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.
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.