RaveThe New York Journal of Books... reminiscent of his fantastic first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in the almost surgical superiority with which it does the jobs of insight, emotion, of surprise and beauty, while returning to some of the themes explored by Vuong in earlier work ... the language of toxic masculinity gets turned against its users, along with a certain dread, a fear of losing or dying coming up as the constant in the subtext of this very short, but intensely charged, volume full of forward motions ... a true magic trick. The message made into shapes sharp with meaning, but the weapon—clearly—is always the line.
Alejandro Zambra, tr. Megan McDowell
RaveThe New York Journal of Booksa tour de force of language in which words feel like the wagons of a train that thrusts forward at the speed of life, straight or on a curve, toward a simple thought made beautifully complex by the act of taking the meaning behind those rhythmically meandering words, breaking them down so that we see what characters are doing, but also everything going through their minds as they do. This is a feat, this painting of a human being’s deeply three-dimensional life—which could easily have turned out a nightmare, but here, doesn’t—and done so well, it’s pleasurable, life’s rhythms reconstructed and synced to the speed of memory ... The novel itself unfolds like a love letter much like the one the initial protagonist (the novel encompasses generations, as well as unorthodox familial combinations) sends his girlfriend Carla after they break up. A love letter about things not love, but related to love, impossible without love. Like fatherhood, and poetry, and even just the human ability to envision a future intertwined with another’s ... a deeply charming story full of complex insights delivered from a simple, humanistic point of view told thoroughly, often breaking the \'fourth wall\' to speak directly, with love for the reader, and for the story being told.
Ed. by John Freeman
RaveNew York Journal of BooksThere are several flash or micro-fiction pieces, given their due as part of a modern tradition of short-form storytelling ... And it’s not just flash and other short forms. It’s the influence of women and of feminist theory, the political stories that used to be deemed unseemly ... So much may also depend on understanding what this book gets and reflects: we’ve been through heaven and hell in single lifetimes. The last 50, 60 years have seen change happen at humanity-defying speeds, while some of the basic things we started out wanting to change remain, entrenched, and stubbornly so. But what if the thing to do is to forge forward? To read this important book cover to cover, referring back to it over time, remembering what we’ve lived and how it touched us in story, that we may be inspired to keep the good already within us, while remembering the bad and its lessons, so we never allow it to happen again.
June Jordan ed. by Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller
RaveNew York Journal of BooksBe June Jordan for a few. Why not? She’s not with us anymore. Which is why this collection is so truly essential if we are to hang on to even a fraction of the extraordinary inheritance she left us. And it’s a great selection, The Essential June Jordan. All her beauties, thoughtfully and expertly selected by editors Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Heller. Her best. Her love poems ... There are over 80 poems in the book. Not all of them the most famous, but perhaps the most moving of those she published in life. And strangely, if you read cover to cover (a great way to feel these deep in your marrow) you get, at first, a sense that there were really two June Jordans (at least). One, the lover. The other, the one better known for her political works, for her activism. But keep reading. Start over and you will see both Junes live in each piece ... There is not much more to say. Read June Jordan. Read this book. Save it. Give it an important place on your bookshelf.
Quiara Alegría Hudes
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... a play of a memoir, a dramedy complete with memorable scenes that powerfully replicate the themes of family separation and cultural alienation ... The characters stay with you. They are funny. They are fierce. They love so hard, and often, they’re in real trouble ... That’s the thing with this book. The great scenes, yes. The beautifully three-dimensional characters, sure. The strong voice of Alegría Hudes with her talent for telling us what things mean in a way that doesn’t keep us with coming up with meanings for ourselves ... And yet. The star of My Broken Language are the words, so self-aware, so understanding of what they are composed of: music, meaning, memory, so able to see the true significance of the realities they are creating and also reflecting ... Hudes gives the word broken a new meaning.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksYes, very nasty. Very delicious ... there is more feminist subtext here than there is displacement angst, a fitting language and tone for the current state of women’s issues, all the black humor, the irony, and stranger-than-fiction scenarios right at home here among the fairy tales gone wrong and the fables exposed for the patriarchal propaganda they always were. Oh, and a bit of blood, gore, guts, and death thrown in, you know, for balance ... genius ... angry tales, and the birds in them are astonishingly pissed off. Sure, they are superbly written, lyrical, imbued with interesting layers—historical, humorous, satirical, social. Sure. All of that. But what they are most is fun. Just fun. Interesting. Like reading some great movies. They do not preach. They don’t care if you learn something or not. No social problem will be solved because we read these stories, and maybe that, that right there, is exactly why we should.
Nona Fernández, tr. Natasha Wimmer
RaveNew York Journal of BOoks... not an easy novel to read...because of the torn-apart families, the years of searching for lost ones presumed dead. It’s the scenes of fear ... But Fernández does a few great things to help us through the grim reality of the past that serves as background to the story ... What Fernández does is give us what we do not know ... And she manages to do it all while crafting a tight plot, with suspense born of the prose, so precise it often reads like a mystery caper.
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... a style that reimagines the memoir by borrowing from fiction to remake the past, to redefine it so that the internal can take center stage in conversation with the world as seen by the author. In doing so, it attempts, and mostly succeeds, in feeling like fiction. Sort of ... The recounting of the mundane day to day, heightened by the internal musings of the narrator create a bridge that, when well-done as in Mizumura’s An I-Novel, is in itself of feat of literary construction, creating the fourth wall even as it demolishes it. Erasing the narrative line separating fiction and nonfiction, the imagined and the lived ... you have choices. You can read An I-Novel as a great example of the Japanese I-Novel trend in literature. You can read it as a feminist literary landmark, or to inspire a conversation on language and its role in bridging the differences that distance forces upon people who love each other. Or you can just read it for the gorgeous prose, and it would be more than enough.
RaveNew York Journal of Books[A]s irreverent, as full of impish black humor, as any she has published before. But here, they are tinged with . . . something .... All this is not to say Popular Longing isn’t funny. It is. Very much so. It’s just a wryer wit, a wiser sense of humor, all of it still very precise, the math and the music present in every poem of this collection arriving at the tail end of so much absurd uncertainty.
Dorthe Nors, Trans. by Misha Hoekstra
RaveNew York Journal of BooksDorthe Nors’ Wild Swims is a collection of 14 short stories written tightly and tensely, with most under a thousand words. They begin mundanely, with lean, thrifty sentences. No repetition. Not much waste ... And so it begins ... Scene set, the fun will soon begin, in this case, with clues for tension, details to pull you into the tale and make you care ... And then, a shift, darker and Danishly so, just in case, just before you decide there’s nothing to see here and move on ... Meaning and moments expertly burrowed under sentences so clean you thought they were transparent, until meaning is conveyed from under them and you are surprised, moved, lifted ... Enter Misha Hoekstra, who succeeds here at translating the (classical overture?) soundtrack of Wild Swims. Thanks to her, its melody remains true and travels and captures and satisfies and maintains the elegance of Nors’ previous work ... these stories fish us, pull us out of sweet water, sometimes gasping for air. Read together, they are addictive ...
Mariana Enriquez, tr. Megan McDowell
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksEnríquez again delivers intrigue and brutality ... Stories of spirits and disappearances collectively address the mystery of loss through narratives that are as gripping as they are chilling. The not-quite-horror tales address death while showcasing the intensity and resiliency of the human soul, particularly souls of women ... The title story is the book’s shortest and in just a few pages delivers a tragic glimpse into a lonely woman’s existence. Experiments with fire point to the delicate boundaries of life ... These stories play with reality, questioning the very fabric of the ingrained beliefs and infrastructures that hold us up. They reveal how frighteningly precarious they really are ... But then, what is this \'horror?\' Where does it come from to animate this particular set of 12 robust stories? It is not exactly figurative, the occult of these tales, but rather, as in most of Enriquez’s superb work to date, rooted in culture .. One other delicious pattern is the scatological as receipt of heartbreak, loss, erasure. The physical manifestations of love (or its lack), and of betrayal, the physical reflecting the evil performed on the loving. That is the horror. That is the horror she finds new and wondrous ways of weaving into her lyrically written tales, here expertly translated by Megan McDowell ... In such a way, The Danger of Smoking in Bed underlines the darkness of evil. By allowing a glimpse of its opposite: that light that will give hope, that sign that might show the path back to life for the women on the page, and for the women before it.
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... breaks every rule doled out in Creative Writing programs around the country, and yet manages to more than make it work ... fun to read. It is heartbreaking and empowering. It is high-brow and down to earth, as if it can’t help wanting to teach you what it can, to give you something you can take with you after the last page is turned ... As a result of this introspection, and of the book within a book device of the novel, Impersonation manages to catalogue every important gaslighting moment of the Trump presidency without being overly political or distracting from the main story, an incredible feat that makes Allie’s story a timeless one, but also one brave enough to break some rules, to show a flawed character gaining awareness of those things she could do better for herself and her son, while also serving as worthy record of this moment in all our lives as women.
RaveNew York Journal of Books... the events of this novel are as far from the familiar Cotswolds cozy mystery cliché as it is possible to get, with readers coming out all the better for it on the other end. Here, everything and everyone feels real. Maybe because those most sensational details of incidents that would normally be the raison d’etre of a book like this one, with a crime at its center, receive the very welcome nuanced treatment from author Livesey, whose novels have, for a couple of decades now, been successful at making the rich subtext of feeling, memory, and difficult life decisions mulled over, the main event of her stories ... All this reality does not take away from the page-turning suspense. It is just a different kind of suspense. One that feels personal, lived, recognized, and cared about. In the background, there are still the Cotswolds, every bit as evocative, and making each gripping event even more unsettling by contrast[.]
Henri Bosco, Trans. by Joyce Zonana
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksIt is just this tension, so wonderfully captured by Bosco, that makes Malicroix so very relevant today ... makes up for the stiffness of old language patterns with great gothic ambiance and suspense, both in the house in which Malicroix’s ghost may or may not dwell, and out, in the wilderness that is the end the main protagonist and the protector of all that lunacy-inducing wilderness, as we read to answer the question: Will Martial be able to remain in the marsh for the three months required to inherit? And if he does, will he have his sanity when all his self-isolation is well and done?
RaveNew York Journal of BooksRecollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit’s most personal memoir to date, is a lyrical love letter to girls, to young women and their dreams. It is also a prayer, a manifesto of solidarity to the women those girls became or will become, a song to sing in choir their regrets. It is, also, a poetic warning cry to what awaits if they are to insist on having a voice and the power to decide over their lives ... historical movements in one direction or another, seen from the point of view of the outsider turned insider, that provide the third element making this a great book, the fascinating what of the book, the most heartbreaking moments, the most staggering truths about what it means to be a have-not in the land of the privileged ... Recollections of My Nonexistence is, evenly, from beginning to end, as deliciously readable as Men Explain Thing to Me and The Faraway Nearby, Solnit’s previous critically acclaimed bestsellers, but here it is this lyrical—but also clear, well-researched, impactful—articulation of womanhood that makes it required, urgent, reading for women of all ages, and for men, all men, even more so.
D.H. Lawrence, Ed. by Geoff Dyer
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... the selection of essays reads like a long conversation with a mentor at the end of his career, still rabidly devoted to the acts of thinking and remembering ... the more engrossing chapters are those in which he makes urgent arguments about the craft of writing in particular, especially the writing of novels, and about art and what it should mean to be an artist, in general. These are delivered with incredible clarity, foresight, and passion.
Nona Fernandez, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveNew York Journal of Books...a convincing depiction of totalitarianism made all the more chilling because author Nona Fernandez refrains from needless overdramatization, instead using the everydayness of surprise—what was there before, what is now no longer, what is lost, what disappears silently—to show how the crime of political oppression is internalized, day by day, by the collective: the people being slowly brutalized and dehumanized ... There is a wonderful fogginess to Fernandez’s gorgeous prose, in this novella translated faultlessly by Natasha Wimmer, whose experience translating the works of Roberto Bolaño and understanding of Latin America’s traumatic history with dictatorships aid her in rendering clarity without removing the elements that help Space Invaders do so much, so quickly: the feeling of dread, the anxiety of the unknown, the arbitrariness of new rules unspoken as the children try to make sense of their lives and their roles in a newly repressive society, their childhoods forever twisted, but also united, by the events around them, their young minds incapable of refraining from turning even the most violent cruelty into a game about the invasion of space.
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... great poetry ... After this first poem, the rest of the book is one long chapter that reads strongly, compellingly, like memoir, if memoirs were written as magical realism (as perhaps they should be) ... A mystery with clues strewn, hidden in the beautiful excess of verse. Every line seasoned with longing, for who faced with the loss of a mother, doesn’t yearn even for those things that used to annoy? ... granted, these are heady themes, but Moffett handles them with a sure hand, managing the magic, directing its music. That her talent for stretching poetry beyond its limits results in her giving us many books in one is all just an added benefit, and one that given the poetic essence that is all there (music, form, imagery, emotional weight, and mastery of verse) is just one more thing making this a poetry book of the best kind.
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... in her newest book, Olds puts her honest, clear verse to work mostly outside of the body, and looks instead at the body politic, at the social body we have created or destroyed together. Here, by looking at the miseries that sometimes threaten to overwhelm, Olds has turned confession into powerful denunciation ... she engages with more joy, more strength, more faith, perhaps, than in earlier collections. There is a sense of lightness here, of play, of being carefree in the world that is being declared, or rather shared ... Sure, Olds screams sometimes, but she does it without forgetting she’s a poet and, in the end, won’t we admit the things she has been screaming about feel more like truth every day? Her verse a Cassiopeia of early horoscopes and long sight, catching us, foreshadowing us (our mistakes, our dumb moves, she is looking at women, but in the context of their broader, changing, society) in, perhaps, the way that only the wisest among our literary mothers always have.
Sergio Chejfec, Trans. by Heather Cleary
PanThe New York Journal of Books... the novel elects to digress, and then to digress from each digression, which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t also come up short on the two elements besides plot that could have prevented it from reading like a continuous (the novel has no chapters or demarcations beyond the paragraph and almost no dialogue) self-indulgent exercise in hearing oneself talk: character development and skilled and rhythmic prose. Instead, this last one is, here, overwritten past beauty to disengaging effect ... you get the feeling even the narrator doesn’t know Felix very well, and so we, the readers, never really get to know him, either ... may have 99 problems, but we should only be so lucky to have its lack of a well-constructed plot be the worst of them.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksFrom the first lines, the work welcomes you in simple, familiar terms, openly telling you, the reader, exactly what has been bothering it ... There is new urgency in the retrieval of what feels about to be lost. What is slipping through our fingers. There is also fear of what one has missed and, a clear effort, on the page and with the book as a whole, to secure the results of time, of a life lived ... an open book, hiding nothing, least of all the dread of endings, the anxiety of remembering what cannot be recovered. But even in fear, it remains open, almost grateful that here you are now, the reader as trusted friend, to listen, and to help the speaker figure things out, and make them count.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksIt is those little big moments that make Olive, Again such a great read. The prose is gorgeous and flowing, wise and simple. Olive is delightful, her old age, a \'coming of age\' of sorts, with humor and senior citizenship combining to make her the best version of her intensely human self ... And then there is this: You will end up in love with Olive because she is a ton of well-written fun. You’ll enjoy her musings and put-downs and her reflections.
PositiveNYJBSmith is unarguably a talented writer with a great command of rhythm and rhyme, of imagery and simile and all things lyrical. She has an immense gift for rendering beautiful places and moments one suspects are only special in the way she saw them, and because of the way she wrote them ... The risk with a writer like Smith—who can write the hell out of a dream, a moment, a candy wrapper—is that once invested with the weight of her talent for stringing words together, any digression seems more important than it might be to a reader trying (struggling) to find and follow the story. If, however, this is just fine with you and you don’t mind diversion in exchange for loveliness that doesn’t feel the need to get anywhere in a hurry, then, by all means, this is your book. Sit back, read it, enjoy the detour.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books[Danicat\'s] latest short-story collectiom returns to the root of her lifelong themes—displacement, nostalgia, love, loss, and death—with, perhaps, a more laser-focused and experienced (but not jaded) perspective. Her goal seems to be to show us what life’s like, what it’s really like, for people in flux between lands and loves, sometimes for decades, the ground they walk on as unstable as the tug of war between their \'heres\' and \'theres,\' the foreign feel of their days never really fully resolving ... Danticat writes the realities of dying to cross land, air, or water into a new place, of political persecution, violence, hunger, and dehumanization posing as mere discrimination ... Danticat also looks at the nuanced scenario of heartbreak unspoken caused by nonchoices such as worrying about a child left behind versus living with the guilt of one half-killed at sea.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksIn every one of the 44 stories in this book the language is deceptively casual, easy. The characters are familiar, kooky in the way people we might know could be ... As short as they are, these stories might just be the opposite of flash in that they seem to stretch in time beyond the space they take up. The deceivingly simple word combinations and imagery have the effect of stopping time ... genius.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksBy breaking down the truly important elements of poetry—not the ones relevant to poetry as form, but of poems as emotional entities designed to delight, to inspire thought, to accompany feeling, to express, to document human experience—Burt might just have here a book well-equipped to change the status quo, to make an actual contribution resulting in more people enjoying more poetry, not only as a cultural or intellectual exercise, but as a human practice, something we do daily for our own well-being and enjoyment of life ... Her poetry choices are unexpected and well-matched to her arguments, and there is a lot that is new here in comparison to other books about the enjoyment and understanding of poems. It also helps that her narrative voice is that of a friend, as Burt assumes the role of a coach supporting us in our quest to find the right poetry for us ... there are some empowering concepts and more than a few compelling arguments should you decide to approach Don’t Read Poetry . . . with an open mind, a gracious ear, and a loving heart.
RaveNew York Journal of Books...a fantasy novel that is both literary and convention bending, reading as horror, crime fiction, dark noir, pulp slasher novel, action, and adventure gaming script, hidden-door-anthropological-history, delayed coming-of-age novel ...gumshoe mystery, a love letter to pre-Prohibition New York City, and—would you believe?—a disquieting dystopian fable reminiscent of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. ... [Westside is all of those things simultaneously, using only one narrator and one point of view to tell a complex story, and yes, (for the most part) it works, thanks in no small part to Akers’ talent for staying in tense control of his story while delivering heady, over-the-top prose and quick-paced Raymond Chandler-like dialogue... Beverly Cleary once said great fiction should be, above all things, a pleasure to read, and Westside is certainly that, and then some.
RaveNew York Journal of Books...an exhilarating collection of feminist thought in verse form that never forgets to make music while sharply making its urgent, heartbreaking points. Lima :: Limón is smart and credible when depicting the hate and societal stupidity that feminists fight against, remembering to scream in song, never allowing itself to shriek too hard, turn tone-deaf ... The obvious melody of those stanzas carries through the entire book. Miss Scenters-Zapico’s music is so accomplished, that the book often reads like the score for a play ... In the end, though a book about men and women, it points its sharpest finger beyond that unit of two enacting the dynamics of power and submission, and trains it on a society that continues to allow the dehumanization and brutalization of human beings.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksThe beloved poet, essayist, translator, professor, and commentator...is in the sharpest, most clear and concrete of forms in this, his latest book ... There is a solid love affair happening here between poetry and prose. Codrescu plays with the form, but respects it, with only his unique voice, with its delightful droll quality, to blur the line between slice of life commentary, ballad, prose poem, lyric essay, confession, and modern manifesto ... In the end, this is a book by a talented teller who tells his tales with love for his reader, cleverly but responsibly (never cheating literature), the beauty and imagery of the verse providing a thoroughly honest, yet always kind, light by which to view our lives anew.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksThis narrative arc is vintage Winterson, fearlessly feminist, if also limitlessly crass in its proselytizing and in its testing of the boundaries of plausibility ... There are two interesting stories within it, each with its own exquisite language (in the sense of how well they are suited to the author’s purpose for each one of the novel’s two personalities), a literary feat in and of itself...Both stories are engaging ... so we have here two characters trying to create their own Frankensteins in different times and under different circumstances. Two creators set to visit unknown consequences on the world they inhabit by putting their innovative zeal above all else. And great writing notwithstanding, the problem is that the two pieces are so incongruent that they clash even as they passionately work to convince you (or just to vent?) on political and gender arguments that should end up in the same place, disrupting the reading experience, sometimes, to unbearable levels, so that in the end, the result is one novel cobbled from such disparate pieces that harmony is impossible, Winterson’s novel, a literary Frankenstein of its own.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksYou will clutch your heart reading Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s short story collection Sabrina & Corina. Her stories are that heartbreaking, each one like a gift from a small child, offered with earnest, luminous eyes, innocence itself, impossible to reject. There are 11 stories, slightly joined by their characters, most of them brown women: Native Americans, Latinas, or both, all so clearly drawn that they must surely be living physical lives as real people somewhere ... the delicate prose and the restrained, patient, plots are only some of the reasons for the well-deserved interest around this debut collection ... go find yourself a copy of this thrilling, touching, beautiful book.
Erling Kagge, Trans. by Becky L. Crook
RaveNew York Journal of BooksWalking: One Step at a Time by explorer Erling Kagge may just be the best book about walking you’ve ever read ... an important secret will reveal itself via beautiful, flowing prose, as wise and soothing as the voice it suggests ... you’ll be hooked. You’ll see that this is not an ordinary book about walking, precisely because it’s just, as in only, about walking. And though the concepts of meditation and inner peace are present and in some places suggested, this is not a new age book, nor one about meditation, nor about the evils of rushing and the big city ... [This is] a book that is part rumination, part walking coach and companion, a small book of thought, only a few minimal illustrations sprinkled throughout like crumbs on a path, and one that might just do more for your health and happiness than your treadmill alone ever could.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksLike a true innocent, Glynn tells us about every friend (all 31 of them) because every friend is important, or will be important, or will happen to be there for each small event on the road to heartbreak and pained discovery ... at times, there is a triviality and a repetitiveness to the narrative of what Mike, Evan and Shane and Ashley drank and wore and said and danced to. But, here’s the thing: John Glynn can write. He can write the heck out of a page ... And so, as coming-out and coming-of-age stories go, this one is subtle, and that restraint may be its virtue ... Read Out East to remember what it was like: the sad, tragic, emotionally turbulent truth of first love. And then stay for the prose. For the beautiful, beautiful prose.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksMs. Toews uses the narrative device of meeting minutes to great effect, achieving To Kill a Mockingbird levels of courtroom drama and raised stakes, while rarely quoting her characters directly, recreating the speed of thought-to-speech that occurs in the midst of impassioned, values-based discourse. And though there is passion, there is also much method to Women Talking. The thought process the women employ to make their decision plays out as an example of modern feminism, one that doesn’t renounce the value of men, but that grapples with reconceptualizing every part of a world in which women would be able to live as equals ... There is no need for melodrama or overexplaining, and the author knows it. We get the sense that lines were written and rewritten (maybe transcribed?) until she believed them so that we could too, only in the end returning to the central conflict between love and violence, in the voice of August Epp...
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... a lush, sharp symphony of updated thought on being black in America and what all that heritage means to the conversation the black community is having about the way forward amid the still unresolved issue of an America that refuses to fully acknowledge them as equals, and maybe more importantly, rejects the contributions of black culture and black Americans ... There is also much music and form ... ts exercise in deeper sight works like a certain clairvoyance, as you realize the dancing you heard before, was the sound of feet trying to run from oblivion, to save themselves by proving they matter, something no people should ever have to feel forced to prove.