Amy GentryAmy Gentry frequently reviews fiction for the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Journal, and her writing has appeared in Salon.com, xoJane, The Rumpus, the Austin Chronicle, the Texas Observer, LA Review of Books, Gastronomica, and the Best Food Writing of 2014. Good as Gone, her first thriller, is set in her hometown of Houston, Texas. She can be found on Twitter @unlandedgentry
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"Home is not easy to find anywhere on the map, Castillo seems to say. Nevertheless, as this impressive debut shows, beauty lives everywhere ... It may sound like a small-scale premise for an intergenerational immigration epic, and indeed, many of the book’s most dramatic events happen long before the book begins. Yet the choice to focus tightly on Hero’s comparatively mundane daily existence in Milpitas, where she looks after Roni and gradually becomes a part of Rosalyn’s tight circle of friends, is a strong one that anchors the book’s many wanderings ... A few sections written in the second person from Paz’s and Rosalyn’s perspectives are not, strictly speaking, necessary, and thus a bit distracting. Yet Castillo’s prose is so assured that the detours are fascinating, and Hero’s slow progress is full of surprises both devastating and tender.\
MixedThe Chicago Tribune\"Wolitzer is at her best when dropping wry but casual observations. The pages are peppered with little bonbons of accuracy as well as more poignant truths ... For all its tongue-clucking over Greer’s snobbery, though, the narrative itself has a strangely snobbish cast. To be given full narrative weight, or even passing approval, characters must be either preternaturally good or hyperintelligent, preferably both ... More seriously, Wolitzer’s prose is oddly resistant to intensity ... [the] trauma feels gravely out of proportion, not because it is implausible, but because the narrative never quite stretches to accommodate it.\
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"[\'Getting Out and In\' is] the kind of essay that sheds light on a whole career, and it would justify this collection even if Feel Free didn’t include a handful of more perfectly crafted pieces of prose ... This rhetorical pattern of intimacy and withholding characterizes much of Smith’s best essay writing, and though it can be frustrating, it creates a hypnotic rhythm that is undeniably effective ... the reflections on motherhood and death that cloud even the lightest essays in Feel Free move me to tears.\
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe narrative jumps forward and backward between wartime and this unexpectedly long future of Teddy and his offspring, evoking the earlier book's time-traveling without mimicking its alternate-history conceit. Atkinson is a master of the off-kilter chronology, and here it not only preserves a sense of mystery, but also lends a vertiginous air of fragility to the narrative. This is quite a feat, since we know from the start that Teddy survives the war. If Ursula's superpower was rebirth, Teddy's is beating the odds. Yet Atkinson insists that we see Teddy's survival as a fluke rather than a triumph, depicting battle sequences in harrowing detail and larding the narrative with accounts of random deaths in flight training and on the ground, many gruesome and all drawn from real-life sources … Ursula may be ‘the family philosopher,’ but Teddy is the family poet; where her book is speculative, his is achingly beautiful.
MixedThe Chicago TribunePerhaps the most radical thing about Smith's addition to the genre of ‘aleatory fiction’ — fiction that incorporates an element of chance into its composition — is its investment in traditional, linear storytelling...If Smith is trying to have it both ways here, providing many of the pleasures of a traditional novel while flattering the reader with an experimental gimmick, the trick is perfectly in keeping with the themes of duality that echo through the book … The trouble with the experiment at the heart of How to Be Both is that a novel isn't a fresco. Images can achieve a kind of simultaneity, or at least, like the duck-rabbit, alternation; but in language, word follows word, and the order of them matters. As much as I may want to, I can't read How to Be Both the other way around, at least not for the first time. I suspect that if I could, I'd be reading a better novel.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneAt the center of this post-colonial narrative is Miri's father, whose refusal to pay the kidnappers not only prolongs but multiplies Miri's suffering needlessly … In the midst of horrifying poverty, his success is under constant threat by those who didn't make it, and needs constant protecting. To pay is to show weakness … Gay's gift for these intersectional subtleties is undeniable. Her writing is not always as seamless. Occasionally the prose bumps and strains, most often in describing Miri's relationship with Michael, her blond Midwestern husband … As in any story about trauma, the ending only seems happy because the worst has already happened. The body may heal in one lifetime, but hope may take longer to recover.
PositiveChicago TribuneThese constantly shifting voices give the book an uneasy, splintered feeling, highlighting the fragmented nature of history rather than its continuities, the jaggedness of each character's identity mirroring that of a state where whites, Native Americans and Mexicans robbed, cheated and slaughtered one another with astonishing regularity for hundreds of years … The success of Meyer's big book lies in its ability to depict its most power-hungry characters as utterly bound by historical circumstance and its least powerful as making small but significant steps toward civilization.
Bram Stoker & Valdimar Ásmundsson, Trans. by Hans De Roos
MixedThe Chicago TribuneIt reads like something in between a rough translation and a tale recreated from memory ... It's bizarre and somewhat thrilling to come across these passages interposed among the more familiar scenes. But if they did come from Stoker's preliminary sketches, it's easy to see why they were cut ... More damning — though easily attributable to double-translation — is the fact that the language of The Powers of Darkness has lost the fluid, animal sensuality that makes Stoker's original so startling even today ... Most disappointing to readers of the original will be Asmundsson's reduction of everything that comes after Harker's imprisonment to a scant 40 pages of summary. Probably dictated by the expediencies of serialization, this fast wrap-up means that many characters, including the delightfully eccentric vampire-hunter Van Helsing, are all glossed over. Renfield is gone. Yet for all this, Powers of Darkness does intrigue, if only by adding layers of hearsay to the original.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] mesmerizing novel ... Easily enough understood on their own, these episodes are arranged with disjointedness that increasingly nags ... [Smith] knows how to take us to the brink of these pleasures before undercutting or deflating them, making us realize that our own desire for narrative fulfillment is as naive a function of privilege ... there are compensatory pleasures in the sheer scope [of] Smith's ideas and her audacity in playing them out.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneDonoghue, a prolific researcher with a Ph.D. in English, weaves all of this suggestive history into a fable as lean and discomfiting as Anna's dwindling body ... Donoghue keeps us riveted to Lib's perspective throughout, and the close-lipped Irish look hopelessly backward to Lib's educated, colonial-British gaze; yet the shadow of the Irish potato famine, an atrocity perpetuated by the English on Irish subjects, haunts this novel about hunger ... the suspense in The Wonder sometimes resembles suspended animation; only its near-claustrophobic economy makes it hard to put down.
Mary Mann Hamilton
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...despite her stoic cheerfulness, Mary is a blunt and candid narrator, especially when it comes to the relationship at the heart of the book: her complicated marriage to Frank Hamilton ... it's impossible not to root for this woman, who went years without seeing other women or children, and confronted their deaths, as she confronted everything else, alone.
Dorthe Nors, Trans. by Misha Hoekstra
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneAs in Woolf, the beauty of the world in the face of death and decay is very much at stake in So Much for That Winter. That, combined with its repetitions and confessions, gives the book a devotional quality. It's easy to imagine this duo of airy novellas slipped into the purse or beach bag of one of those women who feel invisible, who will perhaps read it slowly on a park bench and be inspired to sing a little louder, take up a little more space, or write a little more freely.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneIf the subject matter is delightfully sleazy, the treatment is high M.F.A., written in dreamy, lyrical flashbacks from the point of view of an older, wiser Evie remembering the summer of 1969 ... The passages from Evie's pre-Suzanne life are particularly satisfying; relieved of the burden of sensationalism, the prose dances through ordinary beats of adolescence with an awkward grace, letting certain details jar the reader in just the right way, like stubbed toes ... Maybe the trouble is that the real-world Manson family was just too interesting, the many biographies and memoirs of ex-members too detailed and gripping. By contrast, the 'girls' of the title remain disappointingly vague, their relationships incoherent ... Despite this type of descriptive lassitude, the pages do turn. The Girls is a reliable poolside read, appropriate for lightly sun-dazed attention, and Cline will have plenty of chances to perfect her blend of tawdriness and sincerity in future books.
Claire Vaye Watkins
MixedThe Chicago TribuneThis is fascinating terrain, particularly given Watkins' backstory, but in execution, it's almost unbearably frustrating ... Watkins' seeming inability to imagine any agency for her protagonist adds nothing to the view that a victim is a victim, and a Manson girl a lost cause. Worse still, it makes for boring reading, such that the jumps into Ray's head — he's off on a more typical hero's journey, complete with a passage through the underworld — offer breaths of fresh air ... Watkins remains a master of the expressionistic landscape; in some of the book's best passages, Luz and Ray cross wasted yucca fields, crystalline salt flats, and hellish mine tailings in their car.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneEach of In the Country's nine stories about the Filipino diaspora has the satisfying heft of a little novel. In precise and patient prose, Alvar reveals the complex patterns of labor migration that structure and define her characters' most intimate relationships ... In the Country remains compulsively readable and even uplifting, thanks to Alvar's expansiveness and her gift for grounded, human-scale metaphors.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIn Get in Trouble, Link continues to inhabit a wide range of voices with an offbeat sensibility that never curdles into kitsch, thanks to her nearly infallible ear ... Link's gift for depicting the arcane insecurities of teenagers means that many of her stories — the ones that don't have sex in them — have been cross-shelved as juvenile fiction. Although Link's oeuvre tends to make any such genre distinctions look impoverished, the young-adult designation seems appropriate in one respect. Most of us fell in love with books during childhood or early adolescence. Back then, you'd open a book and the words would give like a trap door beneath your feet, and you'd fall right through them into the author's world. For a distracted adult reader inured to the tricks of the trade, this experience is vanishingly rare. A new Link collection is therefore more than just a good excuse for a trip to the bookstore. It's a zero-gravity vacation in a dust jacket.
Marie NDiaye, Trans. by Jordan Stump
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThe Clarisse Riviere section is something of a trial by fog, vague and repetitive, with idiosyncratic metaphors in place of plot points and long sentences full of nesting clauses that, perhaps owing to the translation, have to be read and reread to untangle their meaning ... For those who stick it out, however, there are rich rewards, particularly in the book's long middle section, narrated from the grown daughter Ladivine's point of view in firmer, more grounded prose.
PanThe Chicago TribuneSittenfeld's inventiveness in modernizing these plot points earns some chuckles and head-nods, but the flipside of such fidelity to the text is not pretty ... It says a lot that in this version of events, foul-mouthed Lydia comes off as not just the only Bennet sister willing to tell the truth, but the only character worth listening to at all. The third-act plot twist involving Lydia is Sittenfeld's biggest departure from Austen's original, and it has the unfortunate side effects of robbing the original plot of its best villain and casting the Bennet family as intolerant fossils. Liz's job is to appease and placate them. This does neither Austen nor chick lit any favors.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneAs a portrait of the body-image issues and low-level eating disorders that afflict almost all American women, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is devastatingly thorough, its 13 short stories as addictive as potato chips and as painful as the prospect of eating nothing but 4-ounce portions of steamed fish for the rest of your life.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneWilliams has been plumbing this territory for decades — she's published eight books before this one — and her confidence with language is frankly unnerving. She makes it jump through hoops, and a reader had better be willing to follow. Using repetition, juxtaposition, cliche and non sequitur, Williams defamiliarizes the lives and contexts of her very ordinary characters.
PanThe Chicago Tribune...it's Julia and Theo's past, not their future, that brings a sense of urgency to the book. Buried within the weak psychic plot is a harrowingly realistic political novel about the price of personal freedom under an oppressive Latin-American regime.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThe Mare finds a new setting for Gaitskill's emotional interrogations, and some of the rhythms she strikes up there are as fresh as the country air.
PanThe Chicago TribuneHunt's packed prose writhes with hallucinatory detail. At her best, she lurches from lyricism to cynicism in short, declarative sentences...Hunt seems to get lost in her story at times, repeating plot points and revelations...for all its writhing antics, a deeply normative book.