Anita Felicelli is the author of Chimerica: A Novel (forthcoming from WTAW Press) and the short story collection Love Songs for the Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press), which won the 2016 Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Anita’s essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in the New York Times (Modern Love), Slate, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Babble, Romper, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She graduated from UC Berkeley and UC Berkeley School of Law. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a Voices of Our Nations alum. Her work has placed as a finalist in multiple Glimmer Train contests and received a Puffin Foundation grant, two Greater Bay Area Journalism awards, and Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in the Bay Area with her family.
PositiveThe Washington PostA set of seven slipstream short stories that edge, in length, toward novelettes. Where her earlier collections were anchored by a zany, wondrous youthfulness...this one seems to convey: Never fear, aging has entertaining horrors all its own ... Bizarrely fractured ... Link’s permutations retain palpable atmospheric similarities to their originals, marked by the same flatness of character and affect that characterize traditional fairy tales, as well as similarly bloody plots. Link intensifies her versions by making the stories wilder and setting them in mundane, contemporary situations ... Link leans on a signature technique she employs in other collections, too ... The atmosphere of these stories is uneasy, much like aging.
RaveAltaI Have Some Questions for You is narrated, in a closely observed and intelligent first person, by Bodie Kane ... Bodie is immediately fascinating, both for her vivid backstory and her circumstances as a complex, intelligent woman separated from her husband ... Makkai makes sentences that undo us with their amalgamation of nostalgia, sensory evocation, and danger. We know it’s coming. We keep watching ... Makkai refuses the trap of the particular also. One of her most effective and knowing techniques is to string specifics together ... It maintains a profound awareness.
RaveAltaIntense, palimpsestic ... Ingenious, off-kilter ... The Furrows relies on three voices to bring us into an exquisitely rendered nether space where visual likeness, name, and metaphor appear concrete, only to fall away in subsequent scenes ... The more we read, the more we are strung along by competing sequences bound by Serpell’s sleek and unexpected syntax, her unnerving emotional observation and repeated images, including recurrent explosions and the appearance of a mysterious man at the site of her brother’s disappearance ... Serpell opts for stunning emotional deepenings at every turn. Again and again, the novel exploits the literary potential of the Freudian uncanny to construct haunting multiplications rather than the transparent resolutions of traditional novelists.
RaveAlta... lively ... The stories vibrate together with unspoken wordplay, phrases like \'fruit of my loins.\' Correspondences that would be too clever and on the nose if explicitly stated are interesting as substrate ... Framed by the conditional \'if\' but stylistically sure-footed and concrete, If I Survive You binds the caustic with the aching of a character keenly aware of the world’s vivid underinvestment in his future yet determined to keep going.
RaveAlta... thoughtfully episodic, structured as a series of little and big horrors that build to a devastating present ... The novel’s lyrical viscosity and stunning rhythms are immediately apparent ... This is writing that announces immediately it will pull no punches and then abides by the rubric it has fashioned for itself. Brutality is intertwined with humor and some crackling linguistic effects. Even at its most pitiless, the narrative maintains a steadfast frankness, keeping a \'floodlight\' on the cruelty that is often directed at children. Any opportunity for sentimentality is cut short by brusque matter-of-factness. Marina’s life is explored in visceral, embodied language, but so too is Willie’s—there are no jump cuts away ... A novel this forthright about child abuse, rape, addiction, poverty, and murder is, of course, marked by bleakness and a justified anger at a world in which girls and women, especially poor ones, face grave sexual violence and injustice, too often perpetuated by men who are themselves neglected or abused. It is hard to look away but also painful to continue .... Finally, however, A Tiny Upward Shove is powerful not so much because of the harrowing intensity of its trauma but because of its dagger-sharp voice and Chadburn’s startling talent for calling up base notes of death and decay within not only vibrant sentences but also longer narrative arcs. Like many brilliant works of fiction, its artistry lies in the fusing of linguistic and plot choices with enduring motifs. The book is marked by both tremendous knowledge and astonishing imagination: in her critique of our world and its injustices, Chadburn enacts the ferocity we imagine an aswang would have. It’s extraordinary, propulsive: unputdownable, as they say. And while Chadburn’s debut possesses a kind of doomed, spellbinding inevitability, it also lends a flicker of light, a barely perceptible flutter of heart, to something that seemed broken, wounded like the bird in the heater, beyond repair.
PositiveAlta\"Many of the book’s themes are familiar within the robust tradition of Indian American immigrant fiction. Dislocation. Aging. Generational difference. Losses incurred in migration. Parenting across a cultural divide. Seeking Fortune Elsewhere favors the zero endings of Anton Chekhov and aims toward the emotional, if not the stylistic, lineage of Jhumpa Lahiri and Akhil Sharma. Bhanoo embraces reportorial simplicity and plainness, elevating the psychological nuances of small moments not by the use of complex language or epiphany but by a focused attention on the day-to-day ... Bhanoo’s collection gains in momentum and fluidity as it builds toward its deeply moving final story ... The appeal of Seeking Fortune Elsewhere resides in its gentle trust that culturally faithful stories can and should slip easily across borders.\
PositiveWashington PostCompassionate in its telling ... Chakrabarti explores his flawed, bewildered characters’ fine-grained emotional shifts when confronted with confusing, violent political movements ... A Play for the End of the World meditates on conundrums of agency that, unfortunately, are still relevant to artists and writers. Can art truly matter in a time of intense upheaval and turmoil over the failures and force of a government? ... [The novel] seems to ask us: Are you struggling in this moment? And it answers, here, let me help you bear this.
RaveAltaAhmed’s prose is full of close-up particulars, but the novel’s sensibility is operatic and transcendent and searching ... An audacious novel ... Radiant Fugitives is thinky, but it doesn’t feel constructed so much as miraculously found ... Although kaleidoscopic and contemporary, Radiant Fugitives also hearkens back to more traditional novels in which subtle, complex details are a source of delight, rather than something to be pared away to render meaning transparent.
RaveThe Washington Post... passionate ... While the memoir richly explores an awakening to anti-colonial politics and a queer coming-of-age, its emotional core is the anguish of repeatedly being made to stand apart ... the author nods toward contemporary literary conventions in which prose is clouded by doubt about the author’s perceptions. However, Mohabir is not starting from a posture of self-assurance, as are some other memoirists. He writes into emotional and political clarity to wrest himself from pain inflicted by his father. Accordingly, he renders caste discrimination with curious bafflement, while his critiques of white supremacy and colonialism are infused with fire ... The memoir refuses genre. Instead, it invents its own radical, striking, fragmented form, which reflects Mohabir’s efforts to mend himself...His stunning original poetry flies abreast of translated Bhojpuri songs. Anti-colonial polemic enlivens prose about his quest for a place his fluid self might move within rigid lines of identity ... makes its own way in American letters. Transfused with what Mohabir calls in his Author’s Note, \'the queerest magic\' of his Aji’s songs, it’s an incomparable, hybrid account of self and family that defies expectations. Singular, fierce: That’s the gorgeous sound of a bird taking flight.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... reaches below a dazzling surface of weirdness to illuminate subterranean emotions and circumstances from the real world that are rarely afforded precise language ... These stories sparkle with craft from first sentence to last line, careening through genres with prose that’s unexpected and satisfying ... Other fabulist stories are similarly incanted in a first-person plural perspective that builds not only worlds, but also political vibrancy ... Stories that lend themselves to layered interpretations are still shot through with mystery that eludes definition. Startling premises drive toward a nutty absurdity reminiscent of Nikolai Gogol, Kelly Link and perhaps George Saunders, which only enhances their emotional charge...However, there are also realistic stories and stories that resist purpose-built mechanics of extended metaphors. They’re dreamier and less cerebral, gaining emotional resonance with every turn ... Each of Peynado’s stories is finely formed as a diamond, grounded in unpredictable yet telling details. While they previously found individual homes in major literary magazines and received awards, they are spectacularly orchestrated here to form a coherent whole. Wily but throbbing with heart, they dart into unexpected crevices of human experience you may not have known you wanted to see ... They speak to our unkempt, scarred world, even as they reimagine it not just once, but repeatedly.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksSathian’s satire is pitch perfect when it emphasizes the role of gossip in the affluent Indian American community ... savagely funny ... Sathian...captures not only the melancholia of the immigrant’s social estrangement, but also the painful expectation that this melancholia should be worth it somehow, that one should achieve and then achieve some more ... Initially, the novel’s satire reminded me of Gossip Girl or You, where it’s not entirely clear whether we’re being presented a real critique or simply a cheerful, glossy exaltation of young sociopaths. There are characterizations that veer toward true unpleasantness ... The heist is magnificent—canny and moving and just plain fun. Where the first half mimed the Indian American community’s behavior a bit too closely, blunting the traditional tools of satire such as exaggeration or incongruity, Sathian’s movement toward fantasy in the story’s second half is a wise, satisfying turn. Her prose lifts off: there’s a delight she takes in writing humorously about magic that shows off the scope of her immense talent ... The novel resolves beautifully.
RaveAltaKushner writes with equal verve about the self’s ecstatic movement into the world and the world’s permeation of self ... Kushner’s attention to precise contradictions lends texture to her prose ... Still, or yet again, a paradox glints under these recollections. Electric with life, they suggest she never quite left.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... heartbreaking ... As with all good memoirs, however, the author’s self-skepticism cuts ... More than a search for explanations within his personal history, the book probes shame’s role in addiction, the stories told to shore up the self ... Be aware that Model Citizen is harrowing. This is not a memoir that will hand you redemption in a neat package. It has a disquieting degree of honesty around addiction and parenting. I found this exhilarating ... intensely emotional sentences rub up against a painfully funny detail. It elucidates the contradictions within lived experience ... Lively surrealist moments erupt within Mohr’s consciousness ... You can feel Mohr reaching toward the outer limits of his psyche, but he’s also asking the reader: Am I getting this right? Are you feeling this pain and strangeness of living, too? ... Mohr begins to suffer strokes while in recovery. His heart is missing a wall and requires repair, an interesting metaphor because there is no wall, no self-protectiveness, in his language ... One of the many gifts of Joshua Mohr’s writing is that because it’s so unflinchingly specific, so in search of life, you realize that perhaps, regardless of your own particulars, you might not be alone ... The memoir’s complex, mottled epiphanies are hard-won. Model Citizen wrecked me and then, somehow, put me back together. San Francisco was lucky to have a chronicler this generous.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksIn his dystopian novel, Klara and the Sun, a sorrowful but elegant exploration of the human heart and his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize, Kazuo Ishiguro makes use of a bomb under the table. The novel cannily uses delay and withheld information to ratchet up our worry, taking time to disclose the source of the menace. We know something horrifying is going to be uncovered, but we don’t know when. From the start, a reader is fully immersed in the first-person perspective of a robot, an Artificial Friend, Klara. Ishiguro is not so much a stylist as he is supremely gifted at constructing dramatic events, both reveals and turns. The voice is so nonintrusive, so endearing in its transparency and simplicity, it works without interference. I glided along. However, the simplicity and transparency of the prose is deceptive — what happens in the novel is psychologically deep, an attempt to dive all the way down to the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench ... Klara and the Sun [...] is elegant and haunting and taut. It is best read as a keen, suspenseful inquiry into the uniqueness of the human heart.
RaveOn the SeawallAt the beating heart of The Good Girls is an exploration of shame. On the subcontinent, and sometimes off of it, shame is a potent force used to subjugate people to a social order ... it is important to understand the epigraph and the Laws of Manu as prime sources of misogyny, discrimination, and honor codes that are implemented in different ways, and thus to appreciate how vital a work of reportage and literature The Good Girls is ... You might think from all I’ve said that this book is a dry text. It’s not. While Faleiro lays out the necessary facts to portray the poverty in Uttar Pradesh, which is the murder capital of India, there’s also a sensory effect in how she generates its atmosphere on every page ... the book is laced throughout with memorable, concrete observations that exceed the purely descriptive or pictorial into the realm of the subtly symbolic and metaphoric ... Although it is narratively more complicated in its turns and events, The Good Girls is of a piece with Faleiro’s stunning nonfiction ... a vital, courageous, rigorous, nuanced and deeply considered report of true crime with global implications for women.
Robert Jones Jr
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... feels like it might be a classic one day ... The novel slips into numerous, divergent perspectives that complexify themes of queerness and race ... Readers are carried deep into the minds of characters through the skillful use of free indirect discourse ... The novel is less convincing and grounded when it leaves the plantation to tell of King Akusa and the slave ship ... The love story between Samuel and Isaiah steals the show. The fine delineations between their characters produce an ache of recognition ... It is attentive to tenderness, but the novel lays bare the vicious power dynamics of slave plantations ... Certain chapters are gut-wrenching and excruciating, but memorable characterization and an undeniable passion animate the novel as a whole ... the hectic violence of the last quarter feels like an HBO prestige drama ... illuminates Black experience by using effortless and artful entry into multiple consciousnesses, biblical allusion and supernatural elements as Morrison does. Its messages feel more overtly stated than Morrison’s, but the novelistic techniques are similar. And Jones’ style works like Morrison’s, too. It combines slangy colloquialisms, bold images and complicated metaphors to stunning effect ... The text is highly conscious of itself as a descendant, both in its themes and its allusions ... An ambitious debut.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleWhile its refracted, nonlinear narrative centers on early progressive fights, The Cold Millions feels timed perfectly to this moment of stark income inequality, where the crevasse between billionaires and workers widens and activism increases ... Swelling with empathy for the underdogs (but never too preachy), Walter’s novel reveals people caught in the enormous sweep of history as they strive to better their circumstances ... I haven’t encountered a more satisfying and moving novel about the struggle for workers’ rights in America.
David Heska Wanbli Weiden
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... hard-boiled ... Wholly satisfying, the novel builds to a violent, action-packed denouement, leaving space for a sequel ... However, in its adoption of hard-boiled tropes, the novel doesn’t also assume the cynical attitudes of Mike Hammer or Sam Spade or sink into nihilism. Rather, it juxtaposes these tropes against the heartfelt story of a wounded mixed-race man coming into his Native identity ... a riveting yet soulful reimagining of hard-boiled crime fiction for an era in which systemic rot seems to be routinely uncovered.
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle... elegant ... while shame and pain lurk beneath Gifty’s memories of her family, the measured restraint of Gyasi’s prose makes the story’s challenging questions all the more potent ... Transcendent Kingdom burrows into the philosophical, exploring with complexity what it might mean for us to live without firm answers to the mysteries that wound us.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksLike his films, Kaufman’s tremendous, bonkers first novel Antkind is an artistic consideration of consciousness ... this is a voice-driven novel, and it’s Rosenberg’s self-observation that keeps you reading ... his vivid and relentless speech is weirdly compelling. His voice is mesmerizing: awful and yet funny, magnetic, and oddly vulnerable in its bluster ... Rosenberg’s voice is also what produces the novel’s compelling and excruciating anguish: about communicating the entirety of one’s experience to another, different consciousness with different references. And that anguish is only heightened by the flood of storytelling and film allusions, the way the novel begs to be deconstructed at every turn, asking, do you get it? ... A reader’s ability to enjoy a self-consciously long, free-range \'strange cosmic entertainment\' of this intensity and loopiness...is subject to what constructs the reader brings to it. If you don’t know half the allusions, the wordplay and the depth of references might be lost, as so much surface glitter ... It’s a thrilling first novel trying to assume the form of consciousness itself, with all its digressions and delusions ... Antkind is Kaufman pushing himself to every formal and social limit, no holds barred, bleak and devastating, yet marvelous.
Laura van den Berg
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books... the shapes of these stories are more astonishing and diffuse, feeling less like constructed artwork and closer to found objects. There’s a freedom in these stories, the sense that the story doesn’t belong only to the apparent protagonist. Instead, in each story in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, lives unfold unseen, and their pointed absence, their seemingly peripheral nature, the way in which devastating emotions occur offstage yet retain weight, endows the stories with an edgy, unsettling quality. Their strange power grows out of a bold refusal to decipher or assign an explanation to the pieces that are missing. Paradoxically, in the refusal of explanation, what never happened or what might have happened in a different way gains as much importance as what does, simply through allusions to what is sensory and tangible ... Language itself is used to shake the reader, to take these stories beyond any sort of prefabricated shape into a more dangerous realm of ghosts and intangible dangers. There are gaps and jumps in the language, flexible places where a reader can creep in and imaginatively develop their own beliefs about what happened. The text of I Hold a Wolf by the Ears feels more flexible than in van den Berg’s prior books, with the notable exception of The Third Hotel, which also plunges into grief, its reality along with its unmooring surrealism. Are we haunted by these stories or are we, as readers, haunting them? ... Yet, a subtly biting humor and irony threads through the collection, complicating and knifing through what might be taken as tragedy ... Van den Berg exploits the tension between what is experienced and what emotions can make us believe to astonishing effects ... Van den Berg is one of our most ingenious bards of the unsayable. I Hold a Wolf by the Ears carries forward the DNA of her other books, but it’s her best yet. With this collection, she invents a grammar to reconstitute the unease that flows beneath the surfaces of ordinary, mundane America — the exquisitely off-kilter, the ghost in the mirror.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... caught me off guard with its urgency and deep understanding of the relationship between an individual and India’s purportedly democratic society ... Majumdar illustrates how ordinary people find themselves swept up by a broken political situation in which their own agency can become belittled ... Thankfully, this is not a savior narrative. Instead, it’s a scorching and intimate look at those who find themselves bearing the full brunt of an enormous, diverse society’s prejudices and passions. Told in effortless, pitch-perfect voices that borrow from traits of prophetic oratory, A Burning works on the reader emotionally and directly, free from authorial intrusion ... In a time of brutal governmental intrusions, we need literary voices that eloquently speak complicated truths about individual agency and collective decisions. A Burning is a taut, propulsive and devastating debut novel. Gripping fiction, sure, but there’s not a false note in here.
Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, trans. by Eric M B Becker
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksUnlike a traditional novel, which is driven by narrative, Pereira de Almeida’s tale is driven by potentiality, by its willingness to contradict itself and provide answers or termination points that are only ever provisional ... That Hair takes a fascinating turn toward the end, where we begin to question the reality being created within it. It’s a difficult turn to parse or fully pull apart. The other self comes to the fore ... A reader has the sense that the truth, whatever that is, and to the extent there is such a thing, is incapable of being shaped enough to provide the usual pleasures of fiction: shape, knowledge of characters, drama, foreground, background, closure. Rather, this is a many-angled exploration of self and history, an exploration in which every potential path is pursued with equal intensity ... a beautiful and truthful book in its particulars, but it’s also highly tangled and untamable in structure. Its multiplicity presents readers with a challenge; its multiplicity feels like a distorting mirror.
MixedThe San Francisco Chronicle... moves at a comfortable, luxurious pace. Most of the time, the story flows beautifully, sweeping the reader away in a phantasmagoria of coins and parrots and mouthwatering food. Joshi’s storytelling is engrossing, and minutes fly by in the world she has built. Sometimes, however, her prose drifts towards florid tics ... And there are elisions and incongruities in dramatizing the caste system in 1950s India, particularly as it relates to women. It’s a mistake to read this as straight historical fiction; to write about caste in a credible or thoughtfully imagined way would be to write more of cruelty and injustic ... India’s ongoing difficulties with caste and religious identity are part of the reason the country finds itself in turmoil today; the effect this novel generates, however, is analogous to reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind while a righteous Black Lives Matter protest is under way ... The novel has only an approximate relationship with the reality of the age in which it’s set, but it’s smoothly plotted and satisfying. Lakshmi Sastri is a relatable character readers will want to root for ... an amiable and entertaining debut novel about an important theme — balancing family with personal ambition — that allows readers to escape into a fantasy teeming with sensory pleasure.
E. J. Koh
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... [a] profound literary memoir of intergenerational wounds ... formally daring, making full use of various parallelisms to create a rhythm between past and present ... The letters, as Koh explains it, are in \'kiddie diction,\' lending a fascinating verisimilitude to Koh’s adult narration of what happened to her, her mother and her grandmothers ... We’re so fortunate to have this literary reckoning from a tremendously talented writer. Koh’s The Magical Language of Others is a wonder: a challenging and deep meditation on how wounds of the past and present inform our relationship with those outside of us, which is to say, everyone.
PositivePop MattersSome of the most gorgeous, affecting scenes, the most unique uses of language are in early family scenes involving Owen, Antoinette, and Eeona, with interludes of backstory provided by Anette who is as-yet unborn. Yanique tends to unfold a scene completely and bravely, and then sum it all up with an unforgettable aphorism ... The dichotomy of the cool-headed sister and the warmly passionate sister strongly reminded me of Jane Austen\'s Sense and Sensibility (there are a number of plot elements that reminded me of British 19th century novels, including those by the Bronte sisters, in spite of the magical elements), but with very different conclusions drawn and a generous openness that runs counter to Austen\'s narrowed, careful focus ... The novel sags at various points in the second half and its pacing suffers occasionally from its own gregarious, feeling impulse and its perspectival jumps ... Yanique has a distinct, arresting way of casting a spell and prodigious storytelling talents that allow us to absorb her sensuous blend of history and myth without any doubt that it all happened. This book\'s sustained and rhythmic evocation of time and place is spectacular, and it seems likely to become a classic of Caribbean American literature to which readers will want to return again and again.
RaveSF GateAyobami Adebayo’s taut, intimate debut novel, Stay With Me, skillfully dramatizes a worst-case scenario ... Rarely do novelists convey the mixed emotions of early motherhood — the tedium, confusion, terror, guilt, ecstasy and delight — as accurately as this book does. Yejide’s perspective...is conveyed with an operatic intensity that almost approaches the pitch of Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment. Adebayo’s prose is so direct you mainline the drama, rooting for Yejide and Akin to make it in spite of many narrative twists and turns that require a reconsideration of their relationship. The twists and turns make for powerful storytelling, but not all of the twists work ... Still, after many heartbreaking revelations, the novel resolves with an unexpected degree of warmth ... The story is ancient, but Adebayo imbues it with a vibrant, contemporary spirit.
PositivePop MattersThere are certain novelists whose powers of observation are so acute, you barely notice that their characters\' inner lives are illuminated mostly through their actions in relation to others and the world. You only occasionally glimpse a character\'s internal thought process—everything is surfaces and relationships ... Nothing goes unnoticed in the world of her novel, and nothing is sacred ... The novel\'s plot is fairly thin, but Akhtiorskaya\'s spectacular voice and uncanny ability to spot the absurdity in everything compensate for this ... Akhtiorskaya renders Pasha, particularly how he moves through the world, in exquisite detail ... The story skates over the surface of the characters\' lives, often choosing the pleasures of bleak, slightly exaggerated humor over emotional depth, but the author hits homeruns on every page of the novel with her clever insights about family dynamics and immigrants.
RaveOn the Seawall... immersive and visionary postmodernist ... an allusive novel keenly aware of the hypocrisy of the adult order, and governed by the knowledge that children today are under threat from the carelessness of adults ... falls within a tradition of questioning, oblique enchantments, written to evoke a dream state, to give singular expression to many anxieties, rather than to call up a one-to-one correspondence with the world’s many tangible problems. The threat of climate change looms in the novel, but so, too, do the threats of consumerism and gluttony. And while the anxieties the author addresses in the novel could have resulted in a more paranoid book, Pigs feels innocent, suggestive more of an author’s anguish about the world’s condition than her anger or blame. It is a fable for adults, a fairytale whose violence is akin to The Brothers Grimm rather than anything Disney might offer ... sentences cast their spell by blurring the boundary between fairytales and the familiar or organic ... a novel for intrepid readers with intense interest in what we owe other human beings, what we owe children, and what we owe our world ... not completely explicable, but its mysteriousness is a thing of beauty, and allows us to keep revisiting the text to plumb its meaning.
PositivePopMattersThe Secret Place is brilliantly plotted with twists and turns, but...the real reason to read it is its uncanny way of plumbing the darkest depths of the human soul ... French has a knack for creating layered, multi-dimensional characters and distinctive voices that make each of her novels an event ... The Secret Place has a less procedural feel. It has a stronger sense of psychology, especially the group psychology of teenage girls, even delving into a vaguely supernatural element (luckily, nothing hinges on this—rather, it feels like mass delusion). French\'s portrayal of the girls is almost too-close. If you are not a teenage girl, you may experience mild irritation at the heavy distribution of \'awesomesauce\' and \'totes amazeballs.\' At times, I felt as if I were plopped among precocious, risk-taking teenage girls, instead of reading a carefully constructed literary mystery novel. But there is also a beauty to the art of keen mimicry, irrespective of the subject, that French has always had. It\'s a skill many literary novelists, so artful in their original turns of phrase, are lacking ... The Secret Place is an absorbing take on a hot subgenre by one of our most skillful suspense novelists.
Laura van den Berg
RaveThe RumpusRarely does a bleak novel achieve the same alluring strength of sadness. Laura van den Berg’s debut novel Find Me is that rare novel. It has the same potency as the most melancholy music ... The first half of the novel shifts between the present and flashbacks, exploring time and memory. There are loose threads, odd remarks and events that are never fully explained or resolved. Characters appear and disappear as they do in life, without handing us their reason for coming or going. But the key mysteries, carefully mapped in the first half, are satisfyingly wrapped up in the end ... It’s the physicality of van den Berg’s prose, the believability of the individual details not quite adding up to our world, that keeps the uncanny, just-off-kilter novel from spilling over, from turning into the kind of magic psychosis that Murakami often delights in ... Find Me has a psychological depth and a desolate, noirish gravity. The whole shimmering novel hangs together and propels the reader forward with its unusual brand of dream logic.
Monique W. Morris
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleMorris’ visionary manifesto...models the gentle, rehabilitative approach she urges teachers to use in educating black and brown girls. Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues presents thoughtful solutions...and persuades that a...creative spirit ought to be brought to bear on the struggles faced by black and brown girls in schools today ... Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues is a vital, generous and sensitively reasoned argument for how we might transform American schools to better educate black and brown girls.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleIn an unusual decision, she doesn’t privilege her own narrative over her family members’ or vice versa. This fair-minded approach results in a certain structural messiness, but it’s more than compensated for by Straight’s shimmering, pictorial style and tender observations. She describes in moving detail the fear she felt when her husband, a tall corrections officer, was stopped and harassed by the police. She describes in equally moving terms the loving hours she spent caring for and braiding her daughters’ black hair. She preserves the stories of Sims’ ancestors as they’ve been told to her. And those stories are harrowing ... The aftereffect of all these disparate stories juxtaposed in a single epic is remarkable. Its resonance lingers for days after reading.
Fernando A. Flores
RaveOn the SeawallThe novel unfolds in cinematic detail, but only truly gets going after the illicit dinner, about a third of the way into the book. In the dinner party scene, Flores’s full talents for humor and surrealism are on display, and these are rare, remarkable talents akin to those possessed by Roberto Bolaño .... Flores manages to produce...a narrative that is hilarious and wonderfully weird, rather than scolding ... The overarching effects of Tears of the Trufflepig suggest a contemporary punk analog to Roberto Bolaño’s Infrarealist movement in poetry— an anti-bourgeois movement in which \'Even the heads of aristocrats can be our weapons\'. Flores’s sentences are vivid and lively, and the vision is tremendous, psychedelic, blazing. Readers in search of the delights of hallucinatory language and humor and radical thinking will find in Tears of the Trufflepig pure pleasure.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... a shimmering and visionary feminist debut novel ... Blake’s interest in the unruliness and sexuality of a woman’s body (and thoughts) outside society’s boundaries follows a more avant-garde aesthetic than a classic one, calling to mind the work of contemporary American novelists like Lidia Yuknavitch or Kate Zambreno. In its wholly immersive approach, it incorporates digressive, cerebral, near-absurdist dialogues that bear shades of Madeleine L’Engle. If its poetic vision doesn’t quite build scene to scene, surely this is at least partly because of its profound imagining of how surreal it would feel to watch the world you love drown all around you, while you remain alive, until some arbitrary date when a greater power decides otherwise ... a singular and timeless portrait, a deep and gorgeous contemporary evocation of an ancient woman asking unanswerable questions about the end of an existing world.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books\"... an uncanny novel ... The novel is initially a little slow to action, caught up in its world-building, but picks up the pace when Perdita seems to commit suicide by gingerbread ... Gingerbread is a Rubik’s Cube of a book, with all the frustration and delight that that toy entails. You have to stay in a very strange headspace, but like Oyeyemi’s other novels, it’s a tale that bears multiple rereadings and is more marvelous the deeper you’re willing to dive into its rearranging of reality, its derangement ... Much of Gingerbread’s beauty is found in eccentric, yet oddly dream-meaningful word pairings and images ... It’s a novel that’s difficult to follow both at a sentence level and narratively, but its challenging stories come to an incredibly satisfying conclusion ... There is a surprise at the end of Gingerbread, a kind of glorious and satisfying surprise that makes perfect sense. The novel proves to be both trick and treat, like gingerbread, true to its title.\
Esme Weijun Wang
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle\"... an exceptional, thought-provoking work ... Wang is at her best when she weaves personal experiences with cultural criticism and journalism ... [Wang\'s] language has the power to surmount deep-seated prejudice against those with psychotic disorders ... The Collected Schizophrenias fills a vital need in our society, clearing a path into genuinely new literary terrain with uncommon grace.\
RaveOn the SeawallRachel Ingalls is an elegant master ... Binstead’s Safari is not about lions or their position as kings. Rather, it employs its fantastic lion imagery to reveal the wild darkness of humans, to uncover the horrifying ways in which humans turn on each other ... While Stan’s observations are handed to the reader almost too easily, how these thoughts work alongside the plot necessitates a reader’s serious attention, and that’s where Ingalls’s artistry lies ... Her characters’ interior thoughts are reinforced by memorable events ... Binstead’s Safari is a strange masterpiece in which the suspenseful and potentially horrifying are balanced by campy comedy ... Yet for all its puzzle-ness, the novella resists encapsulation, resists being named and pinned down. As a particularly intricate and rich cipher, the novella is better experienced than described.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle\"Laymon’s sentences carry a bone-deep crackle of authenticity ... Alongside the heartbreak of these rhythmic, sensual sentences is a forceful, declarative honesty ... This is a generous conversation about the weight of racism, and the painful pressures placed on familial love. We’re lucky to eavesdrop.\
R O Kwon
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe Incendiaries is a mystery about the soul that eschews easy interpretations. Even seasoned novelists often flinch while writing ugliness, choosing to resolve a dramatic conflict so that the novel roughly conforms with humanist values, rather than set forth the puzzling, unsettling ambiguities of life as it is actually lived. But this novel’s characters feel remarkably natural and organic, as if Kwon came upon this story growing in a forest, and simply pressed it between the pages. Her novel is the better for the invisibility of the hinges and bolts and flying buttresses that must have gone into her profound imagining of it. Even the tiniest details about these characters are perfect and telling ... throughout, the novel tends to a fierce consideration of faith and fanaticism that is new. Kwon is a writer of many talents, and The Incendiaries is a debut of dark, startling beauty.
Hanne Ørstavik, Trans. by Martin Aitken
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BookIt is the radical formal structure of the book — the rapid point of view shifts from one paragraph to the next — that truly dials into something profound about love, about how limited it can be. As if to show the indissoluble bond between Vibeke and [Jon], the way in which they are never truly apart, in spite of the mother’s distance from her son, the author alternates between their points of view, occasionally even within the same paragraph. There is a slice of viewpoint here, a sliver of the other viewpoint there ... in Love, the closeness of the perspectives, the cramming of them together, as if the mother and son are one person, and yet clearly not, feels less about narrative, and more about the limitations of love. We think we know another person, we feel settled in another person, and yet, perhaps every other consciousness is entirely a mystery. That’s the power of this particular book. The tiny emotional and atmospheric shifts are often barely perceptible, and yet they add up to much more. The total transparency of the prose while engaged in this formal structure leaves a lot of room for the reader’s own prejudices and biases to surface. We don’t know for sure anything of what the author intended us to feel about Vibeke; there is not a single judgmental comment. However, it is plain that the novella is contesting any idealization of motherhood ... Despite its brevity, Love, effectively rendered into English by Martin Aitken, demands and deserves total concentration.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIn her slim but potent manifesto Women & Power, Cambridge classicist Mary Beard asks, 'If there is a cultural template, which works to disempower women, what exactly is it and where do we get it from?' ... Beard argues that just as Western civilization began, an integral part of growing into manhood was taking control of public speech and silencing women in the process ...very careful in her arguments here, reluctant even to use the word 'misogyny.' This doesn’t diminish how good the book is, but it is a little surprising, particularly because she’s less tentative when writing about ancient women...approaches the question of gender and power with some overlapping perspectives about who holds power, and how deeply ingrained this gender dynamic is within Western culture ...a clear, rich, subversive and witty argument about what power has meant to Western civilization from ancient times, and how its meaning could be changed in the future.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksReading the first 50 pages, with all their satire and humor, I was humming R.E.M.’s 'It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).' But as the novel progressed, I came to understand that it would be grimmer than other dystopian novels I’d read and, because of its recognizable ordinariness at the outset, more terrifying ... Future Home fully conveys the intensity of pregnancy during an apocalypse — if it can feel harrowing for an individual mother in normal circumstances, how much more earth-shattering must it be when you’re carrying one of the last fully evolved humans? The conceit of a mother writing to her unborn child is well executed, and the nature of impending motherhood is handled with care and accuracy ... But the political concepts in Future Home are not fleshed out enough to comment effectively on our current moment ... As a gifted author’s flawed, experimental foray into dystopian fiction, it illustrates an important distinction between dystopian writing that arises from dreams and fantasy and that which arises from observation.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIt’s when revealing the characters’ harrowing past lives in other countries that the generous and unflagging energy that characterized Allende’s debut, The House of the Spirits, can most clearly be felt … Tremendous pleasure can be found in the present-day plot, especially in its honesty about quieter matters. Allende writes in a tender and direct way about what it’s like to live in an older body while seeking romantic love and sexual intimacy. While we can predict what will happen between Lucia and Richard, that doesn’t diminish how charmingly told this courtship is, and what a light, heartwarming contrast it provides, particularly set against a backdrop of haunting pasts … To quarrel with this novel’s overstated politics when there is so much that is lovely and structurally balanced about it may be stingy.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleIsabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter is her 19th novel, and it is told with her characteristic warmth ... It’s when revealing the characters’ harrowing past lives in other countries that the generous and unflagging energy that characterized Allende’s debut, The House of the Spirits, can most clearly be felt ...sturdy braid of dramatic migration stories is balanced by an equally interesting present-day plot ... Allende writes in a tender and direct way about what it’s like to live in an older body while seeking romantic love and sexual intimacy ...when Allende moves away from the potential love story, and ties the plot too intricately back to immigration trouble, the novel loses some of its verve ... It’s not hard to arrive at the end of this arresting romance and conclude that if its politics around documentation and human trafficking are expressed too bluntly, too crudely, the reality Allende drew from warrants it.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksMacLean persuasively weaves together biography, intellectual history, and political history to show how the public has been fooled by right-wingers who claim to value 'liberty,' but who actually intend the corporate takeover of public resources ... While the book has all the juiciness of a conspiracy theory — it’s highly readable and absorbing with a cast of characters drawn as carefully as they would be in a novel — it is also painstakingly researched and deeply intelligent. It is an urgent call to liberals to put down frivolous debates about whether Bernie would have won or whether Hillary invested too heavily in the discourse of identity politics. It’s an urgent call to conservatives to wrest back control of their party. It’s also a wake-up call about how desperately those of us who do not want to live in an autocracy need our institutions to survive, to stand up to the remarkable assault against them ... MacLean’s book is necessary reading for this moment. However, the book’s biggest oversight is its failure to detail how crucial the Evangelical element has been to the Koch strategy.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe novel careens backward and forward in time against a backdrop of politics, protests, crime and civil unrest … Rarely do novelists convey the mixed emotions of early motherhood — the tedium, confusion, terror, guilt, ecstasy and delight — as accurately as this book does. Yejide’s perspective as a betrayed wife struggling with fertility and later as a mother struggling with her children’s sickle cell anemia is conveyed with an operatic intensity … After many heartbreaking revelations, the novel resolves with an unexpected degree of warmth.
Osama Alomar, Trans. by C. J. Collins
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleAlomar is a visionary writer, extending metaphors every which way. Nothing is dead, nothing is inert — his limpid prose pulses with psychedelic life. Animals and inanimate objects alike are personified ... Alomar’s longer flash fiction is equally powerful, careening between political and moral concerns, and occasionally delving into love and other human considerations ... It takes immense skill to forge work that creates meaning by distilling life to its essences. In the best moments of the collection, including the title story, Alomar illuminates our common humanity, and our refusal, at times, to recognize it.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe genius of this novel is in how, after several pieces of exposition about Bengali history at the start of the novel, it manages to ground the personal within the political, to show how even faraway political events can transform and devastate lives … The Lowland is a breathtaking achievement, taking into account four generations and almost 70 years. While certain readers, myself included, may wish for more of Udayan’s perspective — we so infrequently see anything of India’s dissenters or revolutionaries in realistic literary fiction — it is hard to imagine the thorough application of Lahiri’s delicate, observant, American prose to a charismatic revolutionary abroad.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleKanishk Tharoor’s cosmopolitan short story collection Swimmer Among the Stars reminds me of [Italo] Calvino’s brand of storytelling — airy, whimsical and disinterested in the specific minds or motivations of individuals...It seems evident, however, that Tharoor’s international background — time spent in New York, India, London and elsewhere — informs his fiction, which is shaded by melancholy, a strong awareness of things lost ... In a time and place where immigration is a fraught political issue, these freewheeling stories appeal by disregarding conventional boundaries — they zigzag across nations, ethnic identities and linguistic traditions. Most notably, they transcend traditional notions of time.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksIt’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve lived several times over. I’d felt a shadow of this same enormous, overpowering feeling — along with a welter of other chaotic emotions — when reading The God of Small Things for the first time ... Somehow in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her first novel in 20 years, Roy outdoes The God of Small Things, and this is largely because it is an even more unsettling, artistic cry against injustice. It is a polyphonic protest ... What the second novel sometimes lacks in the 'miniature' qualities that characterized The God of Small Things, it makes up for in its kaleidoscopic range, its rugged Rushdie-esque maximalism, its ripping open of the world to show us everything that is dazzlingly beautiful and brutally ugly about it, its daring public unsheathing of many emotions and events considered private, and its enormity, its recounting of everything without sacrificing the sheer honesty of its predecessor.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe collection is composed of 14 essays of varying lengths, and many of the most insightful observations in it are about the difficulty of making language match up to lived reality. The most interesting pieces in the book consider language in conjunction with identity … In what is a fairly radical gesture these days, the author often places her predilections above the reader’s ease. At times, the lack of hard structure coupled with free-floating lyricism feels self-indulgent. Chew-Bose almost certainly knows this … When the world seems to be on fire, intuitive essays that focus on miniature aspects of the ordinary-everyday can serve as a balm. Chew-Bose turns all her associative musings into a melancholy self-portrait of the highest order.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleThe rest of the novel is strong, but sometimes feels off balance due to the different narrative techniques used to tell the mother and daughter’s diverging stories. See doesn’t always trust the reader’s ability to make the leap into an Akha girl’s mind, and pushes too hard to generate understanding ... evocatively conjured through tremendous research, so much so that it steals the spotlight from the inherent drama of a girl who loses her daughter and leaves her traditional world behind. Still, the novel is an alluring escape, a satisfying and vivid fable that uses an Akha belief to tap into our own longings for coincidence.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleWith its casually fantastic elements and kinetic, propulsive prose, the lineage of Unnikrishnan’s fiction can be traced to George Saunders and Nikolai Gogol. In many of the stories, the fantastic illuminates deeper truths related to the condition of migrant workers ... While the premises of these stories are weird gems, the true wonder is Unnikrishnan’s masterful drive, his pushing of each story’s starting point to wild, interesting places. Temporary People is streaked with artistic genius — it is startling, deeply unnerving and urgent.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFrench perfectly captures how someone’s perceptions of adversity can cause him or her to 'lose the plot.' What distinguishes her from contemporaries is her emphasis on the ordinary; her heroes and villains aren’t creepy serial killers or psychopaths. They are the sorts of people most of us have encountered in work settings, but with the curtains to the darker, secret parts of their psyches pulled back ... If occasionally more self-conscious than the rest of 'Dublin Murder Squad,' the novel also reads like its zenith — a culmination of the thinking that must have gone into earlier books. It shouldn’t be missed.
PanThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe novel achieves its kaleidoscopic effects primarily through a nonnarrative juxtaposition of shards and fragments of expository research about Hinduism ... In places, there’s something ebullient and exciting about this devil-may-care approach to allusion, but the looseness of the associations often comes across as sloppy and artless ... What reads as uniquely funny and occasionally ribald in [Barker's] earlier books sometimes comes across as juvenile silliness in The Cauliflower.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleSpanning three centuries of Ghanaian and American history, each chapter functions like a linked story, each with its own dramatic and emotional arc. While telling what happens to one descendant for each generation, the novel also sheds light on a point in history. In the wrong hands, this massive ambition — gliding through long periods of time with different characters — could result in disaster, but Gyasi pulls it off with spectacular results ... Homegoing brims with complex emotions and insights about the human condition. It is essential reading from a young writer whose stellar instincts, sturdy craftsmanship and penetrating wisdom seem likely to continue apace — much to our good fortune as readers.
PositiveThe RumpusWhile the novel does takes very weird turns, as a whole, particularly in terms of language, it doesn’t quite achieve the strange and uncanny pleasures of its ancestors—books by Vila-Matas, Borges, or Aira...The reader’s conscious fun in untangling what is being said, in such a lovely, spare and playful voice, takes precedence over a more subconscious emotional rush.