PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewBeha is excellent at establishing his characters as representatives of particular intellectual worldviews; he doesn’t have to pin them down because they keep trying to do it to one another ... an impressive performance. Beha writes like an insider about a wide range of human experiences ... Sometimes the architecture of the plot seems grander and more elaborate than the story housed in it requires — about a family forced to re-evaluate itself as vitality shifts from one generation to the next. There are coincidences, chance encounters, faith healers, high crimes, medical emergencies and other disasters. The argument against analytics is really that there’s something human and elusive the numbers can’t account for, but the improbable here ends up scoring a lot of points ... There are also moving passages of carefully rendered points of view ... the kind of long novel that begins to occupy its own time zone in your life: Like a trader who has to wait for some foreign market to open, you keep returning to this world, waiting for fresh news.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The title of his new collection, Sorry for Your Trouble, is typical Ford. He takes a platitude seriously, because it’s probably true, and says it with enough meaning or depth of feeling that sincerity itself serves as a kind of irony. (Self-delusion in Ford grades almost imperceptibly into self-insight, and it’s not always clear that the difference counts for much.) ... If the characters in I’m Sorry for Your Trouble are richer than the inhabitants of Rock Springs, they’re older, too—and their lives have turned out, if not well, then acceptably. The long-feared thing has not yet happened, and may never; or, if it has, and the aftermath is heading their way, it will probably pass whether they deal with it or not. As for the reader: I can’t think of many other writers, living or dead, who have given me so many reasons over the years to slow down on the page and pay attention.
Jenny Erpenbeck, trans. Susan Bernofsky
MixedThe London Review of BooksJenny Erpenbeck’s new novel, Visitation, can be read as a response or a companion to Sebald’s The Emigrants ... Like Sebald, Erpenbeck attempts to take the long view of modern German history, though her perspective is geological rather than historical ... The landscape, of course, doesn’t care who occupies it, and if the view you take is long enough then the terrible events of the 20th century that shaped these people’s lives begin to look rather small ... Erpenbeck’s aim seems to be to show an old-fashioned society on the brink of modern madness ... Erpenbeck seems to have learned a lot from Sebald. She writes in long run-on sentences and doesn’t always concern herself with paragraphs. Important plot elements and insights are buried democratically alongside commonplace descriptions and facts ... Erpenbeck has a sharp eye for unpretentious natural detail and pays close attention to the little repetitions necessary to hold a life together ... I’m probably not avant-garde enough (or German enough) to appreciate Erpenbeck’s work. The price she pays for cutting up her narrative seems to me very high: the reader has to work hard just to find out what’s going on.
Andre Dubus III
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThese are hard things to write about and Dubus asks difficult questions. What do you do with a man who has done what Daniel Ahearn has done? How do you sympathize with him? Dubus does a good job of making Daniel’s self-justifications seem simultaneously plausible and crazy ... Dubus writes well about class—not so much the clash between different ends of the social ladder as the internal conflict that determines whether someone will rise or fall. His characters usually have a foot on two rungs. They’re going up or down. What drives Dubus’s storytelling is the urge to find out which way they’ll turn.
PositiveThe GuardianWright serves up a campfire stew of memoir, reportage and historical digression. He is a typically Texas storyteller, an anecdotalist who wanders around and stops occasionally to point out the view, but somehow you end up getting where you’re going anyway ... Wright is a liberal, but his sympathies range across the aisle ... Even on issues such as gun control, Wright tries to offer a balanced view ... On the whole, Wright is semi-optimistic. Part of the point of the book is to talk about the way the kinds of stories he tells shape people’s sense of where they live. The myths matter, too.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It’s an extraordinary novel, which doesn’t mean that I always liked it ... It’s an astonishing performance. Without the steadily cumulative effect of a linear story, Powers has to conjure narrative momentum out of thin air, again and again. And mostly he succeeds. Partly because he’s incredibly good at describing trees, at turning the science into poetry ... But there is a cost to all this plurality and intellectual energy ... All the big things happen suddenly. Characters die, from gas poisoning or suicide or strokes; marriages collapse; people get arrested. In a book about the wisdom of trees, the stories that shape human life tend, by way of contrast perhaps, to be overdramatic ... There is something exhilarating, too ... I found, while reading, that some of what was happening to his characters passed into my conscience, like alcohol into the bloodstream, and left a feeling behind of grief or guilt, even after I put it down. Which is one test of the quality of a novel.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveThe New York TimesIn general, Oates is dealing here with the academic world — professors and their kids, editors, writers, adjuncts — people who live in the provinces, on the outskirts of real success ... This is Oates’s real trick, that her formal games and realism tend to reinforce each other — they make the same case.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe happenstance nature of all this is carefully orchestrated. Sometimes Kelman’s carefulness shows through, a visible seam holding the plot together, but he compensates for this with the wonderfully observed slow accumulation of detail that makes up Murdo’s world — both inner and outer ... It takes discipline for a writer to stick to the commonplace so religiously, but over time that discipline pays off. The ordinary becomes the real, and as Murdo sets off to find that gig in Lafayette the casual descriptions of his journey become almost breathlessly anxiety-producing. There’s an element of wish fulfillment here that’s unusual in Kelman’s work, but he’s paid for it, as it were, in advance. And the novel’s ending is more than justified by Kelman’s means of getting us there. A kid is trying to overcome his grief without forgetting about it: a contradiction that serves more generally for what’s involved in being an immigrant, or in growing up. And Dirt Road is about all of those things.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewKosinski is a slippery figure to write about, since the facts have gotten mixed up in his fictions. Accusations of plagiarism and dishonesty — and his and others’ defenses against both — have further muddied the waters. But all this confusion is really grist to Charyn’s mill. He’s not trying to tell the story straight ... Jerzy is a novel with a light touch that’s still capable of lifting heavy subjects. Charyn knows what he wants to do and knows how to do it. His prose has some of the rapid-fire but carefully controlled energy of Thomas Pynchon’s early novella The Crying of Lot 49.