RaveThe Los Angeles Review of booksNunez’s prose is dense with anecdotes and references, quoting everyone from John Waters to William Faulkner, less in homage than in curious, writerly conversation ... Where What Are You Going Through differs, though, is in how it situates intimate tales of individual lives in a simmering atmosphere of collective doom. The novel contains as clear-eyed an account of humanity’s grim prospects as you’re likely to find in fiction, but it is grounded in a series of stories about people — mostly women — facing the defeats and indignities of aging and dying. The subjects are all what you might expect — lost looks, lost health, isolation — but Nunez’s accounts are as sensitive as a polygraph’s needle, the precision of her observations turning banality itself into a source of pathos ... What Nunez so aptly depicts, in other words, is the jarring incongruity of thinking about impending horrors from within a present that feels largely the same as it ever was ... Nunez’s novels rival those of Dickens in their fascination with coincidence, but for her they are less plot drivers than ways to consider how we make meaning, as likely to be arbitrary as revelatory. The same is true of the associations What Are You Going Through creates among its dense, multifarious references, quotes and intertexts accruing significance through proximity ... Today it’s unfashionable to call someone a moral writer, a term that connotes stuffiness and artless didacticism, but Nunez both earns and redeems the title. Among the keenest observers of the messiness of pity, compassion, and love, her writing takes ideas about how we should treat other beings seriously while never losing sight of the social conditions that make such work so complicated and hard. What Are You Going Through offers a masterful representation of what it’s like to live in a shared state of slow death, a state in which, as Berlant suggests, \'life building and the attrition of human life are indistinguishable,\' and when, perhaps, we need the truth of other people more than ever.
Crissy Van Meter
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksThe writing in [many] sections glows with immediacy, though the Q-and-A conceit, like much of the novel’s marine motif, feels superfluous. Still, by mimicking the arbitrary leaps and obsessions of memory, Creature’s nonlinear structure seizes on moments of joy and pain, merging the clinical scrutiny of hindsight with the emotional urgency of a past that still feels present ... At the same time, the novel never seems to know what to do with Evie’s parents as characters. Her mother especially remains half-realized, her reasons and desires always out of reach. Perhaps this is by design ... Elsewhere, though, Evie’s mother seems like a bad-mom caricature ... Creatures is best when it’s showing us how Evie’s relationships with her parents inform the bonds she makes with others ... It’s the rare novel that understands and articulates how the patterns of childhood map our adult lives, and the insight Creatures offers into these dynamics makes the reading experience feel not unlike being privy to the notes of a superb therapist—compelling and excruciating in equal parts.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books\"This kind of perspectival struggle is likewise at the center of Normal People, though here it becomes even more acute [than her previous book, Conversations with Friends] ... Restrained but precise, such scenes place Rooney among a cadre of authors who have renewed the realist novel by doubling down on its capacity for rich psychological description. Like autofictionists such as Ben Lerner, Sheila Heti, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rooney paints fine-grained portraits of emotional and intellectual experiences — particularly ambivalence, regret, and anxiety — that produce a realism specific to the post–Great Recession world ... But it’s Rooney’s attentiveness to pain that not only distinguishes her from these peers but also makes her novels feel, despite their homage to 19th-century authors like Austen, strangely more contemporary.\
R O Kwon
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksCertainty’s pull is something Kwon’s novel illuminates well. Already the recipient of significant attention, The Incendiaries touches on a cluster of issues that seem ripped from the headlines ... The Incendiaries breaks with much college fiction to portray campus life as inseparable from the world outside the gates ... The pace in these early chapters is unhurried, the writing careful and evocative, as though the characters are attempting not so much to remember as to conjure their pasts ... The Incendiaries flips a convention of the religious conversion narrative on its head.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksLoosely based on one of the more macabre Brothers Grimm fairy tales, The Juniper Tree turns the supernatural into the commonplace … The Juniper Tree gestures toward realism, but its setting and characters feel weirdly out-of-time. Despite living in an occasionally recognizable late-1970s London, the fancifully named protagonist, Bella Winter, has a life that is equal parts naturalism, soap opera, and Dickensian fable … That the novel’s freeform adaptation succeeds is largely because of the naïf but hardy voice of its narrator and heroine. Like all Comyns’s narrating protagonists, Bella displays an ingenuousness that is double-edged, making her commentary at once guileless and incisive. Her frank perspective neutralizes the strangeness of The Juniper Tree’s many inexplicable circumstances, blurring the difference between the exceptional and the banal.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksNovels have trained us to imbue coincidences with significance, but Forest Dark creates them only to insist on their randomness ... Admittedly, the ties between the Nicole and Epstein sections of Forest Dark can feel both too obvious and exasperatingly elliptical. In a novel about boundaries and form, the ones that define its own structure seem oddly arbitrary, as if two separate novels have been grafted onto one another with uncertain purpose (though perhaps this is the point) ... In its many metanarrative features, Forest Dark can feel like the novelistic equivalent of René Magritte’s pipe painting: ce n’est pas un roman ... Forest Dark, like other recent novels that press on the limits of fiction’s fictionality, only makes this pursuit more extreme. The randomness and significant insignificance that was once confined merely to description here expand into plot and character, into the workings of narrative itself. After all, fiction isn’t defined merely by reality’s absence. There are stories to tell about chaos too.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksEmpathy is what My Absolute Darling wants to solicit for its characters, particularly Turtle, though Martin too, whose verbose expositions and complicated backstory are given ample space. But empathy to what end? Tallent clearly wants us to think about what compels us to mistreat others, and his novel offers a potent rendering of misogyny’s degrading consequences, yet its willingness to portray the violence done to Turtle in lushly detailed set pieces, complete with showy prose and acute sensory detail, undermines these high-minded intentions. My Absolute Darling tells us that imagining our way inside the mind of another — even another blurred by our own love or hate or lust — is vital to our humanity. However, it provokes something else: empathy intermingled with voyeurism, exploitation, titillation, and escapism ... Skillfully plotted, with long, cinematically rendered action sequences doled out at regular intervals, it expertly offers all the traditional pleasures of well-wrought fiction — immersive description, emotional stakes, absorbing characterization...Though the prose can strain too hard for artistry, much of it is flat-out lovely, best in the evocative yet clinically precise descriptions of nature and setting sprinkled throughout ... The lyricism that elsewhere works to immerse the reader in the novel’s setting purples in its depictions of rape and incest, pushing the realism toward icky erotic horror.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksIn its attentiveness to both class and romantic fantasy, Eligible shows Austen’s marriage plot all the reverence and ambivalence 21st-century America bestows on the institution itself...The result is an adaptation that feels at once deeply faithful and far more impious than any of the Austen updates that have come before.