RaveThe New York Times Book Review... eerie and electric ... That is this novel’s power: It followed me into my days, refusing to release me ... This is a big, packed novel. Reading it provides a sensation not unlike riding on a motorbike overloaded with passengers and wares: It careens, it tilts and at times I wondered if it would reach its destination without a crash. But Kupersmith proves herself a fearless driver who revels in the daunting challenge she has set for herself. There are so many ways this novel could have lost its balance; instead, its too-much-ness makes for a thrilling read, acrobatic and filled with verve ... It helps that Kupersmith is a brilliant technician of the small moment, the just-right observation. Her sensory language is at once bold and perfectly precise ... The novel also deliciously skewers backpacker and expat cultures in Southeast Asia ... For a novel that sustains such a menacing mood, Build Your House Around My Body is frequently very funny ... Like many narratives that braid together large casts across time and place, Kupersmith’s relies on numerous improbable coincidences to tie its stories together...A reader could be forgiven for thinking that Saigon is a city of 10 instead of nearly 10 million ... Yet Kupersmith convinces the reader that these characters are drawn together not by narrative necessity, but by larger forces. As the coincidences piled up, I had the uncanny sense that I was witnessing the inexorable machinery of fate. One of Kupersmith’s most dazzling feats is that she manages to slot her characters into this machinery while also letting them feel invigoratingly autonomous. The same careening sense of possibility that energizes the novel at its grandest scale infuses its interiority. Nearly every character is endowed with psychological peculiarity and the freedom to surprise, and this grants a riveting, kinetic quality to the simplest domestic scenes...The one exception is Winnie herself, whom Kupersmith keeps on a much tighter leash. Her downward spiral is textbook: slovenliness, drinking, insomnia, drinking to combat insomnia. It’s not that any of this is unrealistic, but that the narrative reminds the reader again and again that Winnie is this and only this: empty, lost, a nonentity ... If Winnie’s descent feels overdetermined, it nevertheless illuminates the novel’s primary preoccupation: with the body and its violations, both the sexual trauma experienced by the female characters and the ravages of colonial occupation and war upon the body of Vietnam ... provide an ingenious means of exploring the enduring effects of trauma ... Kupersmith’s ending is as bold and surprising as the plot that precedes it, but it is also stunningly delicate. The careening journey ends with a gentle dismount; Kupersmith was in complete control all along.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... haunting, mind-bending ... a wrenching portrait of Atlantis and her role in Bonner’s life ... Bonner constructs much of her memoir from Atlantis’s emails, Facebook updates, interviews, Craigslist ads, voice mail messages and song lyrics. This collage captures both Atlantis’s mesmerizing voice and her instability. The Facebook updates — Atlantis is …, Atlantis is … — are incantatory, spellbinding. Bonner’s narrative choice to follow many of these extracts with her reactions as she experienced them in the moment can sometimes be more compelling in conception than in execution ... Bonner’s interjections throughout Atlantis’s searing \'final will and testament\' douse much of that document’s fire. But if this strategy frustrates, it also provokes, refusing to supply the aestheticized reflections upon trauma that readers may expect, even crave ... Keeping the reader close to her real-time perspective also allows Bonner to pull off a riveting balancing act in the memoir’s final third, when we find ourselves on increasingly unsteady ground, forced to ask with each new twist: Is this a veritable true-crime investigation? Or is Betsy — and are we — merely \'obsessing over details and typos … doing everything I could to avoid the truth\'?