RaveThe Star TribuneRooney is a multitalented, nimble writer, moving easily among literary genres and styles ... It’s quite a leap, and a beautifully successful one, from modern New York City to the trenches of the Argonne Forest near the end of World War I and the alternating voices of a soldier and a bird ... Rooney’s plot delves imaginatively into a historical incident; all the characters, real names preserved, including the bird’s, are based on actual soldiers. Rooney creates warm and empathetic portraits of them ... The novelist, with admirable restraint of her anger at a war born of greed and arrogance by politicians and generals, unfolds with patient attention to the characters and their impossible mission, what real courage is ... The use of a pigeon narrator in a dead-serious story could have come off as a gimmick. But Rooney uses him well. From the vantage point of his flights he sees, more clearly than the major, what a mess humans routinely make, when they interfere with the natural world and each other.
Annette Hess, Trans. by Elisabeth Lauffer
PanThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe contrast between modern, democratic Germany, in the midst of an \'economic miracle,\' and this eruption of its horrific past is a surefire subject of interest — one that [Hess] has buried in a flat-footed, undisciplined meander of a novel ... Hess is a TV screenwriter, and unfortunately, her talent in that field does not translate well to fiction. What are meant to be searching conversations between her characters sound like the stagy dialogues of actors who haven’t internalized their roles. (Not the translator’s fault; I checked.) And the protagonist, the 24-year-old woman who serves as translator for the Polish witnesses, is so naive and colorless that her dawning horror at what she learns feels more like dutiful reaction than real pain. And why did she learn Polish? ... There are inexplicable side plots ... What should be powerful testimony by camp survivors gets buried in narrative sludge. The defendants are villainous cartoons ... I see that Hess is trying to draw a contrast between German \'Gemütlichkeit\' (now hygge or coziness) and brutal public policy, but there’s too much trivial plot clutter. Without complex characters or a probing style, what we’re left with is an unengaging if honorable effort. Maybe next time.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIt is a gamble to compose an entire book in the voice of a child. When I opened Joanna Howard\'s Rerun Era I was prepared for a gratingly arch put-on but was quickly won over by this tour de force of a memoir. It works because in every sentence, the high, confused voice of a 5-year-old girl is doubled by the \'woman of a certain age\' who understands, with increasing stridency and bitterness, what the girl lived ... The immediacy of the girl\'s bewilderment comes through in that painful voice of not knowing.
RaveThe Star TribuneThis perversely lyrical novel has us rooting for a would-be murderer to just get on with it and kill the guy ... Throughout the rising tension of Berg we readers are trapped in Aly’s increasingly hysterical stream of consciousness. We are stuck in the mind of a man going crazy in a world whose physicality threatens him with sensory overdose ... What makes this bearable is that author Ann Quin manages to turn insanity into comedy ... What else, besides the demented humor, persuades readers to consent to live in a devolving mind is the manic lyricism, images and metaphors spinning wildly and beautifully out of control. Living in Berg’s psyche left this reader feeling a little crazy, too. Madcap humor and dark psychology combine in this brilliant riot of a novel, first published in 1964, by a witty British writer who died too young.
Mario Levrero, Trans. by Annie McDermott
PositiveThe Star Tribune... the narrator wages a guerrilla war on meaning by constantly harping on the act of writing and questioning its relation to physical reality ... What results is a very funny satire on the realistic novel with its emphasis on character development, progress from one point to another, big themes of love and hate, life and death and so on ... Mario Levrero’s brilliant little tour de force, first published in 1996, is an extremely realistic book. It captures the daily self-interrupting chatter of the mind which goes hither and yon, notices odds and ends, does not narrate from a beginning to middle and end. What makes us on a daily basis is not tragedy or even pain, nor sparks of joy. It is thinking about where I left my keys, dreading that interview, wondering if there are enough potatoes for dinner, sighing at the rain.
Lars Petter Sveen, Trans. Guy Puzey
PositiveThe Star TribuneChildren of God is an original and unsettling text, a ruthless dismantling of the Bible ... Jesus and his disciples wander around ... often to no clear purpose, alongside imaginary biblical characters: soldiers, prostitutes, children. The stories undermine biblical composition in stylistic ways, too. The poetic cadences lack confidence. A story seems to build and coalesce only to dissolve into stammering uncertainty ... Sveen teases out every ambiguity and paradox in the biblical parables. The characters stumble into and out of enlightenment. This is the Bible as narrated not exactly by a purely evil Satan, but a skeptical, unsure-of-himself anti-Christ ... These stories never get close to redemption, or even hope. They are coldblooded assessments of our Jewish and Christian forebears.
MixedThe Star TribuneAnna Moschovakis’ Eleanor, or The Rejection of the Progress of Love is one of those novels, in turn fascinating and irritating, that is as interested in its own inner workings as in telling a story. The building blocks of modern realistic fiction are all here: protagonist, secondary characters, relationships, place, thought, emotion, action and reaction. But they don’t go anywhere; whenever a narrative seems poised to move, its flow is thwarted, questioned ... The smooth continuity readers expect in storytelling is often interrupted by the crudest, most basic stylistic devices: synopses (of books and movies), stage directions, questionnaires, lists, repetitions of words and phrases ... Eleanor and Author are fierce interrogators of the situations they find themselves in. There’s an implicit feminist critique of male thought (and fiction?). Where men have all the answers, women interrupt with buts and whys. Eleanor and Author are also magnanimous in their acceptance of mundanity. This is a novel about noticing and ruminating rather than assessing and concluding ... The book offers each moment, each sentence equably and leaves us to decide what is important and how.
MixedThe Star TribuneDavid Joy likes and respects his characters. From his native North Carolina, they are working men, hunting men, in the iconic, laconic model of the independent, often ornery, American male ... As Dwayne plots and rages, Joy invests him and the other protagonists with the high, formal diction of fated tragedy ... as the novel barrels close to violent retribution, it stutters and hesitates. The end comes out of left field, not at all what we were led to expect. I will leave it to you to decide whether Joy has cheated on his plotting or allowed his characters an unforeseen grace.
PositiveStarTribuneHere is where the story flounders. Cliff has Eugen and his father roaming aimlessly in search of Avis. He doesn’t seem to know what emotions to give them. They rage at each other in trite speeches, and we’re subjected to some creepy memories. The novel collapses in inchoate violence. After preternatural stillness and great exertions on sea and land, we’re left in a banal, stilted ending. Cliff’s first book, a short story collection, won a prize, but he hasn’t quite yet gotten the hang of the novel.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneI have never had a dog nor much interest in the canine world, but the pages and pages of training details as a newborn puppy grows into adulthood had me enthralled … In such a long book, there are gaudy purple patches here and there, but no limp pages. Wroblewski is as good as Jane Smiley, who set King Lear in contemporary Iowa, and if he keeps up this level of work, he'll be in Louise Erdrich's company. And that is high praise.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe Plague of Doves is a multi-generational novel-in-stories of the intertwined lives of the whites in the town of Pluto, N.D., and the Native Americans and mixed-blood Metis people of French ancestry who live on the reservation surrounding it. Moving back and forth in time, four narrators take turns uncovering layer after layer of past and present … Erdrich moves seamlessly from grief to sexual ecstasy, from comedy (Mooshum's proof of the nonexistence of hell is priceless) to tragedy, from richly layered observations of nature and human nature to magical realism. She is less storyteller than medium. One has the sense that voices and events pour into her and reemerge with crackling intensity, as keening music trembling between sorrow and joy.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMoving between the Korean War and its aftermath, to mid-'80s New York, with a horrendous flashback to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1934, The Surrendered is a gorgeously written tragedy about three people who pay a high price for surviving war ... None of the protagonists finds redemption, but the harshness of their lives is lit by language so observant and wise that it renders them dignified and beautiful despite their tragic fates.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"This not-quite-a-novel consists entirely of conversations between the narrator — an English writer teaching a writing course in Athens — and friends, colleagues, students and her airplane seatmate, about the possibility of talking truthfully about reality, and what is gained and lost when it is turned into fiction … There is no plot here, no sequence of events, no relationships forming or failing, no character study or development. Even the setting feels arbitrary … Obviously, this novel is not a page-turner, but is more a philosophical inquiry into what can be jettisoned from fiction and still maintain our interest. In that, it succeeds.\
Karen Tei Yamashita
MixedThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...what results is not a coherent narrative but a deliberate jumble of genres and styles ... We learn some sweet and sad details, the odd facts of recovered history, stranger than fiction ... But always in the foreground is the meta nature of Yamashita’s enterprise; we are not to experience a story but are prodded to pay attention to the ways of approaching, circling it ... She addresses her sections to iconic storytellers such as Homer and the authors of The Bhagavad Gita, questioning them about the uses of history, especially histories of war and other violence, and the nature of a historian’s or storyteller’s accountability. How did they, and how can she, 'care for memory'? This tactic ultimately feels overly self-conscious, didactic and puzzling: Why compare her deliberately inconclusive enterprise with their very formal, high-styled fictions? Her truth-telling project is different from theirs, humbled by fluid and unfixable lived experience.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesQuite a fingersmith herself (that's a pickpocket), she steals with abandon from Dickens, plucks cliches from every Gothic romance ever perpetrated in the early 19th century, yet keeps us in thrall to her first-rate pastiche of betrayed maidens and dastardly smiling villains … The novel is constructed with secret compartments, Chinese box within Chinese box, each darker than the one before … The novel is for the most part a smart and seductive enchantment, in large measure because of the female characters. The men are cardboard villains, but Mrs. Sucksby, the housekeeper Mrs. Stiles and, of course, Sue and Maud are rich creations.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneBaker's novel features Samuel Beckett and James Joyce as the main characters, and I am mystified as to why. Their work is only mentioned, and has no role to play in the events here. The only reason I can think of is that Baker wants to show us that great men suffer in bad times just like the rest of us. War is the leveler of all distinctions ... The book demonstrates, in impeccable detail, that even war can become the stuff of daily life, a routine, albeit slightly altered in that it now includes keeping a safe shelter and finding one's daily food.
PanMinneapolis Star TribuneThere are a number of interesting factoids and Dyer's usual fluid, intelligent style. But I am baffled by the meaning of it all. The book seems an unnecessary journey.
PanMinneapolis Star TribuneMacQuarrie is an enthusiastic guide and is often amusing and occasionally enlightening. But the book is scattershot and, in its fondness for crooks and fighters, a decidedly odd exploration of South America.
PanThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...the substance of the novel remains profoundly puzzling to me. I can't decide whether Darryl Pinckney is deliberately writing an experimental book, with little to no plot, or whether he simply can't figure out where he's going ... Sentence by sentence, there are elegant, even gorgeous observations, but as to the whole, I'm baffled.