above the reading level of a Highlights magazine. But in terms of plotting, it’s remarkable how faithful the latest novel from the author of the Southern Reach Trilogy is to the beats and tropes of a conventional thriller ... At first glance, Hummingbird Salamander may seem like his most straightforward work yet, but much like the upper-middle-class businesswoman at the heart of this novel, looks can be deceiving. By the end of the story, the book’s bleak eco-fiction heart has been laid bare. The unsettling, apocalyptic worldview undergirding his narrative is as dark and foreboding as anything he’s written ... At times, it can be jarring, this shift from conspiracy and who-can-you-trust paranoia to hectoring ruminations on animal trafficking and environmental catastrophe. But if it feels more abrupt for the reader than it does for Jane, that’s in part by design—the rupture in her life is meant to mirror the larger one taking place all around us, all the time, in ways we tend to block as a means of getting through the day. Simply acknowledging it can feel like a lecture we don’t want to hear ... Despite an ending that offers the possibility of redemption, that oppressive bleakness saturates the novel, a profound sadness and pessimism in Jane’s point of view that keeps even her biggest victories feeling pyrrhic, like winning a lottery ticket on a sinking ship. The book impresses itself on the reader because of that discomfiting melancholy, not despite it. It taps into the part of ourselves that knows things aren’t okay, that knows we haven’t done enough to try and stop the world from plunging into darkness. And it does so while delivering a crackling good yarn about a woman in over her head, dodging bullets and fighting the kind of men we know all too well from news reports and history books ... Rarely has existential despair been given such crackerjack propulsion.
Pola Oloixarac, tr. Adam Morris
PositiveThe A.V. ClubThere are provocative presentations on the state of literature; erotic interludes; and drunken proclamations about the nature of art—all tied together by nothing more than Mona’s memories and desires. It ends with a truly out-of-left-field sequence and a brutally intimate revelation that doesn’t feel wholly earned by the 200 pages that precede it. Lucky, then, that Oloixarac is so damn funny and insightful that Mona is rewarding nonetheless ... This may be a structurally minor work compared with her previous novel, but Oloixarac has profound things to say, and a great many of ways of saying them.
RaveAV ClubJack, the latest novel from Robinson, has ample pleasures, rarely separable from the potent spiritual and existential concepts and stirring emotions conjured by her narrative. Jack achieves something of a singular beauty ... It’s a powerfully moving book, and a reminder that no visit to Robinson’s Gilead—even when it never sets foot in that town—is a wasted visit.
PanThe AV Club... an awfully on-the-nose blending of art and lived expectations ... despite the book’s various likable qualities, Charlie Kaufman has disappeared up his own ass with this novel. Given the overwhelmingly meta elements at work, I should probably make clear I’m being metaphorical with that statement ... a parodic barrage of metafictional conceits that keep returning to the same obsessive themes ... a compelling hook, the kind of thing you’d expect to see in one of Kaufman’s films. Unfortunately, the unfolding of the narrative suggests there’s a reason Kaufman has found such success in cinema: With only two hours or so of running time to play with, there’s a firm structure in place that mitigates the desire for excess. But here, Kaufman’s talent for the absurd refuses to bend to any structure whatsoever, stretching on to what feels ad infinitum at points. It gradually becomes enervating, a novel simultaneously overstuffed and plodding. Given free rein to dump the contents of his mind into prose, Kaufman crams into Antkind as many one-joke premises, surrealist curlicues, superficial lampoons, and Pynchon-esque reworkings of his premise. The result is bloated and frustrating—less an embarrassment of riches than a dearth of restraint. The experience of reading about a very silly man’s Kafka-esque descent into suffering becomes a Kafka-esque process in itself ... As satire, it feels outdated and clumsy. As insight into Rosenberg’s character, it reads as caricature ... This accumulating effect of disenchantment and spinning one’s wheels may be intentional, but it doesn’t make the book any more fun to read ... It’s possible to see glimpses of the more impactful book that might’ve been. As anyone who has seen his films or read his screenplays can attest, the writer is capable of some truly arresting passages, and here, when he finds just the right impressions for a feeling or an image, the Pynchon comparisons are apt...And it’s there in the many moments of comedy that succeed by virtue of Kaufman’s warped sensibilities, often deployed with a daffy, Vonnegut-like gusto ... There is gilding the lily, and then there’s shoving the lily under someone’s nose while revealing you’ve replaced it with a squirting joke flower, at the exact moment you unleash a blast of water into someone’s face. The messiness and sprawl and insecurity about every aspect of Rosenberg’s life—of life, full stop—is the point, and there are moments when the tragicomedy feels pure, and true ... Were it not for the flashes of insight, wedded to some oft-excellent prose, the narrative bloat and insecure-white-guy tropes would have remained painful. Thanks to Kaufman’s talents, they are instead tolerable.
MixedThe A.V ClubThe title already tells us what to expect, so the reader anxiously waits for Patricia to realize what’s going on from the ample evidence ... By the time Patricia ventures out to uncover the mystery, the action is overdue. The author’s usual knack for pacing and structure ends up uneven here, in part because the breakneck fun of the vampire stuff is hampered by the underdeveloped characters. Still, it’s enjoyably breezy pulp ... he author remains excellent at staging page-turning sequences of excitement and anxiety ... Still, it’s a bit of a letdown from an author who’s better at dealing with characters who act and think in simplistic ways for more understandable reasons. The gimcrack pleasures of Slaying Vampires are like its undead antagonist: flashy and engaging in the action, but strangely hollow at its heart.
Sara Quin and Tegan Quin
PositiveThe AV Club... charming ... articulates the appeal of returning to the adolescent days of anyone’s past, let alone a pair of brilliant songwriters who also happen to be twins ... the Quin sisters so unabashedly evoke the spirit of that time in their writing that it’s hard to not be won over by the intensity of their recollections. This is what makes High School work: It’s an autobiographical work that nimbly recreates that bygone era and conveys their feelings and experiences in a universally relatable way. Even as their lives delve into the culturally and personally specific elements, the honesty in their writing makes it accessible and heartfelt even if your own high school experience was quite different. Much as in their music, the Quins have a way of cutting through platitudes with an incisive combination of bluntness and raw-nerve intimacy ... It’s helpful that the book makes sure to list at the top of the page who’s responsible for the current chapter, because with their largely interchangeable styles of plain, unadorned writing and heart-on-sleeve tone, it can be easy to forget who’s telling what story ... Were it not clearly labeled as memoir, it would be easy to mistake this for a YA coming-of-age novel about twin girls, abetted by the narrative conceit of the rotating point of view ... Still, the fun of the book comes not from their facility with music and the promise of explosive success on the horizon, but rather the ways in which their all-too-common histories of family drama, romantic woes, and angsty worldview mirror that of so many others ... wends an empathetic tale of queer identity through its endearing memories of youthful wanderlust and teenage artists finding their musical voice together as sisters. Looked at in excerpts, the prose rarely achieves any kind of notable grace that would make it stand out from the pack of YA dramas about teens, but just as on record, Tegan and Sara use conventional strictures and intensely personal emotion to create something special. Like that Smashing Pumpkins record, their memoir can make even cynical adults feel less alone.
Pola Oloixarac, Trans. by Roy Kesey
PositiveThe AV/AUX Club... often lovely and entrancing ... For being a modestly sized novel, Dark Constellations is practically galactic in the stretch of its narrative ambitions ... small observations are balanced with enormous, paradigm-defining assessments of capitalism, liberalism, technology, medical advancement; Oloixarac lays out bold but lovingly textured descriptions and diagnoses of all these things, and they nearly always sound provocative and artful ... The silly repellency of her sexual descriptions almost acts as a comic foil to the elegant profundity of her conceptual themes, but they still feel a bit like record scratches that pull the mood up short. Luckily, she’s crafted a weird and absorbing cyberpunk tale that can sustain such odd interludes. It ends a bit too abruptly, but the \'what if\' tone of the conclusion is thought-provoking in its own right. Dark Constellations should find her a new audience of readers hungry for strange and all-too-plausible tales of our modern, algorithm-driven lives, but it reaffirms a stereotype about brilliant philosophical writers: They often stumble over the dirty stuff.
PositiveA.V. Club\"Much of the breezily salacious entertainment value in Hollywood’s Eve comes from these descriptions of close encounters with men of Hollywood legend (and women—photographer Annie Leibovitz was a girlfriend for some time). But like Babitz herself, they are only part of what makes the story so compelling ... Nearly any good biography about a writer makes the reader far more curious to skip the secondhand accounts and read the subject’s original prose. In painting a rich and unusual picture of Babitz’s life and work, Anolik succeeds in this mission ... As biographer, Anolik is an unflinching and often excellent writer capable of capturing the strange mystique of her elusive prey, even detailing her own lengthy and frustrating process of cajoling the now-reclusive writer from her darkened apartment via promises of free meals and delivered sweets ... Some passages may pull the modern reader up short, and with good reason. Anolik largely refuses to pass judgment on the sometimes horrifying men of this narrative and their behavior, instead following her subject’s lead when recounting certain abusive incidents ... And now the woman herself will endure as well, in a biography that celebrates her with equally contradictory affection.\
David R. Bunch
RaveThe A.V. ClubThrough his Moderan stories, the author creates a world wherein the ugliness of our desire for strength, glory, and certainty stands in stark contrast to the occasional reminders that it didn’t need to go this way ... The world of Moderan is one of machismo and militaristic fetishism taken to its conclusion. The geography has been reduced to an endless stretch of white plastic, an antiseptic successor to the messiness of nature, eradicating the need for all that difficult business of preserving our ecosystem ... It would all seem a bit straightforward (and charmingly retro in its dystopic vision), were it not for Bunch’s remarkable facility with language. His narrators all speak in a highly idiosyncratic and original vocabulary of future terms and invented slang ... To join Bunch’s wavelength and explore Moderan through his narrators’ synthetic eyes is to marvel at the depth and intensity the writer brings to what is fundamentally a lampoon of society, an overwrought commentary on violence that seems initially facile but continually reveals new layers and arenas of satirical insight. The book is as much excoriation of philosophical urgings to Übermensch status as it is a parody of war, a scathing attack of the worst of Nietzsche that simultaneously adopts stylistic devices not unlike Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Moderan finds unusual grace in its over-the-top harangues—a hidden reservoir of humanity that, ironically, requires Bunch’s antihumanist narrators to discover it.
PanThe AV ClubThe results are so clunky, Watney himself couldn’t jerry-rig them into functioning. The book reads like the first draft of a space-set crime thriller that has no clue how women think...Time and again, Jazz comes across less like a smart and resourceful woman, and more like Mark Watney’s been beamed into the body of a twentysomething Muslim woman. And then given a minor lobotomy ... It’s too bad, because the rotten characterization that ruins Artemis is paired with the clear-eyed gift for scientific exposition that is apparently Weir’s strong suit ... As it turns out, there was a very good reason for The Martian to be about someone who is literally the only person on the planet: Weir isn’t very good at creating any believable human interaction, or even characterization, above all when it involves someone the slightest bit different from his original dorky but genial white guy protagonist. It’s not a shock the most plausible character in Artemis is a socially clueless scientist guy with no sense of how other people think or behave. Were that gentleman to try his hand at writing a lunar-based crime novel, he’d likely come up with something close to this misbegotten story in which he sort-of exists.
MixedThe AV ClubIt’s an entertaining and outrageous story, full of smiling scum who pride themselves on being cool, fun-loving guys as they screw over 99 percent of the population, but it’s also a tough one to begin. The first 75 pages of this sizable tome often require delving into arcane and unavoidably dry financial explanations, simply to do the legwork necessary for all the nefarious subsequent wheeling and dealing to make sense. Enrich does his best with this material, but in the early going, it can bring the momentum to a standstill. Still, once that’s over, his breezy and occasionally soapy prose fits the subject matter when he’s detailing the strange aspects of Hayes’ private life and delving into the chummy but loyalty-free nature of Hayes’ associates, whom Enrich captures with an artful eye.