PositiveThe AtlanticNarrativizing the past is often understood as a means to avoid remaining beholden to it, but Riley doesn’t exactly advocate for the redemptive power of such storytelling. Just as emotional awareness never moves in a straight line, neither do the plots of these fantastically upsetting books. Riley isn’t encouraging anyone to heal their past; she seems to be arguing that this kind of redemption is a myth ... Riley’s work, though resonant in the present day—when love languages and attachment theory are common parlance—also has a timeless nuance. She slows her scenes down, like a record played at half speed, to reveal the hidden undertow beneath two people trying to reach each other.
PositiveThe Atlantic... burst[s] with these sorts of aching dialogues, punctuated with endings that come out of nowhere—a knife stabbing a proclamation to a wall. Riley works with nervy, precise syntax, striking a tone that you might call prim if it weren’t also slightly off-key ... Riley’s work, though resonant in the present day—when love languages and attachment theory are common parlance—also has a timeless nuance. She slows her scenes down, like a record played at half speed, to reveal the hidden undertow beneath two people trying to reach each other ... These episodes of domestic dislocation reminded me, at certain moments, of Raymond Carver’s lost, love-hungry men and women. Like Carver’s, Riley’s characters lunge at one another again and again, trying to get a moment of pure human connection and coming away instead with bruises ... Riley’s characters are under no illusions as to their own agency. Instead, they seem painfully aware of how they’re at the mercy of their fears, patterns, and insecurities.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewKitamura’s prose elegantly breaks grammatical convention: Commas hitch complete thoughts together, quotation marks are eschewed and ancillary characters often interrupt the narration midsentence, without punctuation. This style mirrors the book’s concern with the bleeding lines between intimacies — especially between the sincere and the coercive — while Kitamura’s immense talent smooths the seams. Even in complex court scenes when the voices of interpreters, witnesses, lawyers and judges commingle, nothing is lost in her sleek and satisfying syntax ... \'Intimate\', \'intimacy\' and \'intimacies\' appear repeatedly in the prose, almost annoyingly so, yet synonyms are inadequate; intimacy is the structuring principle of “Intimacies” and no other word quite captures her meaning ... Reading, too, can be a deeply interpretive act, and a novel like this one offers the reader much to work with, raising a chorus of harmonic questions rather than squealing a single answer. Contemporary American novels too often deliver pre-solved moral quandaries and obvious enemies in service to our cultural craving for ethical perfection — the correct word, the right behavior, the sole and righteous position on myriad complex issues...Kitamura works outside of this trendy literality by knowing, as the best writers do, that a story’s apparent subject does not determine its conceptual limits; plot summary would do this book no justice ... deeply engaged with these grand social issues, while it also makes subtle comments on everything from art to jealousy to gentrification ... Kitamura investigates these relationships as a lens for larger points, not as an end in themselves. The path a life cuts through the world, this book seems to say, has its greatest significance in the effect it has on others ... In a time when so many intimacies have been forced or foreclosed by quarantine, this novel is felicitous. Breath itself, that intimate air, has united our worlds in death and fear. Even global events — a pandemic, a protest, a war — arise first in the delicate space between people ... contains a keen understanding of human behavior, one that reaches far beyond the pages of this brief and arresting book; she travels to places that ordinary writers cannot go.
Izumi Suzuki, tr. Polly Barton, Sam Bett
PositiveThe New York TimesThat Suzuki’s prose has been described as \'punk\' has more to do with her disaffected narrators than her formal choices. Her plots are straightforward, even slightly predictable, though that may be a generational matter; what passed for speculative warning in the 1970s and ’80s, now seems more directly descriptive of our present ills ... The work and messages of Ursula K. Le Guin, the author’s longer-lived contemporary, come to mind. Both Suzuki and Le Guin knew that gender roles are a matter of costume or control, affect or affliction. The terms we use to define humanity are often inhumane.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewZambreno draws on autobiography but never leans on it. Her narrators are prone to quoting Barthes or Sontag or deconstructing art-house cinema, but her sentences are always airy and streamlined, full of wit and candor ... I enjoy and admire Zambreno’s work so much that I resisted accepting that there is a flaw in this book: The structure of the narrative suggests that childbirth is the answer to every question she’s been asking, a necessary redemption from her existential woes ... I would have welcomed a portrait of the mother masturbating herself into a Walser-y stupor between diaper changes, but I’m a little baffled that a book suspicious of tidy narratives seems to conclude on the healing powers of childbearing. Still, other readers may be reassured by the suggestion: that an artist will always be dissatisfied with her output, but parents will be enraptured with theirs.
PositiveElectric LiteratureAt their worst, these stories can be either deeply moralizing (Left Behind, I’m looking at you) or just pure destruction porn, an outlet for our deepest anxieties about global warming or the human tendency toward war. This isn’t to say that these sorts of books aren’t often insightful, brilliant or at the very least entertaining, but they tend to fare better when they focus on how we survive after the dust settles than the oblivion itself ... Man V. Nature passes up the stock set pieces and gnaws on that thematic bone. The world doesn’t end so much as people’s worlds end — their senses of safety, their long-held narratives, their relationships and ideals ... Cook creates a surreal but painfully honest world. She’s not trying to create a possible dystopia; instead she dramatizes the private catastrophe of losing love and the impossibility of escaping memory, despite what others insists ... Cook is a pro at using the bizarre, sometimes even fable-like set ups to upend our most essential fears ... When Cook does venture into a more traditional apocalyptic setting she does so with Barthelme-level absurdity.
RaveThe Paris ReviewEarly in Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly, author Joshua Rivkin confesses that the book \'is not a biography\' ... part of the excellence of this biography (I respectfully refuse Rivkin’s refusal of the term) is that it alchemizes this challenge into an asset. The book is more personal than a biography because the biographer, who is already an accomplished poet, offers details from his own life as they mirror that of the artist. Though it may sound like misplaced exhibitionism, Rivkin’s vulnerability is a gift. Because so many details of Twombly’s life were erased, withheld, or obscured, Rivkin’s brief autobiographical interludes seem to transform those erasures from an absence to a presence. In this respect, at least, Rivkin is right to say that Chalk is not a biography ... At times, the text scatters into vivid fragments, a linguistic reflection of Twombly’s work. The reader can infer that the artist’s style has changed Rivkin’s own, shifting it like a house off its foundation. If there is a flaw of this approach, it is that the text sometimes swerves into lyrical saturation. But for the most part, buoyed with insights from hundreds of writers from Albee to Woolf, Rivkin stays afloat ... for every boyish burst from Rivkin, there are plenty of measured, keen observations ... it is a fitting thrill to end Chalk still wanting more.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAgile and wily, Pheby’s sentences flit in the weather of Schreber’s sanity, yet they are always buoyed by the judge’s half-hampered intellect and rationality. It’s the most torturous variety of mental illness—one that almost understands itself ... In the reality that Schreber lived, the mentally ill were playthings of the \'well,\' children were playthings of adults, and minorities were playthings of the state. It is this economy of cruelty—not repressed homosexuality, as Freud suggested in an essay on Schreber’s memoir—that is the seed of Schreber’s suffering. Pheby illustrates this point with compassion and subtlety in Playthings; the book’s hybrid position between the historical and the fictional makes it all the more potent.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewNovey has wholly eluded the hazards of writing about writers. Instead, this lush and tightly woven novel manages to be a meditation on all forms of translation while still charging forward with the momentum of a bullet.