RaveThe Rumpus\"At first, the Jane Austen-themed stories in Karen Tei Yamashita’s exciting new collection, Sansei and Sensibility, seem to exist within this largely congenial literary tradition. The tone is often easy and jesting ... what makes Yamashita’s collection even more remarkable is that the book doesn’t stop short at a benign act of comparison. There is, in fact, a deep irony and suspicion actually laced into the very act of connecting Austen’s novels and the Japanese American immigrant experience—all of which had me going back to read these stories differently the second time through. Don’t be fooled by first impressions, in other words. This book is not aiming for homage, or even for the universalist message that often accompanies connecting experiences from one historical era to another. The tone of Sansei and Sensibility is lighthearted, yes, but under the surface is outrage against persistent racism and hierarchies of cultural influence that make evoking Austen here less an act of playful transposition and more a provocation ... Occasionally, the strength of these stories can be their weakness. It is difficult to forget that together writer and reader are conducting an experiment and, as a result, for the reader to always fall fully into the world of the illusion. Part of this is the nature of the project, which condenses expansive plots into ten-page stories, but it is also due to a kind of jauntiness in the telling ... Yamashita is a highly versatile prose writer and, in other places, she makes artful pivots from humor to tragedy ... Yamashita’s fiction simmers with a rage against conventional narratives that is endlessly compelling ... Yamashita’s stories...are never rigid or simple, and the dance is one you want to join.
PositiveThe MillionsThe patient—suffering from an unnamed illness—becomes trapped in a bewildering twilight between life and death. The hospital is a haunted shadow world where memory struggles for a breath of air, where the grotesque facts of the outside country are gone over at leisure. Indignities and past sufferings (long-ago familial deaths, a childhood friend left asleep under a streetlamp, the violent and petty offenses of self-proclaimed criminals) are felt again, perhaps made worse by the removal: the ability to sit and think over events with no further possibility of investigation, action, or intervention ... There is no real story—which might sound like a critique but in fact is a kind of writing that can be just as cogent and enjoyable as the other, more plot-based or emotionally arcing sort, when the bursts of dialogue, bits of mordant wisdom, and small occurrences are done as well as they are done here.
RaveThe RumpusThe characters in Rachel Cusk’s Transit—like those in her novel Outline—appear from out of the ether, open their chest to bare an eloquent heart, then disappear into the fictional universe, often never to be seen or heard from again ... Unlike much first-person literary fiction, which prizes above all else the psychological shifts of the protagonist, we have no idea, most of the time, what Faye thinks about anyone. It is as if she is being constantly assaulted by the lives of other people ... Cusk models a fascinating alternative to the interior voice: and one that, like the best works of fiction, will produce a jolt of recognition. We are each the inscrutable black hole at the center of our own galaxy: mysterious, stolid, and, like it or not, encircled by a swirling chatter of stars.
RaveThe Millions[Galchen's] investigations shoot off from her subject like finely-pointed spokes from a hub. The book’s split-up structure fits her purpose well. On the one hand you can occasionally imagine these short chapters as the immediate and authentic jotting-downs of a new mother reporting from the front. On the other hand, the book’s loose form also gives room to Galchen’s commendable analytical mind ... Galchen breathes decided life into her topic. And her writing is so good that her observations double as arguments for her choice of subject ... The result is that this quietly revolutionary little book is extremely difficult to qualify.