RaveThe ObserverGiven our current emergency, Laing’s thesis can make the reader wistful ... Yet Laing writes of her creative subjects in a winning, passionate voice that proves both soothing and galvanizing, especially amid a panic ... Where other critics might shy from such exuberant stances (there are no bad reviews in the collection), Laing isn’t interested in tepid assessments ... Laing’s subjects are popularly acclaimed figures, whose work has already been widely accepted by institutions and art history. If this creates a sense of safety among her choices, it also makes her book more accessible ... The writer displays an omnivorous cultural appetite throughout her collected essays ... Laing’s broad selection of subjects is political in its own way. If she embraces art of all media, certain themes prevail. By collecting a number of essays that center on queerness, anti-capitalism, feminism and ecological action, Laing sketches her own vision of today’s most interesting aesthetic projects and most urgent issues. It’s not just art we need in an emergency, but writers, like Laing, who gently guide our eyes to what’s out there.
Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett and David Boyd
PositiveThe ObserverKawakami delicately balances her character’s tentative reproductive desires with the societal structures and dissenting perspectives that surround her ... Yet the ending is hardly tidy. The entire book is shaggy, and readers seeking neat closure should stay away. Kawakami leans into her digressive structure, trusting that if her narrator is singular and compelling enough, the reader will follow her wherever she goes. Personally, I eagerly awaited each decision Natsuko made, each meandering conversation she pursued, and each side character—from an endearing scammer named Kewpie to a screaming reflexologist—she introduced. This structure also enjoys a strange resonance with Kawakami’s motifs. There are many ways to be a woman, and many paths are worth wandering until, suddenly, they’re not.
RaveObserverIn the hands of a lesser writer, the book could have turned into a preachy assessment of platforms and digital phenomena that have been explored ad nauseum in op-eds. Yet South’s vibrant collection is awash with zinging sentences, formal creativity, and conceptual verve. The writer both grounds her tales in precise contemporary detail and infuses her language with incredible imagination. ... Motherhood, in fact, emerges as one of South’s great obsessions and most nuanced motifs ... South demonstrates an adoration for ghost stories and Gothic literature throughout the book, creating her own rich atmospheres ... South’s compassionate, quirky tales give us characters who wrestle with such contradictions in the most interesting ways.
Yuri Herrera, trans. by Lisa Dillman
RaveThe RumpusYuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World is one of those rare volumes that manages to explore language in a new way, tell a compelling story, and create memorable characters all at the same time ... The author’s immense talent is evident in each page ... As Herrera constructs a strange, dreamlike world full of both menace and beauty, he draws the reader in with deeply affective description ... Herrera adopts a simple narrative structure that allows him to focus on language and character ... The author employs language and a literary perspective you won’t soon forget, his images haunting like a dream.
RaveArtsy[The characters created in Lorna Simpson Collages] are no longer models for lifestyle stories, but sites of inspiration, artistic and otherwise ... [Simpson] is able to show her bold and confident hand. Simpson’s deftly drawn hairstyles become markers of strong psychological revealing, and deeply personal expression.
RaveThe NationLeopoldine Core’s new collection of short stories, When Watched, immediately throws readers into the underbelly of Lower Manhattan ...New York becomes a steady presence and a character in its own right ... Moreover, the New York outside the characters’ windows is in constant flux, often mirroring the complex shifts in relationships that occur behind closed doors ...it’s worth noting that if New York serves as When Watched’s primary territory, its second-most-visited geography is of the mind itself. Entire stories take place in characters’ heads ... In its parochial setting and exploration of young, connection-seeking characters adrift, When Watched bares similarity to some of Ann Beattie’s earlier work.
RaveThe RumpusWhile Alvar writes in subtle, descriptive language about Filipino characters, their jobs, and the places they live, she’s setting the reader up for jarring plot twists and shattering surprises that leave us questioning everything she’s previously written about her characters. These are rich, meaty, fulfilling stories in which everyone’s hiding something—from extramarital affairs to murder ... Alvar wields her fiction as a tool to give voice to those who have witnessed and suffered at the hands of fate and human cruelty. Through male and female voices, models and nurses, past and present, Alvar speaks on behalf of a Filipino community, dispersed throughout the world. In doing so, Alvar brings to light the individual experience, giving a human face to struggles large and small. Despite the darkness, Alvar’s prose satisfies. It’s the author’s narrative ability—her power to surprise and weave thoughtful, intricate stories—that keeps you reading. Her writing both memorializes and celebrates the lives of anyone who has ever suffered—that is to say, of us all.