PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIf the kindness between Cunningham’s characters stretches beyond strict verisimilitude, it’s part of their charm. The nervous, meandering dialogue, witty without being aggressively so, is pleasant to listen in on ... By the end, the members of the family seem to have laid their ghosts to rest: They’re reconciled to moving forward and to living in conflicts that have come to seem almost jolly. The peace seems a little willed, but maybe a critique is implied there, too.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe sociological description of 1970s Soviet activist life that Paul Goldberg layers onto his new novel, The Dissident, is as thick, gleaming and rich as a slab of fatback on rye ... The detail throughout is savory, but it is spread not on a hunk of hearty bread but on a murder-and-espionage plot that doesn’t make much sense ... The twist also has the effect of frustrating, and morally wrong-footing, any reader with the fairly natural desire to know who swung the ax ... With so many strong flavors, in such generous portions, it’s probably wiser to enjoy this book not as a meal but as a series of small plates.
PositiveNew York Review of BooksCrewe...freely adapts the facts, supplying a bibliography in the afterword for readers in need of mere accuracy ... Because Crewe is writing in the twenty-first century, he is able to focus on details that would probably have seemed to Symonds too coarse to mention ... To fully accurate representation of the claustrophobia of yore, however, might not make for an amiable story, which The New Life is. Crewe has shaped and pruned, as an artist must, and the gist of his retelling seems honest to me. The progress of the characters through the phases of their relationships can seem a little schematic, like the movements of actors who have been given blocking instructions but haven’t yet found a natural-looking way to carry them out, and Crewe sometimes describes the light in a room a little too poetically for my taste. But the reader is drawn forward by the wish to know which secrets will and won’t be disclosed, and which loves will and won’t be requited.
Wolfgang Hilbig, tr. Isabel Fargo Cole
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... translated into supple, vivid English ... Hilbig has a weakness for what might be called the secretionary Gothic ... C. can be entertaining when he seems to be playing up his mopey self as a clown, but the tale circles and circles, like a drunk’s conversation, and a reader sometimes feels a little cornered by it. It can’t be easy for a writer to recognize that his sensibility was shaped irrevocably by a world that was deeply compromised and is no longer relevant, though it has to be said that this is more or less the plight of any writer who has had the misfortune of surviving his youth.
PositiveThe AtlanticSubmissive impulses, homemade Christianity, and an ethos of mutual care return in her new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You ... Chasing her ideas about love, Rooney hasn’t sufficiently incarnated them. Unlike the wayward human beings of her earlier novels, the foursome in Beautiful World seems carefully planned and a little static, like figures in an allegory ... I suspect that many readers will miss the ruthless speed and economy that Rooney displayed in her first two books, but she remains a great talent. Among the considerable pleasures here are her bold variations in perspective ... A powerful intellect beats beneath her underdressed prose ... Rooney hasn’t quite found the right vessel for her vision, any more than her characters have found the ideal sociopolitical structure for channeling human connectedness. Rooney could have taken the safer route of repeating herself, but she seems to have an Enlightenment idea of the artist’s calling: She experiments.
RaveThe AtlanticFranzen’s prose is alive with intelligence, and on the first page of his new novel, Purity, a reader can see his mind at work on a task at which he excels: showing the way people think ... the experience of reading Purity is as propulsive as that of reading The Corrections and Freedom (2010). The downside: there’s a certain sameness to the experience of reading all three novels. The characters in Purity may be new, but their sardonic, harried, going-for-broke attitude is familiar, and once again they’re wrestling with some of the most inflammatory topics of the day ... The solid pleasure here is in the close observation of voices. Franzen once joked in print about giving up on the late novels of Henry James, but there’s an uncanny convergence between him and the Master ... For Franzen’s readers, the experience of having their spectacles...distorted and demolished can be a little flummoxing. But thanks to the safe remove that fiction affords—and thanks to the sense of \'pleasure and connection\' offered by characters whose minds seem alive in the same way as the reader’s own—the ride is exhilarating. All the way down.
PositiveThe New Yorker...a brisk, clear-eyed new biography ... Much of the granularity of Cervini’s account comes from F.B.I. files, rather than from what survives of Kameny’s papers or the society’s archives—a testament both to the garrulity of informers and to the Mattachines’ extreme caution about anything that might incriminate members.
RaveThe New Yorker... a judicious and riveting new history ... It’s all but impossible to reconstruct the sequence of the violence...though Zucchino marshals the evidence expertly.
PositiveThe New Yorker...a grisly, sobering, comprehensively researched new history. The subject matter doesn’t make for light reading; Polchin admits to feeling \'haunted\' by what he discovered in archives. But it’s impossible to understand gay life in twentieth-century America without reckoning with the dark stories. Gay men were unable to shake free of them until they figured out how to tell the stories themselves, in a new way ... Polchin’s historicizing observations seem valid and accurate, as far as they go, but, if a nineteen-thirties murder was a little more likely to start with hitchhiking, and a nineteen-sixties murder with a pickup in a bar, the variations seem minor compared with the transhistorical—almost ahistorical—sameness of the underlying pattern, a threat that seems to have been a constant presence in gay lives for most of the century.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...a clever new satire ... It seems implausible to me that a shy literary boy would put himself so abjectly at the service of a hot jock out of no more than a confused gratitude for being implicated vicariously in the scrum of human society, but Ives’s novel is full of signs that she doesn’t think much of traditional literary shibboleths like three-dimensionality of character ... Ives scores some fine touches in her satire ... I never laughed out loud, though, and in the end I found myself more interested in the novel’s half-hidden earnest side: its exhibition, with persuasive bitterness, of the damage that can be wreaked by the idea that literature is competition, especially when the idea is institutionalized in a classroom ... Ives may relish breaking the rules of realism, but she breaks the rules of comic novels, too, when she insists that her losers win.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksTed Chiang has the powers of analysis and invention necessary for the alchemy ... The stories in Exhalation for the most part continue in this vein of patient, methodical elaboration ... the perfection of the weave may add to a reader’s impression that there is something inexorable about Chiang’s writing. Is the control a mere demonstration of skill, or does it have a deeper significance? The voice in the stories is never personal, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where, in any of them, Chiang himself seems to be writing from. It’s possible that he regards the world as a somewhat remorseless pattern, and his personal self as no more than a component of it ... Some readers may find it quixotic for Chiang to work through the ethical implications of alternate universes so methodically. But fiction does more or less what the prisms in his story do: provide a finite glimpse, through an imperfect medium, of one way things might have turned out ... Considered in this light, multiple selves and speculative responsibilities turn out not to be all that abstruse; what Chiang has done is take the idea of fiction seriously.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"... boisterous ... When Ryan then turns to Brooklyn’s queer bard Walt Whitman in Chapter 1, he has a little trouble getting his bearings ... Ryan hits his stride once he reaches the late 19th century, however, and by Chapter 2 the book has become an entertaining and insightful chronicle ... As distinctively colorful as these lives were, they were powerfully shaped by institutions, Ryan’s history shows.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThat thrill is reprised in Peter Ackroyd’s Queer City, which inventories two millenniums of lesbians, gays, trans people and other queers who have lived in London ... Unlike his predecessors, Ackroyd doesn’t knot up his lists with philosophical puzzles about the nature of sexuality, or its lack of a nature, and he dispenses with source notes. Queer history apparently no longer has anything to prove ... Ackroyd, unburdened, is free to be droll. ... This is a guided helicopter tour, not a research seminar. Still, it’s impressive how much detail can be seen even at this elevation and speed.
MixedThe AtlanticThis is a fairly awful peril—in fact, so cartoonishly awful that as a reader I rebelled. Whatever Willie’s sins may have been, surely death in childhood was punishment enough? Moreover, as perils go, it’s a bit contrived ... It’s awkward, too, that the outcome of the novel hinges on whether Willie can acknowledge in time that he’s dead...The book’s crux, in other words, is either impossible or trivial ... The vignettes are miniatures of the cruel, satirical stories that have won Saunders fans, and several are poignant, but they don’t have much connection to Willie’s story ... There’s quite a bit of schmaltz in Lincoln in the Bardo. In some of the historical eyewitness testimony that Saunders has fabricated, he rivals the Victorians at death kitsch—no mean achievement ... Lincoln in the Bardo is CivilWarLand under new management, sleek and professional. The sets are brightly painted; the period detail is well curated; the reenactors have had top-notch dialect coaches. The ghosts, formerly dupes, are now heroes, and if you like a salty-sweet mix of cruelty and sappiness, you’ll enjoy your visit. But you can’t see backstage anymore. The new administration has much tighter message discipline.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksThe art of Macdonald’s book is in the way that she weaves together various kinds of falling apart—the way she loops one unraveling thread of meaning into another ... What’s lovely about [it] is the clarity with which she sees both the inner and outer worlds that she lives in.
PositiveThe New Yorker...a vivid and level-headed new history of American participation in the Spanish Civil War.