Haruki Murakami, trans. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewAssured, candid and often — never meet your heroes, they say — deeply irritating ... The sublime tension of Murakami’s work is that his writing is simple and open...while the world it depicts gets only more mystifying ... In its strongest passages, ably translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen, Novelist as a Vocation shares these qualities of transparency and deep thought ... But aside from these rare moments, the book makes for a weird, cranky document. Its chapters focus on subjects that should be useful...yet each somehow collapses in on Murakami’s experience, leaving only traces of practical advice, and a narrator who seems at once proud, complacent, tone-deaf and aggrieved ... The conundrum here is that Murakami’s generosity of spirit is such a central part of his fiction. Perhaps the difficulty is that this is a book full of prosaic explanations, unleavened by vision.
MixedThe Los Angeles Times... the settings on the supercollider feel just off this time. The standard of Saunders’ writing remains astronomically high, but there are slippages suddenly ... It’s a fine piece of writing, but in context it seems detached from the narration, as if the author’s moral preoccupations have begun to precede his writerly concerns ... Perhaps Saunders is in part the victim of his own influence; all of the previously published stories here appeared in the New Yorker, and sometimes they feel like every New Yorker story does now: confident, current, sad. And it’s worth restating that even a bad Saunders story is good in so many ways: All nine in this ultra-readable book contain pulses of wit and beauty, superb unexpected lines, sudden laughs...in two of them he reaches the heights of his previous fiction ... But the rest of Liberation Day is less powerful, as if the convulsive quality that makes art great has diminished. Instead, there are a great deal of tender and extremely well-written passages about how hard life is. And of course, life is hard, horrifying and hard, and Saunders is justified in continually pursuing that subject to its roots. It turns out, I think, that the saintliness is real ... The trouble is that morality and art famously have nothing to do with each other. As in his earlier work, Saunders’ relentlessly humane vision of life, always in comic search of our deepest negations of each other, is remarkably vivid. But his innovations as an artist have waned into repetitions; and genius is an erratic visitor.
PositiveBoston GlobeBraude leans heavily on both Kiki’s and Man Ray’s memoirs; his writing is occasionally slack, and his deployment of art history can be perfunctory...But that matters little when you’re under Kiki’s spell, and he has written a biography worthy of her, alive with anecdote and incident...You just become so glad to know her — at least, I did, after having thought of her, stupidly, as an adjunct to other artists...She was a marvel, and her triumph feels so far-fetched, the space that she opened for herself as a poor woman in a rich city: \'How in this violent, money-mad world that makes no space for its Kikis,\' as Braude says, in a lovely passage, \'its Kikis have always found some way to make themselves feel at home.\'
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... excellent ... The narrow subject and relatively brief time frame of Two Wheels Good make it a crystalline portrait of modernity, the vexed, exhilarating, murderous, mechanized world left to us by the 19th century. The bicycle has touched nearly every element of life on earth since then, it turns out ... Rosen amasses his examples of these issues expertly ... takes the form of bricolage, blending meticulous historical research, local reporting from bicycle-dependent locales like Bhutan and Bangladesh and personal memories of riding in New York and Boston. Rosen is arguably strongest in the first of these three styles, but the book excels across all of them and, in its curious, mingled character, calls to mind Bill Bryson, John McPhee, Rebecca Solnit — obsessives, for whom the material world and their own infinitesimal presence within it constitute the most natural subject of artistic inquiry ... Still, many readers — riding readers, perhaps — will find the most meaning in Rosen’s carefully curbed but unmistakable personal passion for the bike...All enthusiasms are slightly daffy, and at moments Rosen reaches a kind of embarrassed nirvana as he contemplates his subject, lovingly describing a trick rider’s stunts, traversing Dhaka by rickshaw or his own encounters with snow, car doors and, of course, drivers, too many obnoxious, unfeeling drivers to number.
RaveLos Angeles TimesAs is typical of Dyer, the book has little to do with Federer at all, alighting on him just a few times. Like nearly all of the author’s work, under whatever genre it may nominally arrive in our hands, it’s about him — a memoir in camouflage ... The Last Days of Roger Federer is of a piece with this previous work, but because of its subject, a little more somber, a little more urgent. It’s a masterful, beautiful, reluctantly moving book — that is, moving despite its subject being naturally moving, courting no pathos, shrewd and frank — and Dyer’s best in some time. Indeed, one of his best, period ... If you like this kind of quick counterpunch against a received idea — I do — then Dyer is for you. Most of the rest of the book is taken up with comparable meditations on the great white male depressives he reveres, among them Philip Larkin and D.H. Lawrence, Beethoven and Nietzsche ... Dyer seems to be consciously pushing these two kinds of experiences against each other, testing his brain to see what it can tell him about aging, his body to see how much it has left in it ... The risk of these writers’ style, with their short chapters and darting insights, is randomness, and sometimes this book, whatever its thematic claims, seems to consist of what has come under the author’s eye, an arbitrary collocation ... His own book, if it heralds a late style, promises the same kind of show: a powerful and funny mind, ranging across the canons of both art and experience, cutting closer toward deep truths, telling us what things are like when time is shortening. Thank goodness he has time left, I finished the book thinking, leaving the coffee shop in a mood tinged, perhaps inevitably, with a little sorrow. In the words of his hero, Dylan, it wasn’t dark yet, but it was getting there.
RaveAir Mail... a casual, beautiful novel, extraordinarily enjoyable ... In the less successful of Whitehead’s early books, there was a stubborn emotional remove in even overtly emotional passages, the language and thought always crystalline, the author’s gifts never in question, but the heartbeat thready. Not in Harlem Shuffle ... Maybe it’s this that writing historical fiction has given Whitehead: the ability to command a fuller and more fine-grain range of human emotions, granted to him in part by the safety of characters firmly embedded in other eras, away from himself. Some writers flourish in that freedom ... feels very much a part of Whitehead’s great and complex project (intentional or not) in this second phase of his career to write about Black history in America with the fullness of attention and empathy that white Americans have taken for granted ... it’s the in-between shades of racism, as much as the ones most glaringly relevant, that Whitehead captures most masterfully through Ray—the thousands of apperceptions of insult both subtle and blatant, the unending accumulation of slights, that comprised life as a Black person in the 50s and 60s ... The book’s three plotlines, each revolving around a crime, are engaging and well constructed, if perhaps a little perfunctory...They could be peak Elmore Leonard, with their episodes of semi-violence and moral ambiguity...But Ray is a character strong and central enough to override these faults in the narrative ... funny, rich, hugely pleasurable.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... moving and beautiful ... an unequivocal return to form, a meditation in the subtlest shades on the subject of whether our species will be able to live with everything it has created ... Ishiguro’s best books are hard to summarize with any justice past the first hundred pages because, like a handful of other great writers — Louise Erdrich, Dostoevsky — he is almost incidentally one of the best pure mystery novelists around. With just a few words he creates ambiguities that make most of his books feverish reads, one-sitters ... a distinctly \'mature\' novel — as assured as ever, but slapdash in places compared to the author’s meticulous earlier work. And he’s never been strong with dialogue (his books are so profoundly interior). But these minor criticisms glance off Ishiguro’s work like bullets off the hull of a battleship. Few writers who’ve ever lived have been able to create moods of transience, loss and existential self-doubt as Ishiguro has — not art about the feelings, but the feelings themselves.
RaveThe Boston GlobeSmith has completed what must be considered both one of modern fiction’s most elusive and most important undertakings ... brief but crowded ... Smith is a gifted storyteller—the whole quartet is highly readable — but story is only half the point of her work. As she planned from the start, the characters in “Summer” seem uncannily contemporaneous, agonizing over COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd. At the same time, though, Smith uses these events as a launch to glide up into thinner air, particularly long meditations on art and time, her twin obsessions — including, in this book, reflections on Einstein, A Winter’s Tale, the filmmaker Lorena Mazzetti, and swifts, subjects she explores with the poet’s constant willingness to break forward in the direction of a new idea ... This is Smith’s method in the seasonal quartet: to force the timely and the timeless together, like the wrong ends of two magnets. If she were even an ounce less talented it would fall apart. But she isn’t. She’s a great writer, quite possibly bound for a Nobel Prize ... That’s not to say that her work is perfect. Her weakness for bad jokes may be the single most reliable constant in her career as a writer, and as often as she catches onto the tail of a great thought, others fizzle out. She’s weakest when she addresses her themes directly ... But much of this is the hazard a great writer risks by working fast. You would be hard-pressed to find matching inelegances in McEwan’s work, for example — but equally hard-pressed to find Smith’s fierce, cleansing anger about politics or the moments of transcendent, enigmatic beauty that can only truly be understood by reading the books ... What Smith has really achieved with the seasonal quartet is an advance in form ... by grounding this quartet both in the immediacy of politics and in her insights about a series of specific artists, from Pauline Boty to Barbara Hepworth to Katherine Mansfield, she has allowed her gift for abstraction to gleam here and there from within the rock face of the factual, rather than leading with it ... The result is sublime. As the characters of Summer entwine, like branches over a road, I had the feeling that no novelist has come closer to describing the particular sad informed madness of our times. How that feeling will age is hard to say — but then, how will any of us age, who have lived through this? Sooner or late the season will arrive that tells us the answer.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe price of such language can be too high, drawing attention to itself in exchange for a fleeting judder of recognition...Still, McCann excels at it ... The book’s subject is the unending conflict in the Middle East, and the author treats it with such careful ferocity that at times he nearly goes quiet. At last he truly does: One of the book’s hundreds of sections is simply a block of black ink, terrible and final. It seems to concede that there’s a place of pain where language ends ... And in this progression toward its own defeat, McCann’s book attains a strange nobility ... a loving, thoughtful, grueling novel ... By now the benefits of this jittery style have come into focus: It allows an author to introduce various ideas and facts without the awkward carpentry that can make traditional novels about politics or history, in particular, seem strained. At the same time, its drawbacks are also plain, among them obscurity, lack of momentum and sententiousness ... McCann walks the line pretty well...Still, there are moments when he briefly returns to his natural gift for storytelling, and they’re the most powerful passages in the book ... To its occasional loss, Apeirogon resists the narrative model, opting instead for an open-ended approach, rhizomatic and searching. Of all contemporary subjects, Israel might be the one for which this choice is most justified, so intricate is its tragic history.
Horacio Castellanos Moya
RaveThe New York TimesThe brilliance of Mr. Castellanos Moya’s new novel, easily his best to appear in English so far, lies in how steadfastly it refuses to deploy those old tricks. In fact it often seems like a meditation on that refusal, edging toward the fantastic and then pulling back to offer credible ways — a bad hangover, a lost memory — to explain its characters’ disorientation. The result is a superbly flexible work: realistically enough plotted to ask for our whole involvement in its story, yet still full of the moments of slippage and dissociation that magical realism is so adept at evoking ... Erasmo obsesses primarily over his own problems, in flights of neurosis, fluidly translated by Katherine Silver, that are more reminiscent of the funny, self-loathing heroes of Philip Roth and Ralph Ellison than of any grimmer Latin American antecedent ... It has the intense aliveness of great fiction, the kind that gives human particularity to circumstances for which our sympathy might otherwise remain mostly notional.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...what makes the book so good isn\'t exactly its story. It\'s the voice, which is present right there in the title, with its sense, partly Canadian perhaps, perhaps also partly Mennonite, of self-deferral. It\'s a voice that acknowledges the immensity of the world, and how consequently one\'s own problems matter at once so little and so much ... Wit can\'t wholly conceal the chief flaw of All My Puny Sorrows, which is aimlessness; if you have no real plot, your book should probably either be brief or really, really brilliant. This one is longish and maybe only really brilliant. But who cares? The experience of it is profound, and to leave it is to leave a world real enough that you feel it will continue on without you.
RaveAltaIt’s a very good book, but those are around. It’s a very good commentary on contemporary politics, but those are around too, even if it takes some sifting. What Locke does so expertly is to bring the personal and the political into balance, without ever, for an instant, sacrificing one to the other. She doesn’t ask her characters, many of them black, to be anything but themselves. That means they are on occasion spectacular or awful, on occasion deceptive or heroic, and frequently somewhere in the muddle in between (the place where most of us live). At the same time, they very definitely live political lives, because when your skin is dark in America, your existence is political of sad, choiceless necessity. The result is profound: a novel about crime, politics, and race whose first and only allegiance is to the real human texture of life. You could wish we lived in a culture (of arts, of politics) in which that didn’t feel special or unusual. But as Locke makes clear in numerous subtle ways throughout the book, we don’t, and we may be getting farther away from it rather than closer ... Locke is a writer gifted and discerning enough to make that debate seem meaningless.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewLike Lydia Davis, [Schjeldhal] writes with remarkable tensile beauty and closeness of observation ... With artist after artist in Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, Schjeldahl arrives at some similarly unexpected yet exacting truth ... He has the ability to freeze an artist cold in a line, not through aphorism, which implies a slinking away from the specific, but with meticulous, writerly precision ... what separates Schjeldahl is the tangible sense in nearly every piece in this book — say 85 of the 100 — that something existential is at stake as he writes. The same sensation is present in Barthes and Sontag ... Schjeldahl seems to find in art the unmediated experiences of living — humor, anger, sadness, perplexity, beauty, sex. He is especially moving when moved, himself, to reverence ... I know that art is only a small part of living, but it’s also true that there are people whose makeshift faith lies in the best things human beings have made. Schjeldahl grants those artifacts a corresponding dignity, with all the meaning we knew they had but could not describe ourselves. It’s astonishing; it astonishes.
PositiveNewsdayOrringer is a blue-chip writer ... [her] books are of the kind invariably reviewed using the same small cachet of words: rich, sweeping, ambitious, heartfelt, exquisite. To her credit, Orringer earns them all. She’s a superb researcher, a natural storyteller and a clear writer. The Flight Portfolio is in a style I think of as high-unimpeachable, difficult but riskless, with only safe little darting flights of flamboyance ... But...one might begin to wonder about the idea of genius ... You might start by asking why so many geniuses have been white men, for instance ... But those difficulties aren’t within Orringer’s range ... The Flight Portfolio constructs...a satisfying and commanding novel. Yet the farther we get from living memory of the war, perhaps the less the novels about it...should be quite so rich, so sweeping, so satisfying.
MixedUSA TodayThis elliptical technique will seem original only to people who don\'t pay close attention to literary fiction; most notably, for me, it closely borrows the contours of one of the greatest novels of the past few decades, Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison. But it\'s very effective ... Though Dept. of Speculation remains economical after [its] pivot – it\'s a short book – it\'s no longer the light-footed marvel it was at its beginning. Instead its emotions are at once so intense and the marital situation that drives them so prosaic that the book becomes a kind of sodden lump. The occasional fun fact that still sneaks in is no longer enough to leaven so much raw sorrow ... Offill is a poetic, piercing writer, and readers who share her experiences either of motherhood or of a troubled union may find resonance in her pained recollection of both. The rest of us will have to settle – and it\'s not a bad bargain – for the appealing flights outside the story, the valiant onslaught of ironies with which Offill attempts, in the end not quite successfully, to achieve distance from her claustrophobic narrative.
MixedThe Washington Post\"There are moments of such lyric beauty in The Parisian, Isabella Hammad’s debut novel, that you want what they describe to be permanently closed, hers to be the final word ... The Parisian is worthy, sincere, generous — and grievously dull, a tale whose flares of energy are buried beneath a gnarled, inexpert narrative. Nearly halfway into the book, there is a description of black coffee trembling and flashing in the sunlight. As an image, it has a swift, beautiful clarity of expression — which by then only serves to highlight the long-windedness of the story surrounding it ... The Parisian is complex in a way few experienced writers could handle, and its catalogue of technical missteps is long. (Nearly every one of its chapters could beneficially be halved, for example. Hammad has tenuous control of point of view. And if only we could permanently retire the pocketwatch as a symbol of time and hardship.) But it also has a close grasp of history, and the high quality of its writing never fades. The problem is simpler than any of that, really: Hammad has yet to develop any skill for character. The people she creates are so taxonomically familiar as to be basically blank...\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewOne of those books that actually start around Page 75 — a bit dull, then all at once enthralling ... Harper’s books succeed in part because she conveys how even now, geography can be fate. Heat and empty space in her work defeat modernity, defeat logic, technology and even love, throwing us back upon our irreducible selves. By the time she reveals the (brilliantly awful) back story about Nathan’s banishment from the few human comforts of Balamara — the pub, for example — the reader feels frantic for their restoration ... The final pages of The Lost Man are somewhat predictable, but Harper is skillful enough, a prickly, smart, effective storyteller, that it doesn’t matter. She’s often cynical, but always humane. Book by book, she’s creating her own vivid and complex account of the outback, and its people who live where people don’t live.
PositiveUSA Today\"... Child’s book... [is] sinuous, tight and addictive ... What ensues is a pair of entwined stories, handled with adroit calm by Child, each of which lets Reacher use his unique skills as a brilliant former military cop to investigate them: Sherlock Holmes set to ultraviolent mode. Child has his own flaws. There’s often a distracting sameness to the logic-driven interior lives of his characters, and Reacher’s incursion into that odd Laconia hotel directly recycles much of the dark web material of Child’s superb Make Me from 2015, a series highlight. But the concision, procedural chops and terse, surprising action of Past Tense make it a fantastic read.\
PositiveUSA Today\"What ensues [in the novel] is, for Connelly, a fairly meandering and uncertain story of [Bosch and Ballard\'s] ad hoc partnership ... The difficulty is that Bosch is a character so well known to readers that Ballard teeters between deference and independence in Dark Sacred Night, a little at loose ends. You wish he’d given the character one more book of her own. Fortunately, by the end of their collaboration Connelly hits his stride.\
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
RaveThe Washington Post...immersive, repetitive, big-hearted ... As is often the case in Murakami’s fiction, a plot of relative simplicity ... This stuff is very Murakami. Killing Commendatore repeats almost exactly, for example, the descent through a well to a magical world that occurs in his earlier novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle ... Killing Commendatore gets the balance right ... In long, powerful passages, Murakami describes painting with the intensity of what seems like just-concealed autobiography.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken
MixedSlateWhen Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic of the quotidian works, it’s majestic. When it’s about Hitler, it’s jaw-droppingly bad ... Given all that, it may come as a surprise to some readers that the sixth, longest, and last book of My Struggle is primarily a biography of Adolf Hitler ... a sharp and truly strange turn (via a confused reading of a poem by Paul Celan) into his maddening, frequently fascinating account of Hitler’s early years ... What he has allowed himself is an absolute orgy of interpolation, of style, of insight (\'insight\'), as if he has expressly set out to recant the choices that made the prior installments of My Struggle unique. The trouble is that he seemingly hasn’t also recanted his freehanded method of composition—instead, he has turned it loose on the Holocaust, a subject that should demand of a writer heroic rigor, heroic precision ... In 1,200 pages, there’s room for an absolutely enormous number of bad ideas, and Knausgaard talks his way into every category of them ... there’s also pretentious historicizing from thin knowledge ... The tremendous irony there is how many readers have so completely identified with him, a random Norwegian halfway across the planet. The long and painful middle section of this book tries to make Knausgaard’s idea overt...by humanizing not just any figure, but Hitler ... For the first time, Knausgaard’s least sophisticated accusers are right: This is the arrogance, grandiosity, and laziness of a loudmouthed white man who insists he’s worth 4,000 pages of your time ... Maybe no novelist has ever been superior to Knausgaard in describing the difference between the heightened clearness of purpose of childhood ... If there is a unique magic to his work, it is the restoration of at least a glimmer of the great and shiningly obvious place that we might occupy in our own lives.
RaveChicago TribuneThe effect of McGregor’s dispassionate descriptive method is first disconcerting, then uncanny, and finally magnificent ... This is part of the offhand skill of The Reservoir Tapes. We’re used to stories in which a single fatal moment radiates outward, but McGregor is interested, rather, in the inverse, inspecting how incidental a tragedy can become to the life of a village after its first moments of gossipy tension and excitement ... it’s clear that McGregor, working from subtle materials, has become a major writer. The Reservoir Tapes is further confirmation of it.
Katherine J Chen
PositiveNewsdayIn Mary B, she [Mary Bennet] narrates herself into being. Her defining trait is her lack of beauty ... But her inner life, as Chen imagines it, is exceedingly rich—a bit prim at the outset but evolving rapidly as she gains experience. Eventually she becomes what might seem inconceivable, given her origins: a lover, multiple times ... Mary B is a book that aims first to illuminate what it’s like to be unbeautiful, overlooked, and yet to feel love as passionately as the beautiful do. But it also hopes to refract the characters we’re sure we know so intimately from Pride and Prejudice ... There’s a strong hint of fan fiction to Mary’s fairly rapid trek toward a second and a third love, including a riotously joyful initiation into her sexuality. Chen is also an erratic ventriloquist. Sometimes she finds a true Austenian pitch...but elsewhere she misses it badly. More complicated, her readings of Austen’s characters can be weak ... Yet for all that, Mary’s narration is a heedless downhill pleasure—plush, ironic and illuminating.
Dag Solstad, Trans. by Tiina Nunnally
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn his [Solstad\'s] world, every person is a machine for making a vast array of random facts cohere. The fragility of that state both terrifies and obsesses him ... In prose fittingly unbroken by the consoling narrative endpoints and fresh starts of chapter breaks, Solstad moves Singer through the decades that follow his arrival in Notodden ... There’s nothing to hold in T Singer, which is what makes it so dismaying—neither the madness of Knut Hamsun, nor the ludicrousness of Cesar Aira, nor the misanthropy of Thomas Bernhard, nor the tenderness of Philip Roth ... The only consistency in Singer’s life is his bewilderment at it, his conviction that his circumstances have nothing to do with him ... All of the whispers have been right: Solstad is a vital novelist ... riveting, restlessly searching out new shapes ... \'If you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how,\' Nietzsche said. But what if, like Singer, you don’t? ... How rare and terrible it feels to encounter truly unsentimental art.
Dag Solstad, Trans. by Steven T. Murray
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewArmand V is very definitely political, as much of Solstad’s early work apparently was, and it’s his worst mode; the book concludes with a scene in which an American diplomat’s head transforms into a pig’s head, a piece of subtlety that would make Dan Brown blush ... I was initially resistant to the trick that Armand V is written entirely in footnotes to a nonexistent novel, precisely the kind of facile experimentation still treated too reverently in criticism. But as I read on I realized that Solstad’s footnotes actually are innovative, for the way they bear out his disturbing idea that adult life is merely a succession of footnotes to youth. Those footnotes aren’t a cute trick, in other words. They deepen his themes ... All of the whispers have been right: Solstad is a vital novelist. Armand V is a lesser work than T. Singer, and neither can match the astonishment of Shyness and Dignity ... all three are riveting, restlessly searching out new shapes to confront their author’s ongoing subject of absolute existential doubt.
PositiveThe New York Times... Truhen’s narrator is Jack Price. \'I am Uber for illegal drugs,\' he reports. \'I’m infrastructure. I’m substrate. I don’t make waves and I am polite. There’s no collateral from what I do. None at all. When they decriminalize — and they will — I will go from here to there without doing anything except sending Forbes a press release.\' ... Or so he thinks. A cranky old woman is murdered in the apartment below his, and Jack grows edgy, wondering whether his smoothly corporatized cocaine distribution network is in peril. Setting out to investigate, he very rapidly and pointlessly unleashes hell upon himself in the form of the Seven Demons, a team of maniacal assassins who arrive en masse to murder him ... The Price You Pay, a slim, superbly intelligent, intensely vicious panorama of white-collar drug world mayhem by Aidan Truhn.
PositiveUSA TodayIf you plan on reading Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters hoping to engage in a deep discussion with the author regarding the themes and characters presented in the novel, you may be disappointed ... Only four of the 17 chapters are devoted to placing Mockingbird in its literary context and answering why the novel matters ... In the end, [Santopietro\'s book] is probably a book for acolytes of Harper Lee’s renowned novel, which is not a bad thing.
Debra Jo Immergut
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewA swift, clever two-hander ... For a writer with a literary pedigree, Immergut is a surprisingly awkward stylist, but she’s found the genre in which her sense of pacing and character readily excuse that weakness... Immergut, perhaps to her credit but to her novel’s disadvantage, can’t quite commit to real, unredeemed malevolence — but it gets there quickly and surely.
Tara Isabella Burton
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSharp as a shard of broken mirror... a formidable burlesque by Tara Isabella Burton. Her obvious model is Patricia Highsmith\'s Tom Ripley [but] Burton\'s tale has a great deal to say about the very tangible conventions of our time. Its superb dialogue and cutting sense of humor help it glide irresistibly toward the unnerving moment when Louise has to decide whether to kill again.
Jo Nesbø, Trans. by Don Bartlett
PanUSA Today...if I had to pick one novel never to read again, it would be this one, a mammoth, self-satisfied, simple-minded wildebeest, creeping its petty pace across nearly 500 endless pages toward conclusions that are never in doubt ... Nesbø the stylist is vague, dull, moralizing and trite ... Nesbø’s success has lain in transporting the silly clichés of noir to Norway and presenting them as darkly authentic. There it works, sort of, as we wait to see what happens. In Macbeth, it signifies — well, nothing.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneMany of its characters stay doggedly out of focus. It’s far more assured as a work of historical fiction than it is when it moves into the last few decades; despite moments of power, it never quite coheres ... In its later stages The Sparsholt Affair becomes an odd object. It is overwhelmingly sad but its pointed use of time’s diminutions is not rendered as poignantly as in The Stranger’s Child ... But his unparalleled gift for observation sustains this novel where its plot and mission jag.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"Winter is not quite as powerful as Autumn, a more focused book, but they are both consistently breathtaking. Despite their ethereal titles, they’re quite grounded, especially in politics (Autumn was partially a furious response to Brexit) and art (each weaves a female artist, Pauline Boty and Barbara Hepworth respectively, into its story). In the reappearance of one character from Autumn, Smith also hints at her larger design. It left me impatient for Spring … Winter is Smith’s angriest book. ‘There was always a furious intolerance at work in the world no matter when or where in history,’ she writes. For those of us living out this winter in fear and rage, watching Twitter, reading notifications, how dreadful and true that seems. But Smith’s brilliance is that...she always doubles back for another meaning.\
Ursula K. Le Guin
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"...[an] erudite, witty and (dread word) wise new collection ... There are essential pieces here on the nature of fantasy and the genesis of the utopian and dystopian novels ... \'Sometimes I notice a teenager in the family group,\' she writes early in the book, \'present in body — smiling, polite, apparently attentive — but absent. I think, I hope she has found an interstice, made herself some spare time, and is alone there, deep down there, thinking, feeling.\' What a lovely moment of sympathy, of attention. Deep down there: that is where Le Guin has taken readers for decade after decade, and where, these essays show, she is capable of taking them still.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"Now is the moment to appreciate that she is here, in our midst: our country’s own Alice Munro … Improvement is more certainly a novel, belonging first and last to a single mother named Reyna living in Harlem, though it alights briefly, like a songbird, in the lives of numerous other characters … What’s hard to convey is the riverine naturalness of Silber’s style. Like Grace Paley and Lucia Berlin, she’s a master of talking a story past its easiest meaning; like Munro, a master of the compression and dilation of time, what time and nothing else can reveal to people about themselves. She has an American voice.\
Edward St. Aubyn
PanThe Chicago Tribune...a flimsy, antic, disappointing adaptation of King Lear. Like a meteorite, it contains trace elements of its fiery origins, trace elements of brilliance; but it arrives to us inert, just barely smoking ... Take Dunbar's daughters, Abigail, Megan and Florence, the characters that most plainly expose the book's shortcomings. Abigail and Megan are mere psychopaths, farcically violent, both in need of 'ever-escalating doses of perversion to stimulate their jaded appetites.' Florence is correspondingly one-dimensional, a noble cypher ... Our idolatry of Shakespeare can feel overblown until you encounter an adaptation like this; every competition is lost as it's begun.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneWhich is all a way of saying, I suppose, that it's worth paying serious attention to The Buried Giant, Ishiguro's first novel in 10 years. That's not an easy thing; this one's an odd one ... Taken on its own, the story is unpersuasive. Of course, it's allegory, a mode in which Ishiguro has never worked so definitely... it's not his strongest subject, and as a result The Buried Giant isn't his strongest work. Its action is too pointedly moralistic, and the author's unique, weightless prose is more effective when he's dealing in personal rather than in civic memory ... Effortlessly, almost incidentally, the conversation creates an entire field of unspoken meaning, illuminating the kind of elusive truths about love, time, death and memory that other novelists have to strain even to brush.
RaveUSA Today...a rich, brilliant, capacious historical novel ... Egan has every gift a writer can possess, and like all of her work Manhattan Beach is radiant with intelligence, special simply because it’s by her ... Manhattan Beach is, radically, a book without radical impulse. An ironist might be suspicious of its concerns: parting, loss, family, war. But perhaps it’s mostly young novelists who burn to remake the world. Egan, at 55, has turned her virtuosic skills toward recapturing it. The result is moving, mournful, and often profound.
PositiveUSA Today...a great detective novel: sharp, immensely readable, warm-hearted but cool-headed, with a solution worthy of the immaculately plotted Harry Potter series … Rowling tells her story in quick, darting, entertaining chapters, populated with dozens of memorable characters. The writer she most resembles to me is Charles Dickens: like him, she has prodigious, otherworldly gifts of invention, and like him she has a fierce satirical instinct, having used Galbraith to skewer first the paparazzi and now the publishing world.
PositiveUSA TodayIn The Cuckoo's Calling, a detective novel that Rowling published under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, she returns to the strengths that made Harry Potter great — the beautiful sense of pacing, the deep but illusionless love for her characters... Rowling's hero is Cormoran Strike, a shaggy, oversized private detective with a brilliant mind and a disintegrating personal life ... His task is to investigate the death, seemingly a suicide, of a Kate Moss-like model, Lula Landry ... As the novel races to its finish, the truth materializes in a series of excellent twists ...presses too hard on the theme of fame in the tabloid era — not an unworthy subject, but stale by now and without fresh treatment here ...shows that all great fiction — even if it only concerns our workaday world — has its own kind of magic.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe book's plot is simple. Tsukuru, its title character, is a designer of train stations, successful but with a strong sense of disconnection from his self — a powerful feeling of absence, or colorlessness ... Murakami's books may move within the banal dream of adult life, but their homeward pull is toward youth ... As Tsukuru tracks down his friends, this enables the author to ask very basic questions with new freshness: What makes a person? What was the past? And where did it go? ... Tsukuru's pilgrimage will never end, because he is moving constantly away from his destination, which is his old self. This is a narrow poignancy, but a powerful one, and Murakami is its master.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"...you will either like Perrotta\'s new novel Mrs. Fletcher a lot, or else you will like it a lot and also loathe it a little bit at the same time. Those are your only options; it\'s such a charismatic, intelligent book that even when you feel its author consciously (cynically?) examining cultural fault lines — transgender identity, rape, autism — you never want to stop reading ... To his credit, nearly all of Perrotta\'s books have a great female character at their heart, and Eve is another. She\'s smart and brave, her vulnerability forcing her into acts of courage ... That\'s the paradox of Perrotta\'s work. When he\'s most eager to tell us who we are, he occasionally falters, whereas in his more realistic, less topical moods, he stands on a par with our finest writers of popular literary fiction.\
MixedThe New York Times Book Review[Blauner's] garrulousness salvages a story that’s only intermittently engaging ... They converge from different angles on the same possible perp, who is, alas, catastrophically easy to spot. Luckily the people who fall for Proving Ground will care far more about its voice, filled with moments of surprising New York stoop-sitting joy. Blauner is a bad-ball hitter — he’ll miss on an easy description, overwriting Dresden’s widow for instance, but then capture with beautiful easy precision, for instance, a flash of dialogue between cops, who talk skells and Rockefeller time, 'flip tin,' banter at each other to signal that they care ... Blauner’s fable seems truer to its emotional beats, Natty and Lourdes powerfully real in their lucid, disillusioned idealism.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...subtle, brilliant and mature ... Two elements make Dionne’s book so superb. The first is its authenticity. There’s a strain in the contemporary American novel defined by a knowledge of nature that feels intimate, real and longitudinal, connected to our country’s past...The second is the corresponding authenticity of Helena’s emotions about her father, painfully revisited and refined as she tracks him ... In its balance of emotional patience and chapter-by-chapter suspense, The Marsh King’s Daughter is about as good as a thriller can be.
PanThe Washington Post...the book is essentially a write-off. To begin with, it’s a thriller without thrills. The parents’ pursuit of their children is hysterical but static, mistaking emotion for action, while the children’s experience itself is implausible and dull ... These may seem like technical problems, but in fact they spring from the book’s bedrock failure, which lies in its design, its desultory attempts at bigness, at significance ... Again and again, Do Not Become Alarmed trots out a vague sense of social responsibility, while focusing emotionally on a handful of nervous Americans. There’s something ugly about that; the whole project, in a way, replicates the colonialism it deplores.
RaveThe Washington PostAnthony Horowitz’s sleek, fun, cunning new novel is a complex reckoning with Christie’s immense popularity, and what it says about us as readers ... a flawless imitation of the Golden Age mysteries of Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham ... Horowitz captures Christie’s uncanny ability to glide at lark’s height over a village’s inhabitants, exposing their little weaknesses, dreams, secrets; everyone, even if it’s not murder, is guilty of something ... Each of the narratives in Magpie Murders is engaging and fluid, each with its own charm, though Horowitz’s joyful act of Christie ventriloquism is, in particular, spectacularly impressive.
PositiveUSA Today...probably the most well-informed and clarifying book that has emerged from the Lee-industrial complex ... This closeness grants credibility to the information Flynt offers about Lee’s final years and final publication, so that while it’s a short book, it appears to answer several difficult questions ... More than half of Mockingbird Songs is comprised of the professor’s own letters, which, depending on your perspective, will either seem gracious, witty and Christian, or unctuous, calculated and personage-collecting ... Mockingbird Songs contains just enough information, just enough of Lee herself, just enough, taken all in all, to transcend its equivocal participation in the ugly and no doubt unfinished fallout of its subject’s final years.
PanThe Chicago TribuneThere are mica-glints of beauty everywhere in it, the author's voice eccentric, funny, enormously intelligent ... But Batuman also attempts to make The Idiot the kind of novel that tells a story — sort of, anyway, the story of a young woman's first year at Harvard, and the story isn't good at all. The effect is half-ruinous, a skilled writer forcing herself into the contours of a weak book. It would be hard to regret reading it; harder still to read it a second time ... the second half of the book, it falls apart. Selin goes to teach English in Hungary, and her account of it is interminable. I kept willing The Idiot to lurch forward a year, even a month, to offer a surprise. Instead it marches grimly on, as if in tribute to some forgotten army from the country where it's set ... In general, in fact, Batuman has no gift whatsoever for character, at least not one that's evident here, the Svetlanas and Bills and Ferns as blurry in their outlines as your own freshman-year acquaintances probably are to you ... Batuman finds herself trapped between mocking her autobiography and cherishing it ... [an] honorable defeat, its unforgettable spikes of truth embedded in a wasted plot.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIt's remarkable ... If Lincoln in the Bardo were only the polyphonic narrative of Oak Hill's residents, it would be a beguiling book...But its truly transcendent moments begin when, just as Willie himself is going to disperse, his father, the president, strides into the cemetery alone in the middle of the night ... profound, funny and vital, a meditation on loss and power, every bit as good as Tenth of December. The work of a great writer.
PositiveUSA TodayThe Girl Before has major faults. It leans hard on one of my least favorite tropes in genre fiction, the 'My, you look strikingly like the previous Mrs. (insert name)!' that has been unavoidable since Rebecca, but should be permanently retired to Manderley. Jane’s backstory, involving a stillbirth, feels similarly cliché. The word 'Girl' is in the title. Most significantly, the mystery’s solution is an implausible mess. Yet for all that, the book has a great deal to recommend it. Delaney has created a genuinely eerie, fascinating setting in One Folgate Street, a house that radiates Monkford’s controlling presence ... Emma, who is somewhat unstable and also self-aware enough to understand how and why, is a fascinating character. The novel’s structure, volleying back and forth as first Emma and then Jane begin to question their improbable luck, is beautifully handled. The pages fly ... Its ending doesn’t erase the pleasure of its first three-quarters and its digressions on police procedure, anorexia, technology and starchitects feel well-researched and solidly founded, never improvised or flimsy. It’s worth a few hours of idle pleasure.
PositiveNewsday\"Few authors are consistently great, and to judge Auster by the intermittent failure of his tricks is to forget his first and most significant gift: for storytelling. It’s present in fierce abundance in 4 3 2 1, his huge, absorbing, moving new novel, which, at nearly 900 pages and coming after a silence of seven years, feels like a bid to re-enter the first tier of American authors ... 4 3 2 1 is far too long, and its prose, though chatty and readable, is often amateurish. On the other hand, his company from line to line is a joy, and each of Archie’s four destinies, stories spilling across stories, is genuinely engaging ... Such novels have always had obvious faults, but they could also be magnificent. To me it felt weirdly moving to read this final artifact of the grand old male narcissism — one last time, four more times.\
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...a smart, tight, occasionally tiresome novel ... Mr. Ellis made his reputation in graphic novels, and Normal has many of that genre’s virtues — efficiency of storytelling, a kinship with the peripheral and the strange. His writing is absolutely alive, unflattened by fear of errors, which means that there are errors but also that there are lines of descriptive brilliance on every page ... How much you love Normal will depend on whether you can tolerate its portentousness, which sometimes makes it feel as if you’re listening to a stoner hold court at a kegger ... Mr. Ellis is fascinating when he glances at an idea but tedious, at least to me, when he begins to pontificate.
RaveUSA Today...[a] smart, agile, good-natured account of one of America’s most famous literary brawls ... On one level this is a farce. On another, which Beam wisely allows to suggest itself in this knowledgeable and readable volume, it is a sort of minor tragedy — two men, driven to literature at least in part by feelings of insecurity and loss, found and then lost to each other in that same refuge. The Feud brilliantly contours both Wilson and Nabokov in their human rage against each other, places them finely in their milieu, and ultimately elicits in us what each, so profoundly prideful, would have least wished to have from posterity: pity.
PositiveUSA Today...an engrossing new novel ... Meyer’s heart is still in Forks, Washington, despite the change of genre. Her millions of readers will be happy ... There are a hundred objections you could make to The Chemist. Its biggest twist is visible from space. It’s full of the same daffy blitheness toward blood and pain that always made the Twilight books unsettling, at least to me. Alex’s foes within the government never quite come into focus in the third act, one lesson she didn’t take from Baldacci or Child. But Meyer is also just a really good storyteller. The Chemist is consistently fast-paced fun.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...for 100 pages or so the book careens forward, drawing the death of a local prostitute and a group of German nationalists into its engaging search. There, however, it stumbles. Child gives away too much, too soon, a rare unforced error for this series, and more significantly Reacher seems strangely out of place in a military investigation ... When he’s battling a corrupt private military firm, the terse, forceful prose with which Child describes him serves to confirm Reacher’s toughness and credibility. But when he’s battling a jihadist group, that same tone seems like little more than a shrewder variety of fakeness, a subtler posturing.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...exceptionally entertaining ... There’s something reptilian in Lasdun’s gaze, a coldblooded interest in furtiveness, in the lithe selfishness of the genteel. The Fall Guy reads like early Ian McEwan or late Patricia Highsmith ... Lasdun is masterly in his story’s construction. His clues never seem like clues until they bind tightly around one of the three leads. This is exactly what a literary thriller should be: intelligent, careful, swift, unsettling. Its author deserves to find more readers on these shores.
PanUSA Today[We get] are the ingredients of a good thriller. They’re just presented in mystifying order. Grisham’s last big narrative flashpoint comes about a third of the way into the book, and from there, it’s only a matter of tying bows on the plotline. Without any tension, it’s inoffensive but also uninteresting ... Grisham’s legal knowledge is impressive, and his ability to convey it unparalleled in popular fiction. But that’s not enough to sustain a novel without suspense.
Martin Cruz Smith
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Girl From Venice is a classy, lightweight affair, agile in its handling of action, smooth in its writing, thoroughly professional. For a long time I couldn’t decide whether it was a passable novel or a very, very bad one. I think, alas, that it’s the latter. The problem is its bone-deep complacency. It’s a book that has completely internalized the lessons of popular war fiction ... every gesture of midcentury Romanticism in The Girl From Venice is a received one, repackaged and presented as the most profound wisdom...It feels cheap.
MixedUSA TodayIts good parts justify its bad parts, and its bad parts are awful enough that they’re never boring. Not uninteresting lodgings, if you can handle a little unpredictability.
RaveUSA Today...[a] masterful, urgent new book ... a tragic, disturbing necessity: that describes the feeling of The Underground Railroad. The book has imperfections – Ridgeway’s gang brushes just up against kitsch, for instance – but these imperfections overwhelmed by its immense vitality ...one of the finest novels written about our country’s still unabsolved original sin.
Ben H. Winters
MixedUSA Today...a swift, smart, angry new novel ... as a feat of world-building, Underground Airlines is astonishing, immediately taking its place in the genre’s very first rank. Its success lies in the accumulation of subtle details, whose unintrusive presence gradually give the book its own, powerful reality, at once completely familiar and completely alien ... [Victor's] journey is supposed to be epic, but many of its big turns are anticlimactic, and Winters never truly develops the idea of an underground movement that he initially promises. It’s a strangely underpopulated novel, too, and doesn’t quite succeed in integrating Jim’s personal history with the mystery he’s solving. But its vibrant imagination never slackens, and its savage attunement to the evil of slavery feels important, in a moment when our cultural focus is on the black community, which traces so many of its difficulties to our nation’s original sin.
PositiveUSA TodayThis could be appallingly didactic, but Barkskins is miles from that. That’s because its characters are never one-dimensional — even the worst of them are complex, their greed often driven by insecurity and loss, their individual lives too brief for them to apprehend the full scope of their collective destructiveness. Nobody is at fault; everybody is at fault. The cigarette companies are full of wonderful mothers and fathers ... Barkskins is masterful, full of an urgent, tense lyricism, its plotting beautifully unexpected, its biographical narratives flowing into one another like the seasons ... It’s not that Barkskins is perfect — some of the later eras she describes feel rushed and sketchy — but that it’s so consistently vital.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewVyleta is a skilled, inventive writer, and his idea here is inspired; in its initial burst of creative energy, Smoke is headily like the fiction of David Mitchell or Michel Faber. Unfortunately, the novel’s strong premise is betrayed almost immediately by problems of both storytelling and world-building, which are first distracting, then grave and finally fatal. The plot is the more serious of Vyleta’s difficulties. It seems badly underthought — too compressed in time, inexcusably dependent on contrivance and coincidence — and its intricate strands, tracking smokeless savages and hidden shipboard compartments and mad schoolmasters, never really cohere ... Vyleta is talented enough to fill Smoke with plenty of good scenes and good writing, all the way through. But his novel never attains its own reality.
PositiveUSA TodayBy the end of this brief and beautiful book, we don't know precisely whether the change was real or imagined; nor does it matter, because of course the accident of skin color and the penalties that can come with it aren't 'real,' either. Morrison also has a secondary theme, the sexual abuse of children, though it's sketchier and less successful than her handling of race ... In all, though, God Save the Child is superb, its story gliding along the tracks of Morrison's utterly assured prose.
PanUSA TodayRudd is supposed to be one of those superficially unlikeable heroes we end up loving. Instead he’s just…unlikeable ... [Rogue Lawyer characters are not paper-thin, because paper is as thick as a thick, juicy steak compared to them ... Even by Grisham’s inconsistent standards, Rogue Lawyer is a weak novel. And yet I couldn’t stop reading it. That’s because of the quality that saves Grisham from himself again and again, which is how relentlessly interesting he is when he’s writing about the law. Each of Rudd’s clients, from the victim of a raid by an absurdly militarized police team to a death row inmate trying to beat the needle, showcases the author’s magical trait, which is his ability to find intense drama in the little skirmishes that play out across our legal system every day.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe result of this premise is something that I'm not quite sure DeLillo has ever produced until now, at 79 — a masterpiece...Zero K is excellent in many ways: it's full of DeLillo's amazing inimitable scalpel perceptions; it's fluent in the ideas we'll be talking about 20 years from now; and it reads like a book a millennial could have written. Given that its author is nearly 80, that's dumbfounding. But the book's most satisfying element isn't its high standard of execution, it's the slight feeling of unbending in it, the scope and generosity of its conclusions.
PanUSA TodayThere’s a heartfelt author’s note at the end of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, the new novel by Chris Cleave, about his grandparents, who inspired the book. It’s touching and engaging; the tale that precedes it, unfortunately, is a flavorless replica of dozens of others, offering us the same shattered glass, the same air raid sirens, the same soldiers on foreign soil ... Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is mawkish and manipulative and cutesy; its first half is punishingly boring; its minor characters, from a dyslexic young black American to a stammering Army pal, are each little factories for producing melodrama. Yet somehow, for all this, Cleave’s novel finally did begin to work its way under my skin. He’s an undeniably skillful writer, fluid, clever, and often graceful.
RaveNewsdayLee is a wonderful writer; High Dive a novel with extraordinary qualities. The trouble is that, however much you might will yourself to, you don’t fall in love with qualities. It takes the whole person — and I could only ever fall in like with High Dive. There are two principal reasons for that, and both are the pitfalls of this particular brand of cool realism. The first is that Lee has written a largely static book, whose method of close scrutiny can make for ponderous reading...The second failing of High Dive is its guardedness.
PanThe Chicago Tribune[Spiotta's] prose in Innocents and Others veers between the superb and the insipid ... In this new book Spiotta's ideas seem to precede her characters and their emotions. It makes for an anemic, aimless narrative ... And yet, for all that, I felt glad at the end of Innocents and Others that Spiotta had written it. The recent fashions in fiction have favored fine-tuned varieties of realism, from Franzen to Knausgaard to Ferrante. Spiotta, by contrast, remains unswervingly committed to ideas — of spectatorship and simulation, of the potential aloneness of the never-being-alone of modern culture.
PositiveUSA TodayNovey’s scattershot plotting is reminiscent of Paul Auster in his weaker tales, with madcap gangsterish encounters suddenly producing, unconvincingly, real and terrible consequences. But she offsets that fault with moments of sly, lovely writing, many of them exploring the nature of a translator’s odd invisible art, and in Raquel, Beatriz’s hard-bitten daughter, she has created a heart-rending portrait of the price someone always ends up paying for genius.
MixedUSA TodayWhere My Heart Used to Beat is a funny book. It has wonderful strengths, especially Faulks’ lucid, philosophical voice, and it’s filled with scenes of genuine power, particularly those set in battles. On the other hand, its large gestures, including Robert and Luisa’s affair and Pereira’s slow-burning revelations about Robert’s father, never quite cohere into anything as believable as the tales in Birdsong or A Possible Life, the author pressing toward poignancy rather than letting it emerge from his story.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneThe moments like this one...have remarkable power...But in less charged passages, that style can become monotonous, or even (he whispered, quietly) self-serious. The terse, dashed dialogue, the black-and-white photographs reminiscent of Sebald or Berger or Barthes — these are signifiers of the authentic, and therefore faintly inauthentic, unworthy of so indisputably authentic a person.