PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewKing weaves a story of adolescence with a sweetness at its heart—the touching and genuine relationship between Jamie and Tia. Therein lies the book’s strength. King captures in dialogue and description a sense of closeness, the specialness of those key years between childhood and teens, when your mom can be not just your parent but also your best friend and hero ... But this strength is also a liability. Despite its early assurance to the contrary, Later is like that movie with Bruce Willis. Beyond the superficial similarities (sensitive kid, single mother, talking to dead people), the emotional core of King’s story—in particular, the parent-child relationship at its center—is also reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s. Whereas the movie evokes depth of feeling through stillness and restraint, King’s novel is more effusive, stating things that could have remained unsaid. And while the earnestness is not necessarily unwelcome, especially given our young narrator, it has the effect of diluting the emotional power of that central relationship ... On a more granular level, King’s sentences snap into each other like Lego bricks, standardized, expertly molded pieces engineered to fit together perfectly. This is not necessarily a complaint; the prose reads easily and enjoyably. To continue the analogy, it’s a bit like seeing an accurate-to-scale roller coaster made entirely of Legos. When you step back, it’s impressive to see what he has built, even if one can’t help wondering whether it would be better if the pieces weren’t quite so fungible. And on further inspection, one sees the places where the rendering only approximates reality, where curves become right angles and true diagonals don’t exist. There’s a trade-off: more coherence, perhaps, but at the expense of making it sing ... But maybe the fungibility of the pieces is the very quality that makes them work. Later is yet another example of King’s talent in building stories out of the materials of his choosing, and like so many of his creations, it’s remarkable how well the thing holds together. The pace and ease of reading, the ratio of familiar to new. A roller coaster made of Legos is still a roller coaster, and even if I’ve been on this ride before it doesn’t make it any less fun.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn his latest novel, The Arrest, Jonathan Lethem explores a world in which technology stops working ... In another book, by another writer, perhaps there would be more in the way of description, causes and mechanisms, the back story that got us to this moment. Exposition begets exposition; down that road lies a more conventional (and most likely longer) dystopian novel. But this is Jonathan Lethem, a master at subverting expectations of form and genre ... He has not written a conventional postapocalyptic cautionary tale. If anything, he seems more interested in unpacking assumptions built into such tales, and why we seem to have an endless appetite for stories that, presumably, should make us feel terrible ... The Arrest may not show Lethem at the height of his powers, but as with so much of his work, it is inventive, entertaining and superbly written.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review[Hill] is already so good at endings of the unhappy variety. Shocking, terrible, whoa, cover-your-mouth-and-gasp endings. Endings that are perfect and yet a page early, arriving before you’re ready. Endings that tear off the story’s edge, leaving it ragged and bloody, leaving you wanting more. So yes, Hill has a way with endings ... Also beginnings. Often middles, too, his stories pushing you along with the intangible dread of a fable, pulling you forward with the inexorable logic of a mathematical proof. Lots of dead bodies, very few dead parts — among Hill’s many talents is his ability to braid together his strands ... never a formula. More like a worldview. Hill’s universe is for the most part very bleak, but it has a moral coherence to it, a sense in which things make a kind of sense, however perverse ... in his very best stories, Hill gets to moments of lyricism, of pain or connection or both ... While all of Hill’s experiments with form are inventive, some work better than others ... At times, Hill tends to explain his own premise (all the more a shame because he’s usually set it up so deftly), offering up one more spoonful of explication than necessary ... And once in a while, the moral math of Hill’s cosmos can get a little one-to-one, the syllogism plodding forward, the reader’s mind jumping ahead to see the next equation in the proof. This is nit-picking, though, and it’s made easier because the few imperfections stand out against Hill’s otherwise seamless and finely crafted work.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...a staggering feat of imagination, intelligence and stamina. For long stretches, at least. Between those long stretches, there are sections that, while never uninteresting, are somewhat less successful. To expect any different, especially in a work of this length, would be to hold it to an impossible standard. Somewhere in this 900-page book is a 600-page book. One that has the same story, but weighs less. Without those 300 pages, though, it wouldn’t be Neal Stephenson. It’s not possible to separate the essential from the decorative. Nor would we want that, even if it were were. Not only do his fans not mind the extra — it’s what we came for ... This is a case of author and substance and story and style all lining up; a series of lenses perfectly arranged to focus the power and precision of Stephenson’s laser-beam intellect ... This is hard sci-fi, but it goes so far in its speculative extrapolation toward that end of the spectrum that it hits the end, goes through and comes back around the other side. The result is a story that touches on society, technology, spirituality and even eschatology, a far-reaching attempt at a grand myth that is breathtaking in scope and ambition ... a one-of-a-kind synthesis of daring and originality, unafraid to venture into wild and unmapped conceptual territory.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"... Early Riser has all of the elements and sensibility that have earned Fforde a sizable and devoted following: wordplay, allusion, a playful exuberance and — of course — his signature method of World-Building via Copious and Suggestive Use of Capitalization, often in the service of creating Imaginary Socioeconomic Hierarchies and Related Governmental Agencies ... Fforde writes witty, chewy sentences, full of morsels, and delivers them deadpan ... There is a sense of wanting it all to add up to a bit more. To feel that the witticisms and allusions are not only clever but insightful ... It’s not so much that the book is less than the sum of its parts. It’s just that there are so many parts. Early Riser, while never underwritten, can be at times a bit underfelt, the verbal dexterity crowding out the room for emotion ... The flip side of the whimsicality, of skipping along, is wanting to slow down at times, to deepen our feelings about the characters ... But Fforde brings it around in the end. His relentless imagination and his affection for his characters are contagious and irresistible ... Early Riser may not be my favorite of his novels, but I laughed and had fun. As long as he keeps his literary party going, I’ll keep dropping in.\
Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksSomehow all of it — Tengo, Fuka-Eri, the book they created together, Aomame, and the dowager who hires Aomame to kill abusive men — is connected … Murakami’s characters, too, live their lives in time. Not the artificially compressed narrative time of a shorter novel or most movies, but the regular, stop-and-start time of actual life, which sometimes drags and sometimes even just seems to go around in circles … It is an exhilarating idea: not two worlds, side by side, but just one, swallowing itself, turning itself inside out, becoming the world that it isn’t, while still being the one that it is. The world as a self-revising document. To have even reached for this — to have articulated the idea well enough — is admirable. To have actually gotten ahold of it and conveyed it to the effect that Murakami has in 1Q84 is a feat of remarkable imagination.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... if the time travel doesn’t always feel essential, if the formal structure doesn’t always justify itself, these are complaints at the margins of an engaging and ambitious novel. This is a messy, chaotic story about a messy, chaotic century. And after all, Wray never promised a self-contained theory of chrononavigation. For this reader, at least, a novel is a success if it causes time to warp, to bend and deform, if it breaks time apart and puts it back together again in an interesting way. John Wray does all of the above, with wide-ranging intelligence and boundless verbal energy.