RaveThe New York Journal of Books... an introduction worthy of a middlebrow bestseller, but Fink and Cranor’s book side-steps the popular fiction clichés that lurk at their story’s edges ... a swashbuckling adventure story that ranges across Europe, crossing borders and decades ... Fink and Cranor are masters of the long narrative game. They have a clear vision in mind, and every element of the book builds toward it, with emotionally devastating, sometimes brutally funny, results ... an excellent, absorbing book. For those invested in Night Vale’s history, it’s sometimes frustrating but ultimately satisfying. The paranoia, elegantly, is all in the details. Everything is coming, for the patient, eventually. If you didn’t expect the amount of blood, well, you should have.
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... magnificent ... Campisi evokes a complex, vivid, barely alternate Elizabethan England. At some moments, history is in harmony with the novel; at other points, they depart one another’s company ... Campisi’s May is a phenomenal protagonist ... The affairs of that court are legendary, but stripped of the authority of history, they are revealed as impenetrable and deeply frightening ... This vision of Renaissance outsiders is exactly what historical fiction lovers have unknowingly craved. Sin Eater is Campisi’s first novel (she has had plays produced, but none have yet been published), and the only disappointment it offers is the absence of a massive body of work waiting for the reader to devour when this first book ends.
Dennis E. Staples
PositiveNew York Journal of Books... haunting ... The perspective slides from Marion’s first person to Shannon’s second to a third that encompasses individual memories and community knowledge. There are moments where this is useful ... But the loss of Marion’s charm and immediacy mean that these shifts in subjectivity derail the narrative, leaving the reader to re-orient, chapter by chapter. The accompanying shifts in time nearly create a structural haunting ... Staples’ novel feels a little unpolished. But this is Staples’ first book, and there’s a deep pleasure in watching him find his voice in it ... How much does the audience know, or need to know? Who is represented? How fairly? Here, Staples shines. He weaves the quiet threads of spiritual life with the day-to-day activities of a modern community. There isn’t a single way to be Indian here ... In spite of the novel’s weaknesses, This Town Sleeps is genuinely enjoyable.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... a fusion of old and new Ortberg work. It’s a collection of chapters and fragments, pieces that refuse single identities ... The intensity of emotion and self-centeredness are stripped of their high language, and become vividly queer, utterly recognizable, and essential to the gender mode that Ortberg himself is learning to express throughout this collection ... Ortberg is perhaps closer than any other writer to functioning as the voice of progressive millennials ... Every movement of Ortberg’s writing as he considers gender is hesitant, and his use of upspeak inflection both satirizes the femininity associated with that questioning tone and engages with it genuinely. There must be a space between being prepared to mock gender norms and being deeply uncertain about them. The sincerity beneath the humor is new in Ortberg’s work, and powerful and well as disconcerting ... The book is emotionally effective, but not always entirely accessible. In many ways, Ortberg’s transition is likely to be less alien to many readers than his deep Biblical knowledge ... Ortberg’s least accessible book, but also his most important. Unlike his earlier work, Shock and Discredit must be read slowly, and with reflection. It’s not always easy. The breezy humor sometimes dives deep into New Testament referentiality without actually gesturing to deep faith. Read slowly to keep from flailing. Ortberg’s writing will wait for you to catch up.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksRuff has a real affinity for identifying crucial culture influences and shaping stories around them ... a less political, and perhaps less thoughtful follow up ... At its best, 88 Names is a romp through different video game scenarios and cultures in a more highly developed sensory framework than presently exists. Ruff’s accounts of space battles and South American bank robberies are exciting without being terrifying ... This balance between high stakes and low stakes ultimately undermines Ruff’s new novel. There’s great potential within it for an exploration of how we emotionally invest and commit hundreds of hours to imaginary worlds. The novel’s exploration of the future of cybersex as provocation and violence is potentially fascinating but ultimately incomplete. Likewise, the question of what a reclusive dictator might possibly want with expansive knowledge of video games doesn’t have a satisfying answer ... many ways, Ruff has obviously modelled 88 Names on the novels of William Gibson, but he doesn’t have Gibson’s knack for deep characterization, nor his talent for obfuscating the book’s lack of destination. 88 Names needs either an elegant destination or an upgrade in style to move from reasonably good entertainment to smart, subversive science fiction.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksAmber Sparks\'...approaches startle the reader, and the disruption, as much as anything, is what brings delight ... the essential truth toward which so many of these collections grope: most of women’s experiences remain just outside the realm of narrative. The stories we recognize culturally don’t reflect the pain of lived experience. These aren’t world-ending problems. Two upper-middle-class women who cease to be friends is nothing in the scheme of humanity. Yet there’s a personal urgency, an agony, to the lack of next steps, as though losses not formalized in cultural storytelling take on a special misery ... The stories are vivid, a little bloody, and fully engaged with women’s representations in myth ... A few pieces, finally, are simply gender explorations without real plot or new insight ... And I Do Not Forgive You is uneven, but where it shines, it’s wonderful. On the whole, its revenges are better than its stories, but both are worth reading, at least once, and many are worth keeping.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksJenny Slate’s writing is marked by a sweetness that brightens without overwhelming...a series of short essays, reflections, and meditations elevated by Slate’s affinity for language and remarkable imagery ... presents itself as inconsequential meditations, but it’s a better book than that. It’s a beautifully written, free-flowing meditation on the comforts and discomforts of being. The moments of ecstatic joy are original and deeply charming ... smart and unexpected and delightful.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksEvaristo’s facility with verse fiction is such that the text moves in utter harmony, without disruption. The novel flows seamlessly, like water, from through to thought, character to character ... The relatively brief sections given to each character allow the novel to maintain its flow without a core central plot. It remains, through each person’s eyes, eminently readable and emotionally intense ... Evaristo’s is smarter, more complex, more engaged and engaging [than Margaret Atwood\'s The Testaments, with which it shared the 2019 Man Booker Prize] .
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksHandmaid is a master class in patriarchy. It scrutinizes the misogyny underlying modern (or then-modern, but, really, still-modern) American gender discourse. It’s in this sense, at the level of political insight, that The Testaments doesn’t stand up as a sequel. The Testaments is a primer on patriarchy, showing how girls are indoctrinated into it and how adult women become complicit in its maintenance. The novel re-emphasizes that cooperation with patriarchy may be a survival tactic but offers little else ... If anything, The Testaments feels old-fashioned in ways that The Handmaid’s Tale oddly doesn’t ... While The Testaments drops some of its political threads, it’s a wonderfully-written, absorbing novel. The events are genuinely intriguing, and Atwood’s style is reliably masterful. In a flooded market of dystopian fiction, The Testaments stands firmly upon its literary roots, readable and elegant.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksThis balance, between nihilism and delight, is the great power of Fly Already. In this sense, it’s a book not just about living in Israel, but about living in the developed world at this terrifying moment in history, during which we will refuse to look at history at all. Keret’s stories are complex and moving; often, they are very funny. In reading them, we all clamber and wheel into the escape room at the end of the universe, eager to ignore the horrors around us, if only for a very determined moment.
RaveNew York Journal of Books... a staggeringly good book ... The style of Coates’ writing is elegant and 19th century, echoing the careful, thoughtful language of slave narratives ... Coates emphasizes slavery’s profound insult to human dignity. Where Colson Whitehead details grotesque physical punishments, Coates accentuates slavery’s less visceral evils ... Ta-Nehisi Coates has long been among America’s most clear-eyed scholars of race and racism. The Water Dancer is a masterpiece built within that clarity. Its story is vivid, compelling, and ultimately satisfying. It is everything we might have hoped for in a novel by Coates, even as we felt we had no right to expect half so much.
PanThe New York Journal of BooksKlosterman has assembled a series of \'weird thoughts\' and presents each one through a short story or microfiction. The technique could be a revelation, except that this \'fictional nonfiction\' approach is, of course, the foundation of contemporary science fiction. And while Klosterman resists science fiction as a label, his concepts wouldn’t be out of place in many science fiction anthologies ... the problem with resisting \'science fiction\' as a label is how clearly it demonstrates a lack of awareness of science fiction as a genre. The intelligence, insight, and complexity of modern scifi is nothing to be sneered at. Klosterman does occasionally gesture at scifi, but it’s through a simplified pop culture lens ... seldom play out complete stories. Instead, they raise possibilities and end on unresolved notes. The characters experience and observe, but don’t grow or change. Klosterman assumes that observation is sufficient, and that his insights are satisfying in and of themselves which, unfortunately, they aren’t, quite ... Where Klosterman isn’t writing about sports, though, he’s out of his depth. His cultural knowledge isn’t sufficiently wide-ranging, nor is his grasp of genre sufficiently complex, to bring anything new to the table. The stories that might be subtly parodic in more adept hands falter in his ... a book for people who don’t read much. Readers without much context are likely to be drawn to its observations, which are fairly vivid, even if they’re not original or complex. In that sense, it’s a book that would be damaged by satire or even deep parody. It meets its target audience where it is: in Urban Outfitters, startled by the oddness of the present and beginning to consider what that might mean.
MixedNew York Journal of BooksEmma Donoghue is a magnificent writer, but Akin is not her best novel ... Donoghue is adept at bringing her readers to the edge of psychic collapse, and allowing them to peer into the abyss, even as they laugh. Akin never steps that close to the edge ... [the book has] a scenario with potential, but the result is didactic ... It should be said that Akin is far from a bad book. It’s perfectly readable, and, at some moments, deeply engaging. Disappointment emerges not from the book itself but from the enormously high caliber of the author’s other work. Akin is full of skeleton-stories: the death of Michael’s father, who was Noah’s nephew; Noah’s childhood in pre-WWII Nice; Noah’s marriage to the brilliant, now-deceased wife, Joan; Michael’s tumultuous history before and after his father’s death and his mother’s imprisonment. If some combination of these carried more flesh, they in turn might help carry the story and grant it the emotional depth of Donoghue’s best work.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksSolnit never pretends that children don’t understand power politics. Rather, she acknowledges that children have profound senses of fairness and justice, and that they are deeply curious about why people behave the way they do ... doesn’t revolve around the ascension of one hyper-successful girl. Rather, it allows each character to find a safe, comfortable, productive, and helpful social role ... The images are expressive and quirky and resist the kinds of details (skin tone, particularly) that might resist Solnit’s movement to more universal representation ... Most admirably, Solnit has created a fairy tale that reframes its politics in favor of equality and freedom without simply preaching. The elements of the fairy tale that a child is likely to demand (clothes, transformation, glass slippers, a fairy godmother) are still present. Other elements that a child might fret at, like the fate of Cinderella’s mother (a ship’s captain away on a long voyage) are likewise accounted for. This is a book likely to age well. It’s genuine, charming, and confident in its presentation of independent girlhood.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksIn many ways, [Mr.-Know-It-All] epitomizes Waters’ pop culture work since the death of his directorial career ... Waters’ charming account of his \'mainstream\' film career encompasses most of the book’s hundred ... The other two-thirds of the book is comprised of essays on topics ranging from food to architecture. These vary in quality, largely according to how genuinely engaged Waters is with his subject ... At his best, Waters demonstrates what obscenity is for ... At its best, Mr. Know-It-All is an argument for deviance, performance, and shock. Perhaps if the book were entirely successful, its argument would be undermined. Waters has tried almost everything in his career; only a few fragments have worked, but they’ve elicited genuine cultural change. The pulsating mass of the rest humps across the page, giggling to itself. It is not embarrassed. It knows what it is.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksThe self-loathing behind the sexuality of the novel, though, is inescapable. The book is full of sex, mostly but not entirely between women, and all of it is heartbreakingly self-destructive ... The frustration Mostly Dead Things creates comes through its lack of answers. It’s not really clear why women do these things ... If the novel were more fully in touch with its southern gothic heritage, if it took its grotesquery to the next level (and, given the peacocks roaming through, why not imagine the work in the hands of Flannery O’Connor), some epiphany would be at hand. Whether it’s the lack of engagement with faith, or simply the mode of the novel, no such discovery seems possible. Yet if it’s determined to be a tragedy, why not push for catharsis? If it wants to pursue its comedy, why not break those moments fully open? ... almost a great book, but, like its elusive Brynn, it stops short of offering emotional fulfillment, preferring to pose, with naïve cruelty, just out of reach.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksChiang’s stories are among the most complex and fascinating in modern science fiction, and each one creates a tremor when it first appears ... Each of his stories, from microfiction to novella, is a thought experiment played out through human lives ... Chiang’s prose is liquid and seductive, and his emotional entanglements create subtle agony. His writing shows how crucial written fiction still is ... If Jorge Luis Borges’ fables had deep human dimension, they would read like Chiang’s tales; Chiang’s writing deserves to be treated with equal respect and reverence.
RaveNew York Journal of Books... as good as anything Russell has written, and perhaps better ... While Russell makes free use of fantastical elements, her stories are most notable for her dense, enchanting prose style. Her abilities with language integrate her magical and realist elements seamlessly, producing impossible, plausible worlds on the page ... In each of her stories, Russell conveys the intensity of desire. She examines its awkwardness and humiliations. Orange World and Other Stories exposes the difficulties of wanting. Love and career aspirations both offer the potential for profound humiliation. Characters long for things that have no name. They live on the edge of terror. These are stories with deep resonance. They echo with compelling intelligence. They are wonderful.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksAs a sub-genre, space opera is generally treated as a tired and over-wrought remnant from an earlier era. In her Wayfarers series, Becky Chambers demonstrates that the field still has enormous potential. Each book quietly realized that potential in a different manner ... all Chambers’ characters are complex and fully-realized. Most, as in her previous books, are female. That gender dominance never feels political or contrived. Rather, those characters allow us to view aspects of a \'spaceborn\' society that are usually erased by space opera’s traditionally masculine focus. Sexuality, family, child-rearing, social relationships, and cultural continuity are not only women’s issues, but they do involve women. Female perspectives allow a complex social drama that includes private life as well as public ... Chambers’ thoughtful, measured work is offers space opera the depth and complexity it so often lacks. Her work is profound, engaging, and beautifully written.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksThis Naamah is not a product of her time. Her life is not shaped by the patriarchal structures of prehistoric Israel ... She cares for the animals, but she can no longer see them. Even as she cares for them, she knows them only through smell and touch. Their visual absence is striking: Others can see the animals, only Naamah cannot. Her failure is both disturbing and miraculous ... Blake’s novel is a strong revision of a classic story.
MixedNew York Journal of BooksAs a portrait of a moment in Toronto’s life, That Time I Loved Youis vivid and engaging. Beyond that portrait, though, some crucial truth is missing. The parental suicides that tease the possibility of depth beneath the suburban gloss are explored only in passing, and if there’s a connection between the deaths, it isn’t clear. The children grow up enough to discover sexual discomfort and adult racism, but the scenarios they face are standardized to the point of parody ... Racism and homophobia enter the stories with similarly adolescent simplicity ... That Time I Loved You’s cover asks the reader to consider Leung in the tradition of John Cheever and Alice Munro. It’s too bold a request. Leung has enormous potential as a writer, but there’s a layer of complexity that separates her writing from the seas of deep emotion. As the initial deaths are swept aside, we’re left with a neighborhood farther from Cheever’s suburbia and closer to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where tensions resolve and all the children remain, somehow, above average.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksThe danger in Hempel’s stories is oblique. It creeps up in the midst of safety and cracks open retired lives ... Hempel’s stripped-down prose carries enormous emotional weight. Her writing is devoid of all clichés. It carries whole lives in small phrases, fragile and ready to break open.
RaveNew York Journal of Books\"... a story with all the mythic force of a fairy tale, but with startling layers, human complexity, and a quiet insistence on black presence at the center of the narrative ... Gingerbread is a phenomenal book, haunting and dark and ravenous.\
RaveNew York Journal of Books\"Famous Men Who Never Lived goes beyond individual themes of grief and displacement. It takes on the complex idea of cultural loss ... [Hel\'s struggles] should be heavy handed, but K. Chess writes with such emotional dexterity that Hel’s focus becomes the reader’s focus ... Famous Men Who Never Lived is subtle and powerful. It deftly straddles literary and science fiction, and shrugs off its hybridity ... In its approach, in its thoughtfulness and style, Chess’ novel stands among the best works of hybrid SF.\
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksGuestbook is strange in the way that being haunted must inevitably be strange. The book arrives with an unexplained photo tucked inside, the first of dozens of small mysteries that lurk around this uncomfortable volume. This is not a conventional collection of short stories ... Some stories are less clear in their purpose ... Other pieces are anti-stories ... Guestbook is best appreciated as a portable art installation. The book is enigmatic at every turn, but gorgeously realized. It pushes the boundaries of both \'ghost\' and \'story,\' and the discomfort that it creates crawls beyond the covers of the book and into the mind, haunting long after the last page.
Esme Weijun Wang
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... takes on this struggle with accessible grace ... Wang’s writing tackles social complexity through personal journeys, centering the author as a sympathetic, trustworthy narrator who leads the reader across uncertain and unstable ground ... Wang downplays neither her own achievements nor the severity of her illness ... has none of the cynicism regarding psychiatry that marks the canon of mental illness memoirs. Wang acknowledges her own unreliabilities. She’s open about her struggles. But her schizophrenia is real, and she appreciates psychiatry’s attempts to mitigate her symptoms ...\'Chimayó\' and \'Beyond the Hedge,; the collection’s closing essays, shift away from the conventional authority that Wang establishes in her early essays. They’re more personal and more concerned with unscientific experiences. While those explorations wouldn’t be disconcerting in another collection, they sit uneasily in the closing pages of this one. Wang’s early clarity and confidence trail away into an unresolved chord of unstable knowledge and cultural doubt ... a profoundly intelligent book. Wang addresses complex issues with scientific literacy and personal openness. Her book is valuable to both medical professionals and lay people; anyone who wants to understand the experience of a woman on the psychotic spectrum would do well to begin reading here.
PanNew York Journal of BooksGenuinely heartbreaking ... Leroux isn’t writing about \'Canada;\' she’s writing about Quebec, the odd country-within-a-country that maintains its own culture and history within the larger nation’s borders ... Leroux willfully excludes Indigenous women from her range of possibilities ... It’s somehow entirely typical, both of the country and its literature, to accept enchantment but resist Indigenous inclusion. In this sense, Madame Victoria repeats the erasure it seeks to remedy: it makes invisible women more invisible, even as it seeks to reveal their humanity.
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Come with Me is almost a phenomenal book. The human relationships to which Schulman gives her full attention are vivid and moving. The book feels so full of potential and wonder, hurtling toward imminent revelation, then it collapses into a domestic drama too easily resolved. If it were a longer book, and a braver one, that sudden braking might be avoided, and we might learn the thing that remains just beyond Come with Me’s pages, demanding to be known but never revealing itself.\
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books[Yolen\'s] resistance to elevation may be precisely what allows her to produce fresh writing, accessible to teenagers, almost 50 years into her career ... can be devoured or consumed slowly, bite by page-sized bite ... creates a fantasy world that does what fantasy does best: imagines alternate worlds of real freedom and allows her readers entry to those realms.
MixedNew York Journal of Books\"The book shows Williams’ experimental progress. She moves from sharp-edged micro-fiction into a realm beyond the borders of \'story\' ... Exhaustion sets in. Williams’ stories are enchanting in small doses, but the sheer mass of this book devours human attention without yielding up the revelation that surely (surely!) must lurk just beneath the surface ... If we struggle with [the stories], will they reveal their secrets? They will not. Williams’ works wear masks: short story, flash fiction, micro-fiction, deliberately difficult poem. Yet even difficult poems yield up meaning to the dedicated reader. Collected Stories mocks persistence ... A little is delicious, a necessary palate-cleanser, but beyond that is a feast of the flesh of the mind, devouring itself and yielding up disorientation and the blank continuity of the lobotomized...\
PositiveNew York Journal of Books... a deeply haunted novel about the layers of family ... a seductive book. It’s dark, poetic in language and image, and drives toward a monolithic tragedy. To know the myth is to see the ending coming, and it’s perhaps better not to read too much into the classical influences. The characters’ half-knowledge, and Gretel’s inability to hold too much grief at once, break the story into manageable pieces. The pieces are beautiful and haunting. The whole, like most Greek tragedies, is entirely too much. Johnson’s adaptation is faithful, even when she might do better to step away from millennia-old fated endings. She has the opportunity here to alter an ancient wrong, but veers away from that opportunity. The book’s central tragedy overwhelms the characters, and ultimately the characterization. There is something unexplained, maybe unexplainable, at the story’s heart. The result is frustrating, incomplete, and still lovely.
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally
MixedNew York Journal of BooksThe promise of insight into their life together tantalizes with its celebrity glow and its humor from two established comedians who deliver most of the book as dialogue ... The early part of the book wholly delivers on this promise ... it would be interesting to read their insights into how gender works and how it has changed, and nothing that intimate is offered up ... The chapters on sex and religion could have been omitted from the book without any real loss. The authors are so obviously uncomfortable discussing these matters in detail that they’d be better served to leave them alone ... Later chapters lose their focus and sense of purpose. As the performance energy wanes, so does the charm ... But fans of Offerman and Mullally will likely still enjoy this book.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksThis account of the rise of punk in East Germany is openly the work of a devoted fan of that scene. Tim Mohr is upfront about his emotional investment in the topic. The book he has created is fervent and personal. Its language is impassioned, to the extent that the narrative is broken by inserted slogans and chants, and apparently calm accounts suddenly explode in exclamation points and ecstatic profanity ... Mohr sets up overt parallels between East Germany and modern America. He compares East German people’s tacit collaboration with an oppressive state to \'white America’s collective shrug at the militarization of its police forces and the ongoing flood of evidence of horrific police brutality: They’re not coming for me.\' Even more pointedly, in his preface, Mohr remarks that \'East German police—unlike our own—could not murder people in the street with impunity.\' ... Mohr’s version of punk is deeply personal and stands in opposition to nearly all kinds of authority, including the authority of the disinterested historian
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
PanNew York Journal of Books\"If quest were the core of the novel, the novel would be magnificent. But Killing Commendatore is untidy and sprawling ... Yet Killing Commendatore’s great failure is its treatment of women ... These scenes are grotesque to the point of parody, but parody doesn’t seem to be Murakami’s purpose ... The portraitist’s paintings are more engaging in this book than any woman who scratches her way into the text. The paintings’ grasp of meaning and personality, possibility and danger, launches half-dried canvases into the world as powerful, autonomous entities. The book is less successful than any of the paintings in it. Where the paintings lurk unfinished and revealing, Killing Commendatore is over-written and obtuse. Murakami has written far better books than this one.\
RaveNew York Journal of BooksNutting steps into this party laughing and on fire, disturbing generations of style and finely honed observations and devouring the party-goers along with the hors d’oeuvres ... It\'s the best party in years ... Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls subverts generations of moral guidance by dives into possible female \'professions\' ... Other contemporary writers have worked with this surrealist approach, but none have done it so well as Nutting ... Nutting’s stories ecstatically break down realist boundaries ... Many story collections provide charm without resilience. Almost ten years after its first release, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls revels in its longevity.