PositiveHarpersStone’s fiction is not uplifting and cheerful, nor does it make you feel better about yourself. It offers, instead, narratives of disillusion, in which we discover what we really are ... Bell knew and obviously loved Robert Stone. His lengthy and detailed biography,...views its subject with an offhand, tolerant affection. Stone is called \'Bob\' all the way through, liquor is often referred to as \'grog,\' and very little critical distance exists between the biographer and his subject.This devotion softens, slightly, the harrowing narrative of Stone’s early life ... No one can smoke, drink \'heroically\' (Bell’s word for it), and do drugs with any regularity without some unwholesome systemic results, and the last third of this biography tells the inevitable story of Stone’s physical decline. It is not an account for the faint of heart ... One finishes Bell’s biography, which could almost have been titled Darkness and Laughter, with a renewed respect for its subject and a feeling of awe for the love he inspired in his biographer, wife, children, and friends.
Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel
RaveThe New York Review of BooksIn this book, Murakami, who is nothing if not ambitious, has created a kind of alternative world, a mirror of ours, reversed … At one point, a character argues against the existence of a parallel world, but the two main characters in 1Q84 (Q=‘a world that bears a question’) are absolutely convinced that they live not in a parallel world but in a replica one, where they do not want to be … What’s fascinating about 1Q84 is its ambivalence about ‘the logic of reality’ and its wish to plunge the reader into the ‘far greater power’ of Unreality’s unlogic, which has the advantage of revolutionary fervor and reformism.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksFreedom’s ambition is to be the sort of novel that sums up an age and that gets everything into it, a heroic and desperate project. The author all but comes out and says so, using Walter, a conservationist, as his spokesperson for the big statement that draws everything and everyone together … It is surely not an engagement with the culture that dooms any fictional treatment of [Freedom] but rather a tendency to create polarized oppositions of public behavior, the entirely virtuous on one side, the entirely bad on the other, generating a landscape where no middle ground exists for any character to occupy.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksLincoln in the Bardo doesn’t resemble any of his previous books apart from the thematic concerns already noted, nor does it really resemble anyone else’s novel, present or past. In fact, I have never read anything like it ... It is as if Saunders had somehow grafted the oral history mode of George Plimpton’s book on Edie Sedgwick onto the historical facts surrounding the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie and then decided to extend that technique into the afterlife ... The events of the last one hundred pages...comprise some of the most remarkable American fiction writing it has been my pleasure to read in the last few years ... The wonder of Lincoln in the Bardo is that the treatment of that subject is neither morbid nor lugubrious. Besides, in the afterlife there is no such thing as realism. With this book, George Saunders has managed to do something entirely original, with a narrative that’s wonderfully odd, funny, and very moving.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksNote the absence of qualifiers, the exhaustion, the rage, the disingenuousness, the inability to sit down. Joy Williams’s stories contain many different situations, of course, and their prose glitters with acute perceptions on the part of the characters, but their perceptions and insights rarely do anyone much good. The narrative rhythms have the energy and tone of screwball comedies that somehow have taken an unexpected left turn toward tragedy without quite arriving there, but with the tragedy always in view, off in the distance, unavoidable ... a book that is almost impossible to read straight through. There is such relentless vehemence in the exposition and drama that reading too many of her stories at one sitting can turn into an ordeal. The terrible suffering, viewed at sixty miles an hour in a landscape infused with unappeasable longings, inspires a kind of awed fascination...The only way to read it properly is by slow increments, one story at a time, with pauses for recovery ... Williams is a specialist in the out-of-control speech that gradually loses its bearings and wanders comically and eloquently in a mad dash from one vanishing thought to another ... These stories, with their characters weighed down with inarticulate eloquence, strike a very clear note. What they generally lack in pathos, they make up for in dark comic energy. Witty, and with a concert-hall pitch for American idioms, the stories glitter with a bright, desolate light.