PositiveThe Baffler... the novel proceeds mosaic-like, providing glimpses of the characters charged with managing the storm while keeping the tempest itself very much in the foreground ... Storm alternates descriptions of Maria with short philosophical essays, glimpses of the natural world, and views of the civil servants who try to limit the impact of the ecological disaster they can’t control. These sections are scrupulously arranged so as to drive home specific causal points ... Everything, both manmade and natural, is connected in Storm’s ecosystem; everything that happens has wide-ranging consequences, the butterfly effect in full force ... Intensely dedicated to the study of process, the result of immersive research on his part, Stewart lovingly recounts the intricate details by which these people go about attempting to limit the damage of the storm. In genuinely suspenseful set pieces involving such dangerous situations as a flooded underpass and a snowed-over road, Stewart shows these people at their best, dutifully playing their part in the systems that humankind has developed over its many years of existence to prevent the unnecessary death and destruction that it has also, inadvertently, helped cause.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksWhere the sentences of the Outline trilogy are crisp and smoothly cadenced, in keeping with Faye’s orderly mind, the writing in Second Place vacillates rather awkwardly between the conversational and the ponderously philosophical, with more than its share of exclamation points thrown in for good measure. It’s finally a question of balance, and while the prose does mirror the restlessness of the narrator’s mind, it also seems to be constantly eluding Cusk’s grasp, foregrounding interpretation over any kind of narrative incident on which to turn that interpretative impulse. Begrudgingly doling out little doses of event, Cusk then rushes headlong into what appear her real interests: dense paragraphs of overlong and increasingly abstract philosophizing ... We are knee-deep here in Cusk’s favorite themes — fate, narrative, and will — but the metaphysical puzzling is rife with confusion ... Because these convoluted musings are what Second Place is really about, they frustrate the functioning of the book as a novel. Cusk gives readers a few things to grab onto — a serviceable evocation of the marsh, along with a few strong scenes and images, including one involving the (perhaps literal) devil on a train from Paris, which comes at the beginning of the book, foreshadowing L.’s appearance, and which is more vivid and intriguing than anything that follows. But because Cusk quickly abandons all these footholds in favor of airy interpretation, the story stumbles. After all, there must be something there to interpret in the first place ... If the Outline trilogy had seemed to push beyond the novel while still working within the form, then Second Place suggests that Cusk may have outgrown the genre entirely, even as she still tries to work uncomfortably within its limits. Either way, the tale that the book’s narrator tells is highly unsatisfactory. To put it in Cuskian terms, where it’s easy to suspend disbelief when listening to the stories that make up the Outline trilogy, in Second Place, that necessary illusion simply fails to hold.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe lecture, like the essay, like the state of awkwardness that Cappello explored so fruitfully 13 years earlier, operates in the gap between what a person knows is real and what that person is told is real ... \'All great essays,\' Mary Cappello writes, \'investigate the space between what one is told about the real and what one truly knows about it. This is the essay, and the lecture’s, essential life-affirming disassociated ground.\' It’s the ground that Cappello has tread throughout her two-decade writing career, and she not only explores this ground further in her latest book but makes its operating method into her central subject. In doing so, she ensures that Lecture — with its fragments and digressions, its considerable self-reflection, and its significant moral and political heft — serves as its own well-earned justification.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksIn her newest book, which is marketed as a novel but reads more as a genre-defying diary of everyday textures, Zambreno provides some insight into her watching and viewing process ... not so much renders the question of genre irrelevant but charts the search for a new genre, a search that Zambreno has been pursuing her whole career ... no less dependent on the rhythms by which fragments of language both intersect with each other and behave internally ... fits in with the popular subgenre of autofiction. But Zambreno’s is an example of a very different type ... a refusal of old forms that cannot wholly dispense with them, a diary of daily textures that inscribes the self even as it attempts to transcend it. It is also many other things: an intellectual autobiography, a consideration of the art/life dichotomy, a compendium of gentle literary gossip. In the end, it is a chronicle of what it feels like to be a specific person in a specific set of circumstances, a chronicle of what it’s like to think through those circumstances in a specific way. While this may diverge significantly from the goals of the novelistic form that her publishers expect her to follow, it is the exact ambition of the evolving genre-curious/nongenre that Zambreno continues to push forward with each new book, never more effectively than in this latest volume.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksUnfolding as 14 linked stories, the book comes at its central narrative...from an appealingly diverse range of perspectives ... some of the stories plunge forward in a dizzyingly headlong block of prose, individual clauses separated by semicolons. Some take a more leisurely pace, with single sentences often forming whole paragraphs. Still others fall halfway in between, the tension between motion and stasis giving the story its charge. But whatever the specific style, the chief feature of Steinberg’s prose is repetition ... The effect of this is...to create a sense of endlessness in the lives of its characters. Life doesn’t conclude, it rarely moves forward; it just tends to repeat ... everyone in Steinberg’s books is acting out one role or another, a state of affairs that generally leads to much unhappiness for them and everyone they interact with. The narrator plays the girl when she interacts with the guys at the shore (even as she longs to play—and sometimes does play—the guy), and she plays the rich girl when she interacts with the locals (even as she occasionally resists). It’s not easy to get away from these assigned roles, but in doing so lies our only chance at a tentative freedom, our only chance of obtaining that much-sought-after thing, which Steinberg’s characters so rarely obtain, that elusive shred of holy.\'
PositiveBookforumIf The House of the Pain of Others is a work of history, then, it’s a self-aware one, more crónica than objective report. The narrative is filtered through Herbert’s distinct sensibility, one that reveals how stories of the past are actually written—subjectively, provisionally, influenced by the sheer randomness of experience. After the book’s early sections, the bulk of the remainder is an exhaustive and heavily researched retelling of the events leading up to the massacre ... Herbert gives us his view on the events, but doesn’t insist that it is necessarily the correct one. He always refers the reader back to the original sources ... Through the stories in em>The House of the Pain of Others, the genocide begins to seem inevitable, the result of an unholy alliance between a fiercely chauvinistic culture, a thriving foreign population, and a violent revolutionary uprising ... Can Herbert’s story of a \'small genocide\' stand in for an entire nation? It would take another book to really make that case. For the present volume, rewriting history—or writing something close to the truth for the first time—is more than enough.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksTo read Lost Time today is to appreciate not one, but two acts of recovery: first, there is Czapski’s bringing Proust’s world to life with his astonishing powers of recall, then there is the text’s tortuous path to publication in English. These circumstances contribute to an enthralling, even thrilling reading experience ... one of the pleasures of Lost Time is seeing Czapski work up to his subject, discovering what he wants to say as he says it.
MixedBookforum\"Pearlman revels in creating a of portrait of [Donald Trump] as a young egomaniac through juicy anecdotes, such as the revelation that he made every visitor to his office watch an eight-minute video extolling him as a \'visionary builder\' before they were allowed to meet with him ... Pearlman’s decision here to riff on Emma Lazarus’s Statue of Liberty poem, \'The New Colossus,\' is telling, as he ultimately posits that the USFL was a democratizing force, a vehicle for the fulfillment of various American dreams ... Pearlman seems wrapped up in this idea of dream fulfillment, but it’s hard to feel much emotion about the stalled career of pretty mediocre players.\
Dorthe Nors, Trans. by Misha Hoekstra
RaveBookforumIn Mirror, Shoulder, Signal...she mixes both the comic and the melancholic mode found in her earlier work ... Nors skillfully enacts the way most of us think: choppily and with frequent interruptions ... From the reflective to the comic to the portentous in a matter of seconds, Sonja’s thoughts contain worlds ... In the case of the driving scenes in Mirror, it is largely Nors’s light touch that ensures the symbolism goes down easy. In this way, the author distracts from the metaphorical implications of the lessons while still reaping the benefits of that metaphor. In the end, it’s Nors’s willingness to trade in the gently comedic, while still taking Sonja’s larger questing seriously, that makes Mirror, Shoulder, Signal such a complicated, and ultimately successful, balancing act.
Veronica Gerber Bicecci, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
PositiveBookforumAlthough Empty Set is at times a playful, often funny work, the book becomes increasingly concerned with Veronica’s efforts to uncover her ancestral legacy, which seemingly disappeared along with her mother ... Interspersed between short chapters Gerber Bicecci reproduces the charts, graphs, and diagrams that [protagonist] Verónica relies on to find order and meaning in her complicated, fantastical world.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksJeannie’s obsessive quest to fit her father’s and her half-sister’s life into some sort of coherent, meaningful narrative both provides the book with its exploratory thrust and, in its paranoid excesses, fuels her encroaching mental illness ... At the end of The Glass Eye, Jeannie has a startling realization that rearranges her perspective on everything she’s told us. 'I used Jeanne as a metaphor,' she admits, echoing Bouillier and Palm before her, 'as a means to understand my dad’s grief, as a means to understand who he was, as a means to understand how I should grieve. I don’t know how to grieve.' And then, in five quick words, Vanasco flips the assumptions underlying her entire project: 'Jeanne was a real girl,' she writes, which is to say: not a symbol, not mere material. This is an essential realization, a way out of both madness and literary narcissism, and yet, no matter how real Jeanne was, the act of writing reduces her. Jeanne may be 'real,' but the second you put her on the page, she cannot help but become a metaphor. With this, every memoirist must reckon.
RaveElectric LiteratureWilkes’s book is chock full of vivid, hallucinatory bits, odd moments of humor, and haunted environments, with the forest itself a classic moody setting, but the book gets its real charge from its complex consideration of the narrator’s views on manhood and the South?—?the two being intimately related ... This disconnect from his present time on both the personal and generational level provides the narrative with a certain tension that raises Wilkes’s book above the level of a simple entertaining trip into a folksy fantastical setting ... If Wilkes himself sometimes seems caught up in that same confusion, confirming rather than questioning some of his narrator’s less constructive notions, then he at least understands the complexity of the question. In his novel, the South comes across as sufficiently haunted: by God, by slavery, and, not least, by the ghosts, literal and figurative, of a region with a very tangled history.
PositiveThe Millions...stands out both by the relentlessness with which the comparative mind of the author works and by her willingness to question her own metaphor-making tendency ... Riverine stands as a bold reckoning with not only an individual’s past and present but with the very apparatus of truth-making itself.