RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewBirmingham’s chapters on Dostoyevsky’s exile are among the finest ... The Lacenaire link is not new. What is new is the way Birmingham has alchemized scholarship into a magisterially immersive, novelistic account of the author’s life...These episodes are the work of a skilled storyteller who understands that you need scenes made from, say, the concrete details of Snitkina’s diary — as opposed to quotations from it, or summary, with commentary from the author, to make the tale come alive ... This approach has risks. Early on, I occasionally longed for a better sense not only of Dostoyevsky but of Birmingham ... But starting with Dostoyevsky’s time at the roulette tables in Wiesbaden, Germany, Birmingham maintains exceptional balance ... a magnificent and fitting tribute.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)George Saunders is the Tom Hanks of letters – profoundly gifted and profoundly humane, so much so that we forget to miss the darkness and danger that can substitute for distinction in the art of others ... a close, marvelling, grateful and precisely articulated reading of seven short stories, included in the book, by Russian masters of the nineteenth century ... Many books that try to teach us how to write commit the first sin of bad writing: their guidance is abstract. There are even more books that try to teach us how to read. None I know do both with Saunders’s microscopic attention to the myriad impressions and calculations that occur within us when we compose or absorb even a single word on the page ... Saunders is the gentlest and most gracious of guides, forever reminding us that these are only his views.
Emily St. John Mandel
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewLike Station Eleven,, The Glass Hotel is a hash of temporal crosscutting ... The jumping around is eventful, and feels formally daring, so that it takes a while to ask yourself whether it adds anything to the story ... Mandel doesn’t offer particular insight into either side of the Alkaitis/Madoff scheme—in flat prose, she describes both the perpetrators and victims at substantial and dutiful length, but they mostly remain opaque or generic. (The novel suffers from the fact that almost everyone in it sounds indistinguishable and is, unfortunately, as smart as the author. Too often, theirs is written dialogue, not spoken.) I wasn’t sure whether Mandel wants us to think that the wealthy are more interesting than we think, or just as lame as the caricatures have it, but if it was the former, she doesn’t succeed in showing us how, and the latter is not a very stirring premise for a novel ... Mandel’s interest seems to lie more in pointing out the ways random lives intersect rather than deriving anything enlightening from the fact that they do ... To her credit, these encounters don’t feel contrived, and certainly never for plot reasons. Simply, from time to time, her camera lifts and shows us another place and time involving one or more of the same people. Who among us hasn’t wished to look through the same viewfinder?
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWhen Andrei does tell us something we didn’t know, sometimes it’s hard to feel that we need to ... Andrei offers plenty of self-deprecation, but we aren’t given much reason to assume this is parody ... As Andrei settles down [into life in Russia], however, his story not only improves but gains significant distinction and shape. We get incisive observations about the country ... as well as instances of good writing, period ... There’s also a laser-true and very funny set piece about Russian men and their dexterity at turning sexual profanities into verbs ... In this section, Gessen’s book feels like one of recent literature’s most accurate portrayals of modern Russia, which is to say I was miserable for hours after reading it. But moved, too, for Andrei also sees the magic of the place ... The openhearted charm that takes over the story here — the marvel and heartbreak of someone who can’t quite believe he’s so attached to a place that can be so dehumanizing and abusive — makes you forget every redundancy and frivolity of the early going ... There’s enough heart here to redeem every recent male novel that’s aimed for it and found solipsism instead ... I don’t know if A Terrible Country is good fiction, but you won’t read a more observant book about the country that has now been America’s bedeviling foil for almost a century.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Goldberg deployed a similarly kinetic storytelling style in his first novel, \'The Yid,\' but there the enterprise was ennobled by the subject matter: a revenge fantasy in which a band of Jews and fellow travelers sets out to murder Stalin. The concerns of the Chateau — and \'The Château\' — feel picayune by comparison. Bill’s antic numbness is the book’s, too.\
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewBeneath all the buffoonery, the novel moonlights as a chronicle of women fed up with the imperious but weak and self-absorbed men all around them ... The narrative has many other sub-stories, occasionally pinballing between them without transition or antecedent. Some of the strands fray, some turn into knots, some unravel in a hot, unearned rush ... Eisenstadt’s madly saturated color was a little rich even for the relatively commonplace context of her previous novel, Kiss Out, but it seems especially ill-tuned to the disaster times of Swell ... Then again, it’s the wise ones who know that in hard times, you grab your people, have one drink too many and obsess over insignificant things. The louder and ruder the chatter, the better.