MixedThe Washington PostIts short chapters and sheer eventfulness keep the story chugging along, while its (somewhat mechanistic) plotting creates enough suspense to hold the attention. It’s broad-brush, well-intentioned stuff, with an ethnically diverse cast of characters offering, through close third-person narration, wry, sometimes caustic commentary on the nature of American opportunity ... Evison’s writing is best when his powerful feelings for injustice and privilege grate against one another, producing some effective ironies ... Sometimes, though, he drifts into a more sententious, editorial register ... That the characters tend to be, at heart, straightforwardly good or bad only compounds the didactic effect ... Evison’s prose is often marred by hackneyed phrases ... He can also be a little loose, repeating expository phrases and sometimes missing the right historical tone ... it ultimately feels like a missed opportunity. It’s odd that the contemporary chapters, set in 2019 and 2020, barring scattered references to identity politics, don’t tackle the wider cultural crises of the Trump era. And the book’s moral simplicity rather leaches it of urgency and vigor.
Will Smith and Mark Manson
PositiveThe Washington PostThis is the story Smith wants to tell about his life: that of a fierce drive for success rooted in powerful feelings of inadequacy. Unfortunately, what feels like real anguish — and the seed of a worthwhile read — is repeatedly obscured by braggadocio and pat moralizing ... despite the book’s self-deprecating setup, it’s Will the Invincible who shines ... Prideful statements like these pump out of Smith like an oil spill in a sea of good intentions ... Perhaps this is just his way of demonstrating the \'overcompensation and fake bravado\' that, he says, \'were really just another, more insidious, manifestation of the coward.\' But such clunky teaching moments are overshadowed by the megalomaniacal ambition and greed on display ... Smith’s choice of writing partner, Mark Manson — author of the bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck — implies a desire to hold up his life as a model of sorts. Most chapters contain some hokey self-help boilerplate to signpost learning...But these nuggets feel so precision-engineered to showcase Smith’s hard-earned self-awareness that they appear trite, even insincere, when juxtaposed with his riotous magniloquence. The result is half-baked: real epiphanies bypassed; lessons unlearned. The book ends with a charity heli bungee jump over the Grand Canyon for Smith’s 50th birthday — an act of philanthropic egoism that perfectly embodies the unresolved tension between his savior impulse and an insatiable need to be The Man ... You like him despite the evident calculation at play: His foundational insecurity is part of his appeal; even while consciously selling his own vulnerability, he inadvertently reveals its true depths. And so, despite Will feeling more like part of a corporate strategy than a work of real introspection (even the acknowledgments redirect you to Smith’s Instagram), you’d probably still vote for him.
PositiveThe Washington PostWhile these long motion-capture sequences crackle with thrilling technical argot and are pretty interesting in themselves, the real plot lies elsewhere. Stripped back, The Making of Incarnation is a thriller, an international caper about the search for a missing box ... McCarthy is simply not interested in emotional development, besotted though he may be with other arcs ... His rejection of the standard props of realist fiction will alienate some. The prose here is complex and largely free of lyricism; instead, McCarthy opts for the precision of scientific or instructional language. Many sentences read like verbal description or the alt text used by screen readers to help blind computer users, as if there might in fact be one best way of transcribing the world ... As you may surmise, the book can be fascinating but at times a hair tedious. McCarthy’s voluminous research is everywhere on the page — and, yes, very impressive — but you may find yourself stopping to look up supercavitation, acetabulum or festination only to turn back having forgotten what’s happening ... But difficulty is also part of the pleasure of reading McCarthy. In both his fiction and nonfiction, he seeds patterns and ideas that, taken together, gesture grandly (if disingenuously) towards a Big Theory. Devotees will be delighted to spot old preoccupations resurfacing ... a rich and fascinating exercise in observation.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, tr. Martin Aitken
RaveLos Angeles Times... reveals itself to be the evil twin of My Struggle. It’s an uncanny, polyphonous, diabolical work that gives Knausgaard’s brand of banal realism a mythical-fantastical twist ... While the domestic hallmarks of his recent fiction — doing the dishes, kids squabbling over iPads — remain intact here, Knausgaard also mixes in both strong elements of horror and some of the more grandiose religious themes of A Time for Everything, his early novel about angels. In doing so, he reveals himself to be a surprise master of the uncanny. We see a cleric forced to bury the double of a man she just met; an organ donor, dead on the operating table, whose eyes open ... As longtime fans might expect, behind the prose lies a wealth of hardcover learning ... At the end of the novel comes a long essay concerning beliefs about death in different civilizations, deepening Knausgaard’s theme (if not quite successfully integrating it into the narrative) ... The storytelling gift that kept readers enthralled by My Struggle remains powerful. Like Stephen King, another inspiration here, Knausgaard stays shoulder-close to his characters, his paragraphs mimicking the erratic interleaving of their thoughts. And they all give good copy because, in all their mean-spirited, shame-filled, petty glory, Knausgaardian archetypes are nauseatingly compelling ... In places, The Morning Star may feel too close to Knausgaard’s previous work ... Nevertheless, Knausgaard remains a writer of supreme interest. This is a thoughtful, highly readable novel, packed with ideas and exciting flourishes. And in any case, his rate of production is such that a year from now, we’ll already be poring over Volume 2, reassessing everything we thought about the first one.
RaveThe Washington PostThe book is a distinct experience — rangier, sexier, bloodier. More wistful, and somewhat more oblique in meaning, it expands the film’s world even as it comments upon it ... Some lines are lifted verbatim from the screenplay, but there’s plenty of new material too ... Cinephilia is integral to Tarantino’s work, and Once Upon a Time is a fanboy’s scrapbook of period detail. A footnoted edition would run twice the length parsing references to forgotten actors, separating real from invented movies and glossing the insider talk about old action movies. How much readers will enjoy all this may depend on their familiarity with Golden Age Hollywood. But even casual Tarantino fans will enjoy his self-referential nods ... Tarantino’s explosive dialogue, with its blend of streetwise and formal cadences, is almost as effective written down as read aloud ... And although the brio with which he imitates period idiom produces the occasional absurdity, on the whole it helps to create an authentically pulpy atmosphere ... Tarantino is a narrator who likes to show and tell, making him a boisterous if somewhat undisciplined presence. There’s often no tidy line between a character’s perspective and the narrator’s, and given the decidedly non-PC attitudes on display, this can be a little hair-raising. (Not that he cares.) It can also disrupt the period effect ... Absent the voluptuous thrills of the cinematic experience — the operatic splatter, the rambunctious camerawork, the golden needle-drops — Once Upon a Time is perhaps less like a trip to the movies than a night in with Tarantino. Chapters have the propulsive thrust of anecdotes; his exuberant excess is the dominant charm. Far from being the throwaway artifact it sometimes pretends to be, Tarantino’s first novel may even, as he’s hinted, herald the start of a new direction for this relentlessly inventive director.
RaveThe Washington Post... dreamy ... Hoare’s way has always been to swim with the currents he catches, and Dürer’s biography ends up generously spliced with entertaining digressions and unexpected but illuminating juxtapositions ... Before long, in his typically allusive and impish style, Hoare has unfurled a whole tapestry of lives connected, however loosely, to Dürer’s work and its themes ... Barriers of time and place are irradiated by the power of Hoare’s vision ... We are soon immersed in Lake Hoare. His eschewal of quotation marks blurs the distinction between voices. We’re often unsure if he’s recalling his own experiences or reinscribing those of others. His passionately personal engagement with his idols is all the more persuasive for these attempts to merge with them; there is no facade of critical dispassion ... While some readers may struggle to stay afloat in this sea of glinting references and wandering currents, others will be happy to join Hoare in his diving bell to revelation ... From their lives and works, he extrapolates an entire cosmology, a way of seeing the world every bit as rich and penetrating as Dürer’s.
RaveThe Washington Post... candid ... While it contains some startling personal revelations, equally affecting is Stone’s warmth and grace, qualities that, by the end, feel quite miraculous ... The details she presents, while vivid, are not prurient ... A compulsion to unravel — to demystify — drives her eviscerating portrait of Hollywood ... Writing with zeal and urgency, Stone argues for a stronger legal system, for rape kits on police shelves to be processed, for better training for teachers and pediatricians. Above all, she offers a hopeful glimpse of life beyond trauma ... promises the possibility of improvement or redemption, of compassion and understanding, of living honestly.
Edward St. Aubyn
PanThe Washington PostWhile there’s no shortage of action, St. Aubyn’s real interests are metaphysical. As his characters cogitate and self-medicate, scheme and philosophize, his subject is less the content of their thoughts than the mind contemplating itself ... If this sounds like too much for a book of 250 pages to bear, unfortunately it is. Although St. Aubyn is urbane, humorous company, he can’t stop his plot from being crowded out by the intellectual freight he tries to smuggle in. By the end of the book, so much is left unresolved that one wonders whether chapters might be missing. Characters often seem like little more than avatars for ideas. Even the rounder ones are prone to opaque digressions and have unconversational penchants for technical vocabulary ... More like an early character sketch for a Tom Stoppard play than the glittering, if appalling, wits of St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels ... There are flashes of St. Aubyn the Great, particularly in the one-liners ... But a fistful of compelling thoughts and good jokes cannot save Double Blind from caving in. Although St. Aubyn’s ambition is laudable, his efforts to tie together so many big ideas are made at the expense of plot, character and tone, all of which lack the emotional rigor and tight focus of his best work.
Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan
RaveThe Washington PostStevens and Swan are excellent investigators, presenting novel details of Bacon’s early affairs, his short-lived interior-design career and the two years he spent in Hampshire during World War II, when asthma forced his retreat from London ... The book is bejeweled with sensuous detail...Such flourishes, which, in true Bacon style, speak \'directly on the nervous system,\' may well have pleased the artist ... Stevens and Swan are strong on the Aeschylean patterning of Bacon’s life ... The iconoclastic charm of the artist keeps the pages turning ... Bacon once said that telling his life story “would take a Proust.” A tall order — though Stevens and Swan do share a Proustian eye for the social whirl and the encroachments of \'time and the wrecking ball\' ... One of the achievements of Revelations is to capture this social change alongside the life of its subject. It’s a portrait of vanished worlds, of a 20th-century style of darkness now past. Our fresh horrors await new geniuses.
RaveThe Washington PostLet Me Tell You What I Mean collects 12 pieces written between 1968 and 2000 ... The bad news first: You’ll want more ... Her distinctive rhythms, her ability to distill the essence of a thing: these are refined pleasures indeed ... [Didion\'s] bewitching blend of humility and disdain and her unsentimental yet compassionate eye are welcome tonics for frenzied times.
MixedHouston ChronicleThe clarity of Didion’s vision and the precision with which she sets it down do indeed feel uncanny. Her writing has often revealed what was previously hidden, parsed what was unconscious, be it the miasmic unease of the late 1960s or the subterranean structures of national politics. Reading her now, she does seem prophetic ... The bad news first: You’ll want more. The Saturday Evening Post articles are bite-size, trailers rather than the whole movie, and some later articles have been conspicuously overtaken by the passage of time ... Meanwhile, the absence of anything post-2000 is cause for regret. Oh, for Didion’s take on the Obama years. The alt-right. The Trump presidency ... Still, admirers have much to celebrate.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, tr. Martin Aitken
RaveThe Washington PostThese occasional writings reveal a more academic Knausgaard. But, as in the fiction, his intense focus, formidable command of reference and tendency to see the interconnectedness of things make for highly stimulating, almost overwhelming reading ... Though such asides — the lighting of cigarettes, conversations with his children, midnight angst — might seem redundant, they do give the essays the same semblance of radical honesty that radiates through his fiction. This pseudo-narrative approach also allows him to dramatize his critical process: to lay bare his neuroses, deconstruct his prejudices and construct judgments from scratch. The pantomime of critical dispassion is avoided; the rhetorical effect is one of wisdom gained rather than merely delivered ... Though they can sometimes seem recondite, these essays repay slow reading and retain considerable power to surprise ... Saying everything that comes to mind may be risky, but its rewards are potentially awesome: revelation, epiphany, salvation.
PositiveThe Washington Post... not as cute as it first appears ... To demonstrate the superiority of the feline disposition, Gray must first dismantle the foolish notions we have of how to live — a task he’s always taken a sour kind of pleasure in ... These well-trodden arguments are where Gray is in his pomp. Other, more spurious claims — about the nature of cats themselves — may give readers pause. Anyone who’s learned to apply Gray’s own supple, contrary brand of thinking will question suppositions like \'cats are never bored,\' \'cats are happy being themselves,\' and \'cats do not need to divert themselves from the fact that they will some day cease to exist,\' for which he offers little to no empirical evidence ... how much of this alleged contentment is sentimental projection? ... Cats are a perfectly adequate MacGuffin for this pleasant ramble through what philosophy can and can’t help us with. And it’s hard to resist the usual pleasures of reading Gray. His discursive style is always beguiling. His wide reading yields lovely digressions in the company of Colette, Patricia Highsmith and Mary Gaitskill, among others. Cat lovers will enjoy the celebration of feline mythos, from the cat gods of ancient Egypt to purring contemporary domestics, while hardcore Gray fans will be reassured by the usual references to immortality cults, Hobbes, the gulags and so on ... The heat-seeking aphorisms that characterize his best work are also in evidence ... This is the Gray many know and love (or hate), the undaunted Gray who bows neither to the gods nor thinkers who came before him ... The book ends with a surprisingly declarative statement. Whether you agree perhaps doesn’t matter: The objective is contemplation. Besides, if you’d learned anything by the end of the book, it’s surely that to pursue meaning is to chase a mouse that isn’t there.
RaveThe Washington PostTime-play and what-ifs are part of Brown’s formidable bag of tricks, deployed to add emotional range and a poignant twist to his comic vignettes. His biographical method — combining fragments, lists, excerpts, quotes and flights of whimsy — is executed as brilliantly here as in 2017’s glittering Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret ... Brown’s book is an idiosyncratic cocktail of oral history, personal memoir, tourism and biography ... [a] riotous, hilarious book, which achieves depth through Brown’s strong feeling for both the quiet and the noisy devastations wrought by ambition, fame, personal tragedy and time.
RaveThe Washington PostA squalidly funny collection of short stories set in the ruined fairground of Brexit Britain, these \'postcards from hell\' present parochial filth as mock epic ... neither misery porn nor social realism. Etchells’s depravity may smell like Johnny Rotten but his linguistic flair comes from Joyce and Burgess. And like his highbrow forebears, Etchells is highly resourceful when it comes to remolding the language to fit his darker purpose ... Etchells’s assault on linguistic decorum has a liberating rather than destructive effect. Plasticity of notation entails plasticity of meaning, and many of his aberrations are revealing ... Its florid colloquialisms and anarchic narrative forms serve to shed light on other neglected spaces — the lives of Britain’s forgotten working class. Etchells’s surreal humor offers new entry points to new modes of empathy for a demographic that’s much discussed, much maligned, but little understood ... The gaps in his surreal fables are the dark interstices in which new sympathies may fester. Not everything works — not every experiment can — and some of the stories feel repetitive. But there’s sufficient fizz and scum on every page to keep those who are game at the table.
Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman
MixedThe Washington PostPitched in style somewhere between a film treatment and tabloid true crime, this debut novel is silly and uneven, sure, but it’s also fun, a pastiche of hard-boiled crime fiction that doesn’t scrimp on the lurid pleasures of the genre ... De Palma and Lehman, while giving their story a conspicuously contemporary setting (Twitter, iPhones, 9/11, Ferguson), have aimed less at modernizing than simply transplanting its styles and tropes to the 21st century. As pastiche, this partly works, but it may have a distancing effect on readers ... Elizabeth de Carlo, the most fatale of the book’s femmes...[has] something retrogressive about her presentation. Perhaps a hint of cool irony can be detected here that some readers will enjoy, but it feels more like an opportunity missed. The book’s chauvinistic dialogue is another sticking point. While it’s obviously an intentional stylistic effect, it feels anachronistic ... Elsewhere, melodramatic overtones threaten to tip some scenes into the absurd ... Still, the chapters zip by with the pace and economy of scenes in a movie, and there are enough good jokes...and plot twists to pass the time guiltily enough.
MixedThe Washington PostTaylor broadens the embrace of the traditional campus novel ... The ambiguities are what give Taylor’s writing its strengths: his receptivity to menace in the mundane, subcutaneous sexual vibrations, unconscious motivation ... Taylor also deals deftly, through close third-person narration, with what it’s like to be different in an overculture ... Taylor’s writing is least successful when it’s most self-consciously literary. There are many cliches...Some of the imagery baffles rather than tickles. The lofty register that intrudes whenever a profound observation threatens detracts from the vernacular panache exhibited elsewhere. There are far too many ominous birds skittering around ... There’s also an unevenness in the presentation of character. Miller, seemingly straight before the book starts, is surprisingly comfortable with not just sexual but romantic intimacy with Wallace ... Missteps in style and characterization may be a product of Taylor’s desire to give sufficient weight to his themes ... Still, the juxtaposition of what he has called \'queer, bucolic malaise\' with his critique of academic politics keeps Real Life moving with enough bite to forestall encroaching solemnity. With tighter editing and the autobiographical impulse out of his system, what Taylor does next will be worth watching.
RaveThe Washington Post... a master class in criticism, a rangy, perspicacious, occasionally spiky excursion into cultures both ancient and contemporary. His breadth of reference is characteristically formidable ... He knows that a well-chosen example, especially one that collapses traditional distinctions between high and popular culture, can be erudite, authoritative, even cool, all at once. There are dozens here. But they always feel earned; he’s done the hard work. To read Mendelsohn is to gain a synoptic view of a subject ... His ability to interleave aesthetic with lived social experience gives Mendelsohn’s writing great richness ... Complexity is part of the fun, and, at a time when book culture risks falling prey to the same, simplistically partisan thinking that’s laying waste to the rest of the world, Mendelsohn’s commitment to nuance makes him invaluable ... offers proof of Mendelsohn’s assertion that \'criticism is its own genre . . . as creative in its way as any other.\' Reading him, one is convinced utterly by the \'drama\' of criticism. If Mendelsohn is the sentinel of both the Review and the review, their integrity is surely secure.
PositiveThe Washington Post... thoughtful ... Aciman, a famous Proustian, is clearly interested in the diffusive action of time and the heartaches of temps perdu. His keen sense of what’s lost or missing, even in a happy new relationship, allows Find Me to dodge, at least in part, the sentimental imperative that mars many sequels. Its bittersweetness is welcome ... Unfortunately, the diffuseness necessarily means it lacks the intensity of Call Me by Your Name, whose short-leased summer gave that book its particular kind of tragic suspense. In addition, what was charmingly grandiloquent in the adolescent Elio — a florid style; an expansive frame of reference — is cloying and ostentatious in a cast of adult narrators ... A certain preciousness has some benefits. Aciman’s quiet, label-free presentation of bisexual life represents a minor triumph, respectfully embracing the mystery of the desires of others. Likewise, his refusal to offer easy resolution, which infuses the whole romantic enterprise with a kind of delicious melancholy. There are moments, particularly in the final chapter, that may have readers gazing tearfully into their fireplaces, real or imaginary, just like Timothée Chalamet at the end of Luca Guadagnino’s superlative film of Call Me by Your Name. It can be hard to go home.
PositiveThe Washington Post... [Klosterman] paints incredible alternate realities through which he can explore, obliquely, what it means to be alive today ... This is a short-order short story collection, a series of skits cooked up for the here and now ... The best stories here are the ones that fall on or near the line of plausibility, exposing the fault lines in our current mode ... the irony of a political system where the line between fiction and nonfiction has been effaced to the point of meaninglessness is felt throughout ... If this flavor of zeitgeist feels overpowering, be assured at least that Klosterman zips through these tales with such vigor, such celerity (most don’t exceed seven or eight pages), that the reader has little time to question their conceptual novelty or integrity; at any rate, insufficient time to tire of them ... Not all the stories work, and sometimes the concept is too thin, the joke too parochial. Technique at the local level — the firework sentence, the quick laugh — always seems to trump the quality of the idea ... for the most part, Raised in Captivity is an engagingly sardonic collection that will leave you, like one of Klosterman’s own bewildered characters, \'relaxed and confused.\'
PositiveThe Washington Post[Waters\'s] roguish charm may be enough to make readers feel \'all warm and scuzzy inside\' ... The book’s second half ditches the Hollywood memoir in favor of less structured but equally riotous material. Waters’s extended riffs on architecture, cuisine, Warhol and more are essentially a rebel’s attempt to buck the acceptance he’s accidentally found ... In a chapter guaranteed to delight fans, Baltimore’s filthiest celebrates his 50-year friendship with actress Mink Stole by inviting her to his Provincetown, Mass., home for a carefully planned, LSD-fueled night in ... That this Prince of Puke has become an accidental darling of American cinema and letters—an institution, however depraved—may be a dirty shame to him, but it’s a blessing for the rest of us.
Bret Easton Ellis
PanThe Washington Post\"Ellis is in full stride here, playing a role familiar and delightful to his Twitter and podcast fans, that of self-appointed denigrator in chief of liberal-elitist attitudes. But while Ellis can be funny, his gleeful iconoclasm often overpowers his rhetorical purpose ... In short, he wants us to take other people’s opinions on the chin. This is the book’s most appealing idea. Unfortunately, if you’re not already there, Ellis is unlikely to convince you ... There’s also something unconvincing and disingenuous in his incredulous response to \'the overreaction epidemic\' ... Matters aren’t helped by a lack of structure and a sometimes slapdash style. There’s no arc. Like the aborted novel Ellis says he started making notes for in 2013, White reads like a series of false starts ... And as criticism, although it’s enjoyably flashy — his thoughts on Kanye’s recent \'bi-polar, Dada performance art,\' for instance — it’s also sloppy ... [Ellis is] often witty and insightful; there’s palpable gaiety in the airing of some of his more subversive ideas; and the book contains much of what makes reading him pleasurable. But by taking such a bombastic approach, Ellis makes White a self-defeating exercise, setting himself up for exactly the critical response he thinks he’s satirizing. Namely: successful, middle-aged white dude loses his cool.\
PositiveThe Washington Post\"After all [of the chaos surrounding him], does Franzen the Great American Novelist succeed, in his new collection, in drowning out the noise that threatens to subsume his reputation? Hesitant yes ... The title essay is excellent... In fact, all the bird bits are good ... Elsewhere, though, Franzen falters. The Wharton piece, originally published in the New Yorker, should have been revised — the relationship between her alleged plainness and the question of sympathy in her books is, frankly, ill-developed. Perhaps it was a failure of irony, but a musty chauvinist air still lingers ... His avoidance of easy answers has always made Franzen worth reading. Coupled with a self-consciousness that appears to second-guess his critics, it makes his work stimulating even when it isn’t comfortable.\
David Lynch and Kristine McKenna
PositiveThe Washington Post\'I like to remember things my own way . . . not necessarily the way they happened. That would be the perfect epigraph for this book...the result...cubist portrait of the artist, body and mind on separate tracks. This technique ensures that Room to Dream offers countless new stories, even for Lynch fanatics. Room to Dream pulls off a neat trick in drawing back a curtain and revealing relatively little...showing us to a room that provides refuge from the angry world outside, where he finds the safety that’s necessary to create. With the right attitude and approach...Lynch...suggests other artists may also find a room to dream.