RaveBooklist... magnificent ... King’s meticulous research provides an immersive reading experience as he expertly weaves the political intrigue of families vying for power and currying favor with the pope into a riveting intellectual history covering the evolution of books, Renaissance Italy, classical philosophy and literature, and the invention of the printing press. A profoundly engaging study of a time when books were considered essential to a meaningful life, and knowledge and wisdom were cherished as ends in themselves.
J. Robert Lennon
PositiveBooklist... many of these stories explore familial and marital relationships, adroitly capturing subtle aggressions and emotional manipulations with a perceptive, penetrating wit. Some can serve as brief thought experiments, providing just enough carefully crafted phrases or ominous hints to invite the reader to interpret the meaning. Even the more absurd entries have the sheen of authenticity, owing to Lennon’s cerebral style buoyed by an astute observational eye that captures human nature in all its quirky tendencies and embarrassing eccentricities. These stories offer a uniquely satisfying mélange of reality-adjacent truth and mordant wit that will appeal to readers of George Saunders and Dan Chaon.
J. Robert Lennon
PositiveBooklist... deeply philosophical and surreal puzzle-like tale ... Lennon cleverly employs symbolism and literary echoes to create a dark fairy tale rich in imagination and sly intelligence that will appeal to the intellectually curious reader. A thought-provoking work that somehow successfully brings to mind Alice in Wonderland and Kafka as reimagined by manga animator Hayao Miyazaki.
PositiveBooklistCharyn offers a fresh perspective by focusing largely on Salinger’s time in the Counterintelligence Corps in Europe during WWII. This proves to be a nuanced and acutely perceptive approach as Charyn artfully renders the many battles and atrocities Salinger witnesses ... Charyn offers an astute psychological portrait of an elusive yet vastly compelling subject.
PositiveBooklistTodbaum is a quintessential Lethemian protagonist; whip-smart, with an endless vocabulary, he can deploy said verbal acumen with devastating effect ... Lethem cleverly builds on and subverts the tropes of postapocalyptic dystopias, mixes in a metafictional element, and expertly mines the nature of storytelling and its power to enchant. An inventive and intelligent speculative tale.
RaveBooklistDescriptions of the show’s story line, which provide incisive and blistering commentaries on the conflict, also reveal essential truths about the nature of narrative, cultural politics, and history. The theme of memory is also threaded through the story as Saleh uncovers a copy of Proust buried during a firefight. As Saleh contemplates the human desire for meaning and how this informs a willingness for martyrdom, he is baffled by the irony of humankind’s propensity for repeating the same mistakes throughout history. A devastatingly profound catch-22 of modern conflict.
RaveBooklistNational Book Award-winner Klay displays his signature virtuosity in this richly textured, masterful mosaic of modern Colombia ... The struggle for survival is deftly juxtaposed with the struggle for power, and the varying gradations of each are explored through multiple perspectives with nuance, grace, and poignancy ... Each character is rendered in psychologically astute moral complexity and must interrogate his or her own complicity in a corrupt and often violent system ... As the characters’ lives begin to intersect in a rewarding, yet tension-filled denouement, the author’s prodigious skill and deep understanding of the region provide the scaffolding to explore essential questions of human dignity and sacrifice. A triumphant achievement that elevates Klay to the top echelon of contemporary writers.
RaveBooklistAmis’ autobiographical novel finds him lamenting the inevitable decline of the intellect, the loss of those powers that nourish a rich interiority and fuel the creative life. This brilliant hybrid work is proof positive that his fears are ill-founded and premature ... He writes poignantly about Saul Bellow and the Nobel laureate’s slide into dementia. He explores the rich terrain of how matters of the heart (and loins) inform art, and shares an account of his dysfunctional yet riveting relationship with the truly memorable Phoebe Phelps. The nonlinear structure abounds with entertaining anecdotes ... Stylistically, Inside Story is most reminiscent of Dylan’s Chronicles, a master artist following his muse to create a genre-defying and career-defining work.
RaveBooklist...inventive, lacerating satire ... Palahniuk expertly balances skewering of cultural institutions with profound insights into the nature of authenticity and the myriad ways we become damaged. The sheer abundance of creative ideas buoyed aloft by the vibrancy of the prose signal a master storyteller energized by delight in his own ingenuity.
RaveBooklist... transcendent ... Gorra expertly mines his own deep reading of the Faulkner oeuvre to serve as our Virgil and guide us through an exploration of how the Civil War influenced Faulkner’s work and how, in turn, Faulkner’s writing helped shape modern literature. Gorra adroitly and poignantly portrays Faulkner at war with himself, juxtaposed and entwined with the history of a cleaved nation, to provide a compelling and necessary reexamination of a towering literary figure.
RaveBooklistBaker’s effort to share his extensive knowledge has resulted in an awe-inspiring quest that reads like an adventure, a war story, and a scientific mystery of psychological suspense rolled into on. He uses a diary format, with daily entries from March 9 through May 18, 2019, that typically begin with brief asides about Baker’s beloved dogs or the mundane household chores he undertakes before launching, once again, into the world of biological warfare and his country’s ongoing attempts to hide its secrets. This approach proves to be an inspired choice as Baker’s formidable narrative skill and tenacity provide for a thoroughly riveting account and powerful testimony to the need for truth.
PositiveBooklistLock’s facility with language and sharp ear make him a worthy mimic of the likes of the Master and other literary luminaries. Lock nimbly explores race, gender, and identity through a historical lens while displaying a joyous love of language.
RaveBooklistWhat Larson brilliantly provides are the finer details of the effects on England as he focuses on the family and home of its dynamic, idiosyncratic, and indefatigable leader ... Larson’s skill at integrating vast research and talent for capturing compelling human dramas culminate in an inspirational portrait of one of history’s finest, most fearless leaders.
RaveBooklistKrivak’s...spare, lyrical latest is a meditative fable set in a near-future, post-civilization world ... The sentences are polished stones of wonder and the setting deliberately vague, likely several generations since humans were earth’s dominant species. Nature has reclaimed its dominance. The elegiac tone reflects what is lost and what will be lost, an enchantment as if Wendell Berry had reimagined Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
RaveBooklistBrown’s fiction shows the early influences of authors he read voraciously, including Flannery O’Connor, Charles Bukowski, and Cormac McCarthy, but his own style emerged during his evolution as a writer who eventually set up shop near the intersection of Carver and Faulkner ... Threads of humor and grace run through the tales of violence, infidelities, and alcoholism, masterfully introducing an unexpected compassion. Brown excels at capturing psychological complexity with spare, humane prose in an original voice that was sadly lost to us far too soon.
PositiveBooklistCaputo knows something about combat and violence and the devastating toll it takes. The setting here is the vividly rendered Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but the battlefield nonetheless remains that of men’s souls ... The linked stories introduce a cast of memorable, three-dimensional, recurring characters, but it is the larger themes of love and sacrifice and the fraught bonds of male relationships that provide the real connective tissue. Caputo expertly crafts his psychologically astute narratives to explore how fathers and sons, combat veterans, and old high-school pals attempt to navigate their own subtly complex emotional terrain to find peace, forgiveness, and hope. As in every battle, some survive and some do not, but Caputo does suggest, at the end, that healing is possible.
PositiveBooklistMoody balances this emotional adversity with poignant digressions regarding his involvement with a \'theatrical entity\' that designs productions for an audience of one and his shrewd yet entertaining observations of his Brooklyn neighbors. Moody’s sheer delight with language and his clever turns of phrase hint at a sense of wonder and hope, while his Knausgaardian introspection leaves him contemplating the intersection of fate and magic, recognizing that good fortune seems preordained while transcending tragedy requires something magical, namely, the power of love.
RaveBooklistIn his debut novel, Powers masterfully evokes postwar Russia and his inventive plot offers moments of tenderness and grace along with interjections of dark humor. Themes of family, home, and identity are explored with great pathos and psychological acuity. The dichotomy of national ambition versus the day-to-day heroism of citizens is a timely and timeless reminder of what makes a nation great. For fans of Anthony Marra.
RaveBooklist...[a] politically charged comedy of manners ... Coe’s singular achievement is the dexterity with which he illustrates the generational conflicts and the nuanced experiences of aging, loneliness, declining health, and the seemingly irreversible march toward obsolescence as the inevitable cyclical counterpart of youthful idealism and romanticized enlightenment. Timely and timeless, this plaintive, clarion call is an acerbic, keenly observed satire peppered with the penetrating wit for which Coe is so justly admired. Like his protagonist, who receives a surprise Booker Prize nod, Coe too should be similarly rewarded.
RaveBooklistThis hyperliterate, darkly comic skewering of modern masculinity pits the two combatants in a battle for supremacy via quasi-military tactics and uproariously funny, cringe-inducing high jinks ... Freedman masterfully blends humor with thought-provoking and poignant insights. The dialogue hums and the two main characters are colorful, memorable, and thoroughly human, each on his own treacherous path toward the discovery of what it truly means to be a man.
PositiveBooklist...[a] spellbinding fictionalized take on the now-infamous Harvard Psilocybin Project, which Leary began in 1960 ... Cameos by Allen Ginsberg, Ram Dass, and Ken Kesey further capture the time period, while Boyle’s trenchant cultural observations slyly depict how establishment gives way to antiestablishment in this engrossing, mind-expanding trip ... Boyle’s latest work of countercultural, biographical fiction will lure his devotees and the newly curious alike.
RaveBooklistScibona’s lyrical yet muscular prose anchors this majestic work as he probes deep philosophical questions about family, identity, belonging, and sacrifice ... Scibona’s greatest strength is his ability to inhabit each character with profound psychological depth to explore their guilt, doubt, and humanity. This novel rewards close reading and deserves wide readership.
PositiveBooklistMathews demonstrates in these stories an uncanny ability to inhabit characters with just a few well-crafted sentences. A master impersonator, Mathews employs a variety of voices, capturing the subtle nuances of dialect and pop lingo to explore with psychological acuity the doubt and insecurities that plague these varied individuals ... Mathews excels at portraying the emotional pain felt by those without a clear place in the world and the universality of self-doubt. The versatility of literary techniques shows a writer in the process of sharpening his unique voice.
PositiveBooklistThe narrative heats up as Humes uncovers the inherently flawed, self-regulating process in which forensic labs are under the jurisdiction of law enforcement ... In this riveting overview of forensic science, Humes goes on to note that similar longstanding \'evidence,\' including fingerprints and bite-mark analysis, are of equally dubious merit, relying more on opinion than science. Hume’s fascinating account is perfect for the many readers interested in crime-scene investigation.
Genie Chipps Henderson
RaveBooklistThe once-scenic Dutch elm–lined main streets of the Hamptons serve as both a reminder of a more genteel time and an omen of things to come in Henderson’s keenly observed and skillfully structured historical novel ... As Henderson subtly and cleverly ratchets up the suspense, she presents a richly textured exploration of class and society filtered through the lenses of several characters whose lives are thrown off course ... For readers of Richard Russo and Elizabeth Strout.
Marina Perezagua, Trans. by Valerie Miles
PositiveBooklistRich with symbolism and recurring motifs, the story folds in on itself like origami. We learn that H has committed a crime, followed by her confession, and that she has been both victim and witness to acts of state-sponsored violence, yet is able to find hope amid the wreckage. Although the letter \'H\' is often silent, this thought-provoking novel charting the aching distance between the heart and tongue gives voice to the mutability and resilience of the human spirit.
PositiveBooklist OnlineItinerant car thief Troy Falconer has little need of possessions, yet his rootless existence consists of stealing clothes out of the seedy Texas motel rooms of similarly sized men before absconding in the victim’s car. When Troy and his reticent, bighearted brother, Harlan, set out on an ill-fated car trip across the Panhandle in late 1972, hoping to locate Harlan’s scheming wife, who has skipped town with his life savings, they inadvertently kidnap an 11-year-old Mennonite girl who is in the back of the stolen station wagon ... This deceptively polished confessional imbues the three-dimensional characters with humor, cynicism, and considerable pathos in artful contrast to the moonlike landscape of West Texas.
Andre Dubus III
RaveBooklist\"Dubus evokes a dazzling palette of emotions as he skillfully unpacks the psychological tensions between remorse and guilt, fear and forgiveness, anger and love. Susan, Daniel, and Lois are fully realized and authentic characters who live with pain and heartache while struggling to fill the tremendous void created by the tragedy. Heartrending yet unsentimental, this powerful testament to the human spirit asks what it means to atone for the unforgivable and to empathize with the broken.\
PositiveBooklist OnlineThe fifth in Lock’s consistently excellent American Novel series follows army chaplain Robert Winter as he navigates the tumultuous mid-nineteenth century while serving in the Mexican War and, later, at the Mormon Rebellion. He has witnessed man’s inhumanity to man, and his faith is challenged, but he retains in his heart a tenderness for a young, spirited woman back in Amherst, Emily Dickinson ... Although Emily does not return Robert’s affections, Lock skillfully hints at the exuberant and tempestuous mind that will produce hundreds of poems, most of which were not published until after her death.
PositiveBooklistIn this meditative investigation into the nature and history of consciousness, Broks is an engaging Virgil to the reader’s Dante as we tour the Jungian labyrinth of the mind, successfully blending Greek mythology, philosophy, allegory, memoir, case studies, and thought experiments… Broks plants seeds that flower pages later as he explains that our mental landscape seems to extend far beyond the confines of our skull-sized kingdoms, or as Hamlet keenly observed, ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.’”
RaveBooklist\"Connolly’s love is evident in his impressive amount of research on and deep knowledge of his subject. The golden age of Hollywood is vividly and authentically drawn, with asides about the gossip, bed-hopping, drug use, untimely deaths, and subsequent obituaries that began with the phrase, \'Formally in Pictures.\' This dazzling and altogether wonderful book sets a new standard for the biographical historical novel.\
PositiveBooklistOne of our most visionary and fearless literary “equal opportunity offenders” is back with what is perhaps his darkest, most biting satire to date ... Palahniuk’s razor-sharp insights and boundless imagination are matched only by his ability to make even the most stomach-churning scenes somehow vividly entertaining.
RaveBooklistThis tender bildungsroman follows Mike from one setback to another, each interaction involving slyly observant and brilliantly witty dialogue that also poignantly conveys vulnerability. Evison skillfully weaves the American Dream into a subtle social novel to illustrate how race and class can thwart aspiration. In his bighearted portrayal of Mike Muñoz, Evison has created an indelible human spirit content to live authentically, which just might prove to be the true American dream. For readers of Sam Lipsyte and Jonathan Tropper.
PositiveBooklist...[a] bleak yet emotionally authentic chronicle ... Resplendent descriptions and quick-witted dialogue serve as necessary counterpoint to visceral depictions of violence. The titular libation is both the catalyst of the destruction wrought by each family member and the balm with which each seeks reprieval from pain.
RaveBooklistMamet offers a master class on dialogue as the witty repartee and newsroom banter mimic the syncopated pop of the infamous tommy gun while adding rich visual texture. The prose is economical yet lustrous, perfectly capturing a time when facility with language was prized. In brilliantly staged vignettes, reporters and cops share stories peppered with humorous anecdotes about unfortunate souls. As Hodges unravels the mystery surrounding Annie’s death, leading him deeper into the underbelly of greed and power, his journey offers subtle commentary on class, religion, race, and politics.
RaveBooklistIt is the fluidity of Helprin’s prose that makes this novel of ideas so utterly captivating and Jules a lovable if flawed hero. Helprin’s principal achievement lies in his subtle, often profound exploration of religious intolerance, capitalism, and technological advances in stark contrast to Jules’ inspiring humanism. These themes are never didactic but instead build on the metaphor of the Seine with its treacherous current, whirlpools, and half-submerged tree trunks churning just below the surface while Jules glides skillfully along in his delicate 'shell.'”
RaveBooklistMcGregor masterfully employs a free, indirect style that forgoes quotation marks and seamlessly blends narrative, dialogue, and wonderfully observant, poetic musings. McGregor excels at breathing life into characters with brief phrases or quotes that add up to deep, three-dimensional creations. Longlisted for the Man Booker, McGregor’s novel’s subtly devastating impact ultimately imparts wisdom about the tenuous and priceless gift of life. For fans of Elizabeth Strout and Richard Russo.
RaveBooklistAs everything rolls toward an adrenaline-fueled finale, Mathews brilliantly creates characters who embody the esprit de corps of immigrants and movingly explores themes of class, society, race, and family. For fans of Michael Chabon and E. L. Doctorow.