MixedPasteTo call this book a historical accounting of our modern sensibilities is too narrow. Vorona Cote is more often her own example, and each chapter is built around her experiences. This combination of memoir and critique is tricky to pull off; Too Much sometimes feels as if it’s two books knit together with a fault line that isn’t sealed. Vorona Cote’s academic background successfully comes through in her writing about literature, film and culture. When she reflects on cheating, lost friendships or her relationship with her mother, however, her prose reads like she’s trying to work through the puzzle of herself—intimate and sometimes raw, less eager to find answers than in explaining some truth ... Too Much’s wide-ranging nature—in terms of genre and subject matter—is both to its benefit and disadvantage. On one hand, it’s fascinating (if not particularly surprising) to see how little has changed over the centuries...But the book’s tonal shifts and subject changes overwhelm that throughline ... Vorona Cote casts Too Much as an opening foray into a complex web of study—not a comprehensive review of the interplay between Victorian outlooks and today’s pressures. The book’s ambition belies that at times, and it would have benefited from a narrower focus and approach. But Vorona Cote achieve the goal of illuminating the links between our world and that of the Victorians, highlighting links that aren’t apparent on first glance.
MixedPaste MagazineIn her new essay collection Make it Scream, Make it Burn, Leslie Jamison writes about subjects as disparate as you can imagine. From blue whales to the Museum of Broken Hearts to Sri Lanka, she lends a fascinating gravity to seemingly mundane topics. What brings the essays together, other than Jamison’s own lyrical and ruminative prose, is not always immediately clear ... Jamison’s willingness to inhabit corners of society others overlook is, perhaps, the glue that holds the book together ... Elsewhere, though, the reader might want more than Jamison provides. Her writing is lovely; her thinking is at once intellectual and accessible; her subjects are fascinating. And yet, in many of the essays, the end result feels like less than its parts. Jamison’s ability to blur the lines between memoir and reportage has set her apart as a writer, and when she’s at her best, there are few like her. But she sometimes loses the thread when she shifts focus between herself and the subject. While the prose in Make It Scream, Make It Burn is beautiful, the meaning of it all never comes to the surface.
RavePasteRed at the Bone’s characters are bound to one another, yet how they choose to assert their individuality rings true ... Woodson’s tight prose and attention to emotional detail create a moving family portrait of society and ambition. She brilliantly crafts a tale that is connected to Black culture and experience, while foregrounding universal themes like intergenerational tension. In Aubrey, Woodson’s written one of the most dynamic male characters in years; the way he wears his emotions close to the surface will elicit tears more than once ... does not deliver a clean narrative; the reader will close the book with the sense that the story will continue. And that feels like the entire point. This is a snapshot of a family over the course of one century across three generations. The story doesn’t begin with Sabe’s family fleeing Tulsa, and it doesn’t end with Melody. By offering a textured glimpse into one family’s life, Woodson offers a truly beautiful and meaningful narrative.
PositivePasteThe survivors and those who advocate for them are the only voices telling the story. This is partially due to the fact that numerous others in the larger investigation—people who have been subsequently fired, charged or outed as having aided Nassar—refused to comment or never responded to Pesta’s requests. Pesta also makes no effort to explain Nassar’s motivations or to locate the \'man\' behind the \'monster.\' It’s a choice that makes the book stronger, and as a true crime story, it makes a case for how these narratives can be told in a victim-centering way ... Pesta seeds the book with details that cut through the near unfathomable abuse that the girls lived through ... Pesta also uses her own presence as a conduit for the reader to great effect ... But Pesta’s approach isn’t without missteps; she relies heavily on concluding sections with reminders that the reader will be brought back to stories or will see what happens next in the coming pages—a move that makes the narrative more fragmented than necessary. Minor structural flaws aside, The Girls takes a headline-grabbing case and makes it human, which is the true crime genre at its best.
Sarah M. Broom
PositivePasteLoss is inescapable, but the earliest parts of the book are defined by the fullness Broom evokes rather than absence ... Broom is explicit in the ways colorism and racism shaped her family’s experiences—and by extension, the experiences of others in New Orleans East and beyond ... The Yellow House is a history of New Orleans as seen through one ordinary (amazing, funny and loving) family. Broom and her family’s powerful voices tell a story far removed from how popular culture views New Orleans, putting a finer point on Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. In doing so, Broom cuts through what has become a well-known narrative and replaces rote fact with a human saga.
Ed. by Michele Filgate
PositivePasteThe essays are as much about being mothered as they are about the mothers themselves, striking an empathetic nerve that all children will find stirring ... But by tackling 15 child-mother relationships, this collection reveals that we gain nothing from letting a false sense of competition get in the way of communication. Communication with our mothers, yes, but also an honest dialogue with ourselves about what these relationships mean, how they shape us and where the boundaries rest now that we’re adults ... All of the writers tackle relationships with their biological mothers, unfortunately leaving adopted mothers and non-cis women mothers out of the picture. But the collection still contains a staggering breadth of experience ... the essays run a gamut that leaves the reader emotionally raw ... proves that moms contain multitudes, and it’s a messy business to be raised by such multitudes is.
PositivePaste\"The narrative’s thread is sometimes lost when Naamah delivers quippy dialogue while moving between reality and dreams—and with it, the urgency to Naamah’s story. The rambling effect this can have is one of the book’s most significant shortcomings, yet these passages are worth sticking through. Blake ultimately succeeds in making this woman of antiquity feel of our times, offering no easy answers to the many questions Naamah poses. By highlighting Naamah and her struggles, the story of the ark becomes more convoluted. No longer is it a story about a righteous man chosen by God to do a job, which he does well.
Instead, it’s a story about the many who died to make a new world, about the messiness that goes into taking care of animals, about faith in a future one can build. Blake turns this biblical tale on its head, making it more challenging and moving in the process.\
RavePasteOyeyemi’s latest novel, Gingerbread, proves that her writing still remains an unpredictable delight, whisking readers through a fantastical tale with contemporary relevance ... the unifying element among the rapid changes of setting, characters and narrative direction is gingerbread and its power to transform Harriet’s life ... Gingerbread’s more fantastical elements don’t quite obscure Harriet’s grim history, but rather package it in a way that avoids emotional highs and lows. Instead of delivering a harrowing tale of struggle and danger, Harriet’s saga becomes a bizarre story laced with haunting moments that mirror contemporary concerns. Where Oyeyemi’s previous novels that riff on fairy tales can be linked to a genre archetype, Gingerbread reads more like multiple fairy tales wrapped up in one. Oyeyemi avoids clean endings and lessons, opting to launch her central characters in a new direction instead. Even the final pages hint at yet another beginning as strange as those that came before. It doesn’t quite make sense unless you’re willing to meet the book where it is—in a surreal, chaotic world where the real and the imagined overlap.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
PositivePaste\"... [Schweblin] once again explores the delicate line between real life and fantasy to devastating effect ... There’s a sense of the paranormal—rather than the magic—at play. Some manage that dance better than others... But when Schweblin carries off the balance, she crafts a twisted reflection of near universal anxieties and experiences ... Despite some uneven moments, Mouthful of Birds is a collection that solidifies Schweblin’s place as a unique voice in world literature—a voice that delights as much as it unsettles.\
RavePaste\"What follows is an incredible work of investigation and self-reflection ... As Shapiro grapples with what to do, what she is owed and what she owes others, we can hear the echoes of [Ben] Walden doing the same through their email exchanges. As their relationship develops, it proves a thrilling and emotional ride ... Written with generosity and honesty, Inheritance takes the modern phenomenon of casual DNA testing and builds a deeply personal narrative around it. The result is a vital, necessary read from a talented author.\
RavePaste\"... Elizabeth McCracken marries the everyday with the otherworldly ... The fundamental loneliness that defines these characters, who all keep something of themselves deeply private, creates a sense of magic around marriages, divorces, births and deaths. Their interwoven stories are by turns heartbreaking and beautiful, defined by, as McCracken writes in the first chapter, love ... Reading like a tale told secondhand from Salford’s best storyteller—wise in the historical and fantastical details—Bowlaway is an epic of the wins and losses that make up the average life.\
Karen Thompson Walker
RavePaste\"Walker’s prose is hauntingly beautiful, jumping into the future to put Santa Lora’s experiences into a larger perspective ... the easily recognized characters are not a deficit, even if that predictability feels at odds with the unique plot. Walker keeps the focus on the virus itself and the anxiety it engenders among residents of Santa Lora. She taps into a primal fear of the unknown, as doctors and experts struggle to understand what is happening to their patients. That Walker leaves unanswered questions about the virus doesn’t feel like a cop-out. Instead, it feels like an extension of the dilemma facing those who wake up, struggling to determine where their dreams end and life begins ... a powerful examination of people doing their best to hold things together under extreme circumstances.\
PositivePasteIt’s easy to get wrapped up in the case, even though Brottman isn’t an investigative journalist or a true crime writer. She acknowledges her shortcomings, explaining how her self-consciousness gets in the way of being a dogged reporter ... these asides are a reminder that this crime book is something wholly unique ... Brottman’s book encourages us to explore beyond our comfort zone, hinting at the possibility for significant discoveries.
J. M. Lee, Trans. by Chi-Young Kim
PositivePaste MagazineA labyrinthine book that weaves through Pyongyang’s choreographed celebrations to Yanji’s back alleys to Seoul’s refugee community, The Boy delivers a haunting journey through the eyes of a young man with Asperger syndrome … Jumping back and forth between Gil-mo’s years on the run and his interrogation by the FBI makes for a clunky and rushed narrative at times, but the novel still offers a fascinating story reminiscent of a North Korean Slumdog Millionaire. This, of course, isn’t a true-to-life tale, but Lee successfully reveals how fortunes can change overnight for society’s most vulnerable refugees … The novel hits a satisfactory end that feels authentic. Lee’s novel touches on the literary need for character-driven stories that move beyond the strangeness and horror of life under the North Korean state. This, along with its thriller-like pace, make The Boy Who Escaped Paradise worth a read.
PositivePasteThe narrative exclusively focuses on Cyril, meaning that while his interior and exterior struggles are beautifully detailed, the book doesn’t veer far from the perspective of a privileged gay man who can move to more accepting communities when necessary. And due to The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ expansive timeline, Cyril’s personal growth makes him a fascinating—if frustrating—protagonist, capable of both incredibly selfish and remarkably compassionate acts ... Boyne writes scenes that will make a reader laugh and cry—without saccharine sentiment or flippancy. Infused with heart and humor, as well as a keen sense of man’s capacity for cruelty, The Heart’s Invisible Furies pulsates with life’s complexity and progress’ slow march.
RavePasteSarah Hall has created something wholly original. The nine stories span a number of genres, but all combine the surreal and the quotidian to haunting effect. This is a collection that’s easy to devour, but it will linger long after the reader finishes the final tale ... Hall’s stories are wildly disparate in content, but united by their gravitation to darkness ... Hall’s use of language is masterful, eliciting deep emotions with subtle turns and illusionary references. Her stories create worlds—whether vast dystopias or a family’s living room—that feel real but never overly polished. In Madame Zero’s nine brief stories, Hall covers a staggering amount of ground, crafting compelling narratives that are expansive despite their brevity. Sensual and chilling by turns, this collection is electric.
Anne Helen Petersen
PositivePastePetersen has compiled exhaustive notes on each of the women she profiles, pulling from interviews, tabloids, cable news and the Internet. Each essay delivers a tight weave of smart criticism, cultural history and biography, held together by Petersen’s own critical analysis. Each piece stands alone, but when taken together, they form a fascinating—and infuriating—look at the public gaze’s double standards and unreasonable demands on women’s bodies and personalities. Some essays prove stronger than others. The chapter on Hillary Clinton is particularly powerful...Petersen’s analysis of Melissa McCarthy—'too fat'—is less effective than others due in part to McCarthy’s own public persona, which is largely non-confrontational even as she pushes back against shallow criticism ... Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is nonetheless a thorough examination of unruly women who exist in the public eye. By taking pop culture seriously, Petersen illuminates individuals who work incredibly hard to create and sustain their public images, often in the face of extreme backlash.
RavePasteThroughout The Essex Serpent, Perry’s command of language as a tool to evoke time and place proves remarkable. One can feel the Victorian push-and-pull between scientific understanding and long-held pagan fears, as children cast spells and men hang animals for protection. The threat of a prehistoric beast feels real—until a wry joke from Cora or William clips its wings. This, combined with the emotional depth between characters, creates something wholly unique. Intimacy and humor coexist alongside anxiety and fear, forging a narrative that is compelling and chilling by turns.
RavePasteLockwood is known for her brash, trickster social media presence, and that’s on full display here. She simply delights in the absurdity in others—and in creating moments of absurdity herself. Her constant harassment of the seminarian is a recurring high point ... But she also proves to be a gifted narrator in chronicling her family’s outlandishness ... The beautiful and the filthy, side by side, just as any God with a sense of humor would intend.
PositivePastePerabo succeeds in capturing the complex dynamics between middle school girls, writing Meredith and Lisa as nemeses bonded through years of familiarity and shared experiences ... Perabo does attempt weave too many narrative threads; Meredith’s family is blighted by accidents and disputes, adding unnecessary tension to an already emotionally rich story...Any of the subplots read as if they could be driving forces in the story, yet they only compete for attention with the central narrative. Perabo makes up for this by delivering a realistic portrayal of Meredith’s 13-year-old psyche, tackling survivor’s guilt and the impact of trauma. The Fall of Lisa Bellow ultimately offers a captivating examination of grief—and hope—as Meredith constructs an elaborate universe for her imagined version of Lisa.
RavePaste\"The essays leap back and forth in time, overlapping to create a Venn diagram that gradually reveals a complete picture. At the point where the essays meet sits Febos herself, a woman willing to confront challenging questions about her life with openness and honesty ... What is most striking about this collection is Febos’ ability to hold many moments of her own life in conversation ... Febos’ writing is unflinching, and her willingness to delve into her darkest corners avoids becoming overwhelming only because she handles it with strength and delicacy. Abandon Me finds the universal in her own story and taps into many people’s fears, pushing the reader to question what they might abandon themselves to or let themselves abandon.\
Joyce Carol Oates
RavePasteTo describe Joyce Carol Oates’ latest novel as anything short of epic feels disingenuous, and yet it still falls short of capturing A Book of American Martyrs’ gravity. The narrative explores both sides of the national debate surrounding access to abortion, exposing the violence that may erupt when devotees of both causes meet. It’s also a testament to how fervor for a cause can inspire such devotion that families are destroyed ... Oates is at once critical and empathic, eschewing simple black and white moral arguments for a nuanced examination of martyrdom. Voorhees and Dunphy both become symbols for their respective causes, but by doing so they allow their families to be martyred by public scrutiny. The families’ broken lives and attempts to reclaim their respective identities are heartbreaking.
PositivePasteGooch does an exceptional—if at times overwhelming—job of sussing out the trends and connections that mattered most to Rumi, including the remarkable era for human learning in which he lived ... For a man who wrote poems that read as near mythic today, seeing his influences laid out in such detail could be demystifying. But instead, Gooch’s account adds a human touch to a man who appears larger than life. Rumi’s poems reflect his own, revealing a universal nature through their exploration of grief, love, and pleasure in worship. Although Gooch does not identify what Rumi’s titular secret was, it seems that it could be as simple as feeling deeply and sharing it with the world.
PositivePaste...the author highlights Mata Hari’s humanity to reveal a flawed woman whose desire for freedom led to her execution ... Coelho’s prose brings Mata Hari to life as a deeply flawed woman who views her sexuality as a means to gain power and favor ... With The Spy, Coelho has created a portrait of an anachronistic woman who was destroyed by her times and became a legend.
PositivePasteThe play-within-a-novel-inspired-by-a-play format could easily get mired in its competing narratives and characterizations, but Atwood skillfully navigates the layers using the inmates’ study of Shakespeare as a means to explore the novel’s dynamics ... Just as with a play, a certain willingness to suspend disbelief is required to enjoy this novel. With the bulk of the action taking place in a prison, the constant good fortune Felix possesses in acquiring outside materials and getting privacy is a stretch. But it’s one that works.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books...eases out the complex truth behind the simplistic image of a liberal warrior, and offers up a compelling story of how idealism can be cultivated and liberalism learned ... Tye’s work feels most essential when seen as a mirror of our own times, reflecting back the scant progress our country has made on the issues Kennedy fought hardest for near the end of his life and the cynicism that has so deeply permeated our culture ... Tye does an exemplary job.
RavePasteAlthough marketed as a love story, this characterization feels disingenuous. Love is at the center of the novel; first Mary and Tom’s love, and later Mary and Alistair’s confusion at their affection for one another. But this is not a tale about love overcoming all obstacles. This is a narrative about a war, and the struggle to find order in the debris of a slowly but steadily bombed out city. Cleave excels at building tension grounded in uncertainty, despite the reader knowing the results of World War II ... It’s a testament to the strength of Cleave’s writing that the reader feels the shock of each sudden turn. The pictures he paints are so vivid that when they are disrupted by an air raid, a plane crash or another catastrophe, the reader is forced to adapt to this new reality along with the characters.
RavePasteLaced with subtle tension and emotion, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is exquisitely human, highlighting characters who are endearing even at their worst. Smith’s novel illustrates why art remains a powerful force, both for those who create it and those who view it.
RavePasteThe novel proves to be fascinating, but it’s the ending that clinches it as a remarkable story. The entire narrative comes together in one moment of sudden, unexpected shock that forever changes the lives of all involved in the story, including the future of Haiti. With Peacekeeping, Berlinski brings a quiet but vital nation to vivid, horrific, incredible life.