RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewGaskill patiently lays out the deterioration of conditions in Springfield, year by year, bad crop by bad crop ... Scrupulously recreating the atmosphere of the times, he largely refuses to cast judgment or to supply distracting modern diagnoses of any mental illnesses that may have been at work. Instead, as he says in a note on his sources and methods, he \'treats witchcraft as witchcraft: a category unstable in 1650 and ever since at risk of being explained away as fraud, hysteria or delusion\' ... His tale is never less than riveting ... provides a deft example of how a historian can avoid \'presentism,\' the practice of examining the past through a contemporary perspective, and inhabit a reality different from ours by \'suspending hindsight.\' As for his story’s relevance, Gaskill never mentions Donald Trump and his cries of \'Witch hunt!\' or his QAnon fantasies. He doesn’t have to. Whatever hallucinations are arising from our current state, like smoke from a fire, it’s obvious they’re not much different from what was going up the chimney in the 1600s.
RaveNew York Review of BooksStunning ... [A] revisionist western ... The stuff of westerns from time almost-immemorial...but as it develops, we take a sharp turn into experimental metafiction, as the author begins self-consciously parodying the genre itself ... The whole thing eventually devolves into Quentin Tarantino–style violence, but it’s those first hyperrealistic sixty pages that stay with you, an opening so arresting that it stands apart and unbalances the rest of the novel ... Pity the Beast, at its best, suggests that women have always been the half-dead horse men beat because they hate themselves for being animals.
RaveThe New York Review of Books\'Do we want a countryside that is entirely shaped by industrial-scale cheap food production with some little islands of wilderness dotted in amongst it, or do we, in at least some places, also value the traditional landscape as shaped by traditional family farms?\' Pastoral Song...compels us to grapple with that question, and it is, if anything, even more urgent and eloquent than its predecessor ... a wide-ranging defense of traditional farming grounded in history and biology ... Rebanks is neither a philosopher nor a Jeffersonian agrarian idealist. A product of centuries of righteous peasant judgment, he speaks with blunt, unmatched authority. He is also a fine writer with descriptive power and a gift for characterization. Pastoral Song is full of memorable portraits of his children, parents, and grandparents ... Rebanks does not balk at confronting readers with the brutality of all farming, and, by extension, human existence[.]
Christine Leigh Heyrman
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... Heyrman remorselessly dissects the fragile male selfhood at the heart of evangelical Protestantism and its \'vexed relationship with ideals of manhood.\' Since the needs of that self are ever devouring the American body religious and politic, an exploration of its origins deserves attention ... reads like a bodice-ripper, less Bridgerton than Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Fewer push-up bras, plenty of smoldering letters ... deliciously relevant ... Mining missionary records, Heyrman unearths some astonishing revelations ... Elegantly written and hilariously astute, this gloriously indelicate history suggests that women’s infatuation with evangelicalism has been a bad romance indeed.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksCamila’s story is both uniquely her own and illustrative of the grindingly dictatorial public assistance programs that are determined not to assist ... As in [Edith] Wharton, there is no pity for the weak. Sandler is skilled in weaving together these scenes with the background to elucidate them ... Camila’s experience must ring true for thousands, yet as a very young homeless mother, she is atypical ... While minutely reporting Camila’s experience, she fails to provide a national portrait of homelessness, skimping on the complexity of the data ... Sandler emphasizes that Camila is exceptional ... she seems perpetually poised for a breakthrough, and her failure to achieve it feels all the more poignant and frustrating. Camila is living proof that a segment of the homeless population would be well served by adequate, affordable housing ... But...Sandler provides little discussion of the efficacy of current [affordable housing] initiatives ... she approaches the issue almost exclusively as Camila’s story, in ways that feel emotionally over-torqued and factually underreported ... That’s where This Is All I Got ultimately founders, failing to go beyond the narrative ... No one imagines that a journalist will solve a subject’s problems or society’s ills, but it’s not unreasonable to expect more than just going along for the ride.
Rachel Louise Snyder
RaveThe New York Review of Books... invaluable, deeply reported ... Snyder’s discussion...regarding mass shootings, is particularly astonishing ... \'Domestic violence is like no other crime,\' Snyder writes, and by the time you finish this book, you will believe it ... Snyder is unsparing on the role of guns in our culture, acknowledging that the US is \'the most dangerous developed country in the world for women.\'
MixedNew York Review of BooksButtigieg somehow relates this charmed life with suitable self-effacement, eyes cast modestly downward as in the photograph on the book’s cover, a not unimpressive feat given the perfection of his résumé ... Not so fast ... There are gaps in the record. There’s an avoidance of self-analysis, a refusal to plumb motivations, a tiptoeing across the minefield of human experience. Its wide-eyed ingenuousness strains credulity if only because all credulity, in the age of Trump, is now so strained that it may be collapsing, like the climate, altogether. The self-presentation is too glossy, too ideal. Nowhere does one get the sense that the author has ever experienced a setback or suffering of any kind ... But it’s hard to escape the suspicion that this frictionless memoir represents, beyond the obvious political calculation, an act of self-conscious second-guessing ... There’s not a lot of Joycean revelation going on here. Instead, Buttigieg often approaches himself with Spock-like detachment ... The most revealing anecdote Pete Buttigieg has told about himself occurs not in Shortest Way Home but in the New York magazine profile ... there’s a sad, Pinocchio-like quality to him ... Can he become a real boy? A real politician? First he must prove himself brave, truthful, and unselfish. With this memoir, in which our hero emerges from a bedtime story of a book freshly carved and polished for his political future, he may be halfway there.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books\"... ambitious and moving ... As reviewers have noted, the device [of the imaginary character, August,] can feel affected, impossible to sustain for long stretches. Yet there’s also something authentically distressing about it, lending, if not a face, then a voice to something that’s more than a statistic ... From its first pages, Heartland wants to be about class, toggling between traditional memoir and discourse on the ways in which social status congeals into shame and bigotry ... A certain slackness can be felt in these discussions—generalization, pathos—but for the most part Smarsh skillfully draws on her family’s specific economic woes to illustrate the mean, pious pettiness behind the \'profit-driven criminalization of poverty\' ... [Smarsh] is astute in assessing the humiliation imposed by society’s avaricious zeal in punishing the poor, noting the ways in which it warps its victims’ perceptions ... for someone intent on mapping the costs and consequences of [poverty], Smarsh skates past a deeper factual analysis of such origins, including her own ... As it is, however, memoir is being asked to do a lot here, perhaps too much.\