PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksIn A Promised Land, the first volume of Barack Obama’s projected two-volume presidential memoirs, we are reminded again and again — and not by the author, because some part of him would consider it unseemly — that the one thing the first African American president could not do was appear to be \'too Black\' ... The frustration of those constraints emerges stealthily in A Promised Land ... A Promised Land makes a strong case for politics as the art of the possible — precisely the case that progressives don’t want to hear ... we are talking about a striving, not an accomplishment. This is what I find so moving about A Promised Land, a book animated by its author’s glorious phrase, \'An America that could explain me.\' No one who hopes to effect any kind of positive change in this country is worth a damn without understanding the United States as both idea and promise, rather than dismissively rejecting either.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksIn her new stand-alone story, Mary Gaitskill is not so much hostile to ideology as impervious to it. For Gaitskill, reducing the complexity of situation or character in order to make a point is the job of a propagandist, not a writer. The qualities that make This Is Pleasure maddening — the feeling that the ground is constantly shifting beneath your feet, that the writer provides information that forces you to continually revise your views of the two characters telling the story — are the very things that mean Gaitskill is doing her job. They may also be the very thing that partisans on both sides of #MeToo, the subject of the story, will find intolerable ... Gaitskill is writing here beyond the hardened either-or parameters into which the public discussion of these issues has settled into post-Weinstein. That does not mean that the critic who admires Gaitskill’s choice is free to ignore the terms in which her book will be received and likely discussed. It demands we recognize that a writer refusing to accede to these terms is one who’s taking a chance ... simply by acting like a novelist in a time that encourages pamphleteering, Mary Gaitskill has acted bravely.
Michel Houellebecq, trans. by Frank Wayne
PositiveSalonSome critics have said that Houellebecq has written a novel of ideas -- a reliable way to scare off potential readers if ever there was one. What he has written is a novel of provocations -- sexual, cultural, political, racial. And even if you find half of them too simple, even when the philosophizing and theorizing that attend them grow tiresome, they have a hard rational core that demands they at least be grappled with ... The frequency of the sex in Platform is true to the burst of erotic energy that accompanies the beginning of any relationship ... There is irreducible truth in Platform and the satisfaction of seeing an author realize large ambitions without sacrificing his story.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksFor much of Edna O’Brien’s new novel, Girl, it is easy to imagine it has been written by its protagonist and narrator, one of the Northern Nigerian schoolgirls who in 2014 were kidnapped and held as slaves by Boko Haram. That it is written by an 88-year-old Irish novelist who has lived most of her life in Britain and knows something of repression borne out of religion from her own experience in her homeland is a serendipitous meeting of author and subject ... Ireland is never mentioned in Girl, but the book is the product of a writer thinking of misogyny as a global force, and what’s more a force able to reach the fanatic heights represented by Boko Haram because the misogyny of everyday life gives that fanaticism something in which to take root ... None of this is to imply that Girl is a screed instead of a novel. It would offend O’Brien’s sensibility to reduce literature to a message. Girl is a superb example what fiction is supposed to be: an act of empathetic imagination ... O’Brien is writing in the time of a new shibboleth, a time when some very vocal though not particularly bright people are insisting that it is an act of arrogance or bigotry or theft to write in the voice of someone other than yourself. It is, we are told, cultural appropriation, usually by those who haven’t yet figured out that culture is appropriation ... [O\'Brien\'s] defiance is not rebellion but fidelity to a deeper understanding of fiction ...Girl is Edna O’Brien saying, we must write — and read — about each other, or fiction will die.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books\"\'Fond\' is the word that kept coming to mind while reading Frederic Tuten’s My Young Life ... [The book\'s] footnotes comprise some of the finest writing in the book, sudden chill winds of mortality that blow through this account of a young man trying to find his footing as an artist, and as an adult ... Tuten’s [memoir], dry and tender, brings something I don’t think I’ve ever encountered in any other young man’s artistic coming-of-age ... Often [a certain] kind of honesty results in the memoirist making the reader embarrassed for him, making us feel we are in his skin living through each humiliation. Tuten’s memoir has none of that. And that too seems a mark of its balance, the maturity of someone who has learned to stop obsessing over youthful foibles...\
PositiveThe Barnes and Noble Book ReviewZeitz, an editor at Politico, has conceived of his book as a kind of political version of an NFL instant replay. Anyone reading it will learn who was involved in what decisions, the nature of each player’s relationship with LBJ, how they did or didn’t work together, and what it was about each player’s contribution, their foresight or shortsightedness, spelled success or failure ...a wonk’s book ...this is a book about the most colorful and profane and impassioned of presidents that has nothing in the way of humor or drama — or, for that matter, good common dirt ... Zeitz’s interests are not those of a storyteller, a prober of the nation’s soul, or even a psychobiographer of the president at the heart of these changes. Even with only a little more than 300 pages of text, Building the Great Society has the feel of someone filling out an evaluation.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksI was gobsmacked by that startling experience of finding a writer has put your private thoughts on the page ... As Nunez renders these feelings, this is the seduction of grief, the way it tempts you to isolation, the way it tempts you away from life itself ... Nunez’s gift to her narrator, to the narrator’s massive companion, and to the reader, is not to banish loss or pretend it can ever be banished, but to take in the warmth of the sun, the lap and sparkle of the water, to allow us the time and space to breathe with the realization that these treasures still exist, even in the face of death. The Friend is one of those rare novels that, in the end, makes your heart beat slower.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThis is a book in which the vastness of American ambition and dreaming can take your breath away and then, only a few lines later, make you tremble with the sense that we are always living a hair’s breadth away from catastrophe. Shadowbahn filled me with exultation and terror ... The novel keeps giving us these destabilizing instances where everything we know from the last 60 years of American history has been supplanted by the mediocre ... If this all sounds too fantastical, too theoretical to be a satisfying read, let me say that I’m a reader who has never stopped craving the construction and logic of plot. While I have often wondered at the specifics of a Steve Erickson novel, I have never wondered why I am reading what I am reading ... The beauty and terror of Steve Erickson’s novel is rooted in this moment but not chained to it, no more than Lincoln’s second inaugural has stayed limited to the Civil War. Shadowbahn is the novel of our current Civil War.