Claire FallonClaire Fallon is a books and culture writer for The Huffington Post. She was previously a blog editor at HuffPost. She studied English literature at Princeton University. She can be found on Twitter @ClaireEFallon
RaveBookPageBracing ... Dionne incorporates extensive research into Weightless ... All of these topics point to one sobering fact: Profound disgust toward fat people in American society circumscribes their lives in potentially lethal ways. However, despite these grave threats, Dionne is not hopeless. In fact, Weightless is a testament to resilience and an offering of realistic optimism ... With Weightless, Dionne is the model she so desperately needed, and one that other fat girls and women deserve. Her assertion of liberation for fat people brings us one important step closer to achieving it.
PositiveBookPageWong’s memoir is a moving addition to her celebrated body of work as an activist, community organizer, media maker and editor of the 2020 anthology Disability Visibility. In Year of the Tiger, Wong creates a collage of blog posts, artworks, interviews and other ephemera with disability at its center, seasoned generously with her quick wit and fierce calls to action ... Wong emphasizes connection with others as a generative, necessary force in her life, and she incorporates a chorus of voices in these fragments to illuminate the experiences of people who are constantly confronted with a world built without disabled people in mind ... Wong’s thoughtful use of multimedia elements—cheeky cat-themed graphics, photographs from her Indiana childhood and a clever crossword puzzle, to name a few—adds playfulness and dimension to Year of the Tiger,. She maintains the compelling conviction that pleasure and joy are crucial to activism and liberation, and these offerings demonstrate that belief. They also imbue the book with the scrappy spirit of zine-making, and others looking for creative encouragement will certainly find it here ... As this stylish memoir demonstrates, each person, disabled or not, can demand more from a world that is largely built without access in mind. Wong wants better for us all, and she will stop at nothing to get there.
RaveFull Stop... what’s apparent to me about Zauner’s musical style is that she has stunning command of opposing emotional dynamics ... This intensity of feeling is also the foundation of her writing, and it was rewarding to witness a continuity of experience between her two mediums ... There are stretches of writing like this throughout where the mundane and the significant slam up against one another, emphasizing the destabilizing effect that an event with such gravitational pull has on one’s surroundings. Though Zauner’s voice is gorgeously lyric in some places, it’s cuttingly straightforward, even pinched in others, and she maintains expert control over the ebb and flow of this shifting dynamic ... Even at the highest point of emotion, at this shift from life into death, Zauner keeps her narrative threads close at hand, rendering these scenes with a coherence that defies the senselessness of grief. Death drapes a heavy cloak over Crying in H Mart, but Zauner consistently lifts its edges as she writes about her Korean identity and how connecting with her mother’s and her own heritage is a protection against death’s theft of memory ... as Zauner guided me through these corridors of her own life, little pieces of her world attached to me. What I can say is that I will now move through my own world having been changed.
PositiveHuff Post... deeply felt ... dazzling, devastatingly funny and sharply observed ... also [a] case study in how difficult it is to write fiction that gives us real insight into our brain-parasite-like relationship with social media without giving us the same bone-deep sense of self-loathing and futility as six hours of scrolling Twitter ... It’s as if [Lockwood] has zoomed in so tightly on a loved one’s face that it looks like an alien landscape; the extreme close-up creates a perceptual distance. The present looks so bizarre and futuristic that it’s almost impenetrable. By more literally replicating the form of the internet, the novel ends up less closely resembling the emotional experience of being online...stripping away the connective tissue of anxious analysis. Instead, like a child entering the world, we’re presented the sludge of memes and news briefs with a sense of almost mystical wonder ... there’s a visceral sense of the genuine feeling underlying the performance — unironic emotion, raw and unself-conscious, that emerges in response to a baby’s laugh or a loved one’s illness ... the bright tang of joy and grief and hilarity in Lockwood’s writing overwhelms. Something does fall between the cracks of the fragments, though: an understanding of how the internet shapes us, beyond the immediate stimulation and the cultural references. It’s a kaleidoscopic flurry, a snowdrift of feelings and references, and the logic of it is largely up to us to decipher — unless we simply wish to lie back and let the sentences fall on our tongues and eyelashes.
MixedThe Huffington Post... relentlessly wordy ... [a] dazzling, devastatingly funny and sharply observed account of life on and around social media...also [a] case study in how difficult it is to write fiction that gives us real insight into our brain-parasite-like relationship with social media without giving us the same bone-deep sense of self-loathing and futility as six hours of scrolling Twitter ... every feeling in Fake Accounts is wrapped in so many layers of self-awareness and posturing, I’d be hard-pressed to identify an emotion not primarily rooted in, or expressed as, embarrassment or annoyance ... written against the fragment and the pithy observation, everything picked apart and examined rather than left to speak for itself. This is not any less stressful than a fragmented novel; in fact, “Fake Accounts” is one of the more stressful novels I’ve read lately. It doesn’t reproduce the interrupted flow of life on Twitter, but it does reproduce the mental state induced by it: uneasy, lightly paranoid, claustrophobic, cynical. Fake Accounts is exciting for its commitment to considering everything, to never glossing over. But while successful at capturing the misery of life online, it sometimes feels captured by it.
MixedHuffington Post[A] 700-page memoir from a recent president is, if nothing else, at least notable. To deem it one of the best books of the year, however, reeks of grading on a curve. It’s good, considering that he’s a famous politician rather than a professional writer. It’s good, considering how much policy detail he needed to include. It’s good, considering. But isn’t this the refrain of the Obama presidency? All things considered, it was pretty good; no point in caviling at the flaws. Volume one of his presidential memoir takes this as a central theme: When all is said and done, he’s satisfied that he did the best he could ... Perhaps he could have trimmed his 700 pages down by nixing some of the more eye-wateringly dull policy explanations, or by reining in his tendency to wander into poetic riffs on his family, the seasonal charms of the Rose Garden, and the long arc of history ... Obama, a more-than-capable stylist, renders his campaign vividly, sculpting it into a lively narrative ... Narratively, the book slams into a wall of policy minutiae and nonstop crises ... Perhaps there’s an upper limit on the value and quality a presidential memoir can really offer, just as — as Obama so often argues in this book — there’s a limit on how much good a president, constrained by the vast fragility of the American economy and global politics, can actually achieve in office. Maybe A Promised Land is as good as we could ever expect. Maybe his presidency was too. But maybe that doesn’t mean good enough.
RaveHuffPostThroughout the novel, Alam floats freely among the perspectives of his characters, but this is the first point at which the technique really sizzles. He drifts back and forth between Amanda, suspicious but embarrassed of her suspicion, and the couple, G.H. and Ruth Washington, who are very carefully playing their roles in order to gain entrance ... Alam offers flashes of direct evidence that there is a greater danger hovering over them, most unnoticed by the adults ... the novel is a testament to the human urge to go on as before, hoping that your tiny spot on the map, at least, has been spared.
PositiveHuffPostLike all of Robinson’s Gilead novels, Jack is a novel about goodness and godliness, and about how America’s great and small cruelties obstruct them ... Through Jack, a character whose anxious psychology she delineates with exact, exhausting yet winning detail, Robinson stages an American morality play in which her characters sweat under the spotlight, struggling to hit their prescribed marks while also telling the story they’re destined to star in ... The Gilead novels are concerned with morality in a more old-fashioned way: they’re religious, for one, but perhaps more important, they are about characters who actually make enormous effort to be good ... These early conversations between Jack and Della read like scenes from a play, capturing the oddly intense intimacy of two people speaking alone but gazed upon by an audience ... Much of the novel takes place in Jack’s tortured psyche, where he wallows in self-loathing and games out the possible consequences of his actions ― which should be claustrophobic and exhausting, but is somehow, in Robinson’s hands, difficult to look away from.
RaveHuffPostWilkerson focuses most of her attention, rightly, on the tremendous suffering inflicted by caste on the lowest subordinate group in a system, and on Black Americans in particular ... the question of class hierarchy lingers tantalizingly ... Her exploration of why caste provides a rickety framework for society as a whole is particularly illuminating, exposing how America’s vulnerability to the pandemic is rooted in the neglect and vilification of the lower castes ... Wilkerson’s brutal accounting of the unimaginable cruelty inflicted under slavery, Jim Crow and the following decades makes a powerful case that white Americans resist being shocked and a bit peeved and acknowledge the truth revealed by her comparisons.
PositiveHuffPostThe pangs of puberty lie at the heart of Elena Ferrante’s fictional explorations, bringing together her shrewd eye for fraught parent-child relationships, her sensitivity to physical desires and repulsions, and her interest in self-regard and self-presentation. It’s a novel ruled by the melodrama and disorder of the teenage mind but, as is Ferrante’s way, told both clinically and propulsively ... takes on a certain circular trajectory, from awed enlightenment to doubt ... It can be frustrating, but Ferrante ensures it’s never boring. The spiraling quest for answers has all the urgency of a serialized drama and is punctuated by shocking revelations. Giovanna may still be searching, by the end of the novel, for ways to stitch together her own narrative, but Ferrante knows exactly how to tell a story.
RaveHuffPost...dazzling ... In Bertino’s hands, the effect is less panic and more woozy wonder, a simultaneously hilarious and gutting exploration of trauma, loss and displacement ... Parakeet asks how we reconstruct a personal geography after trauma, how we assemble those elusive fragments into a coherent self, situated in a coherent timeline, a coherent set of relationships ... The heartbreak and the humor of Parakeet both derive from this constant, unnerving sense of dislocation. The context feels off-kilter ... Parakeet tests ways of gluing oneself back together after being shattered. Sometimes the methods are laughable, absurd; others fail abjectly. Sometimes, as in the titular play, something works, if only for a moment ... Witty, raw and masterfully chaotic, Bertino’s novel works for more than a moment — it’s revelatory all the way through.
PositiveHuff PostIt’s impossible to ignore, reading Death in Her Hands, how much detective work resembles writing a story ... Death in Her Hands contains both the assurance that usually marks Moshfegh’s writing...and a self-conscious anxiety about every narrative choice ... Death in Her Hands shows another way of dealing with loneliness and unnameable grief: desperately clamping onto a familiar story form in order to organize one’s pain, fear and the voices in one’s head ... The shakiness of Death in Her Hands — the endless metacriticism, the glimpses into the alternate rushes of smugness and despair that make up the writing process, the cascade of visions and plot twists that bring it all to a resolution — makes it a curious read, both out of control and hyperaware of the lack of control. And yet there’s something touching about this, which makes it appealing even at its rough moments.
PositiveThe Huffington PostThe ocean laps through Yanique’s intergenerational epic, infusing it with a sense of magic only compounded by the magical realism elements. The story — roughly based on Yanique’s own family’s history — unfolds on breezy beaches, during salty night swims, and in seaside towns over the course of three twisted, troubled generations ... Anette and Eona’s voices vibrate with humanity, allowing the reader to slip easily into their different but deeply intertwined consciousnesses. But the omniscient narration sometimes feels more like a stopgap, with uneven prose and occasionally forceful theme explication. Though Yanique often successfully evokes the blue-green clarity of the sea in her luminous, sun-dappled prose, at other times she seems to be striving too hard to evoke it ... Though rough at points, Yanique’s debut novel bursts with imagination and intoxicating atmosphere, and the deeply felt characters at its heart demand to be heard.
RaveThe Huffington Post... gives us a woman left alone with her two children to face a haunting that embodies her own worst fears and darkest impulses, revealing modern motherhood as a state of crushing demands and extremes ... reckons less with the broader questions of the multiverse as a scientific possibility than with the intimate yet unspeakably immense questions of motherhood as a human experience. By immersing readers in this state of anxious suspense, Phillips makes the psychic and physical toll of maternity visceral ... Phillips writes about parenthood without sanctimony or air-brushing ... opens with the taut terror of a suspense novel, but its destination is not the twist reveal or the explosive showdown — it’s an exquisitely tender meditation on motherhood’s joys and comorbid torments.
RaveThe Huffington PostTaffy Brodesser-Akner...has a gift for making the stalest genre...as compulsively readable as an Agatha Christie mystery. Her prose is seamless, her asides clever, her observations always on point. Without flattening her subjects, she locates the stakes of their quotidian dramas and the hidden tensions of their seemingly controlled lives, transforming something unremarkable into something textured, absorbing, and darkly funny. When she writes a book about modern heterosexual marriage, you don’t roll your eyes; you clear your schedule ... Fleishman Is in Trouble is a novel about how we don’t really see women for who they are. The real mystery of the book is: what are women really up to? Who are they really? ... In Brodesser-Akner’s hands, it matters less what the answer is than how rarely we bother to ask it, and to really listen when they respond. Beneath the surface of Toby’s life, another story simmers: Who are the women around him, and why aren’t we paying attention to their lives? Instead, what we pay attention to is how women reflect men to us, how they vouch for him or hurt him or apologize for him ... I was waiting ― it’s impossible not to ― for these women to step out of the background, especially the much-maligned, ever-absent Rachel. I was desperate to hear what she had to say about herself.
PositiveThe Huffington Post... realist, near-historical, gently wry ... the book’s comedy emerges from its deft psychological observation, from how the gentle eddies of her characters’ psyches lead them into unexpected judgments, complaints and realizations about their own hypocrisies ... It’s hard not to feel affectionate toward these flawed humans, to quickly grow sympathetic to their social anxieties and their qualms. The stakes are compelling, if rather low. Nothing feels so terribly threatening ... The vicious extremes float up from beneath the placid surface of Boggs’ light comedy, just as they float up from beneath polite small talk and slightly strained Thanksgiving dinners.
PositiveHuffington Post\"At its best, what You Know You Want This contains are less stories of people than diagrams of power differentials at work in the mundane world around us, sketches delineating how desire unchecked can guide us into dark places. The stories that land... are realist but unapologetically flashy, aiming right for the throat. Too flashy, even. The dazzle makes them feel true, like a revelation from our own bone-deep knowledge of the world...\
MixedHuffington Post\"At times... the novel [has] the feel of a standard love story garnished with trendy politics. But in Rooney’s work, the question of economics is ultimately woven into the fabric of relationships. The novel deftly outlines the teenage romance as an object of surveillance and the site of both metaphorical and literal exchanges of capital ... . Rooney remains tightly focused on the romance ― Marianne’s and Connell’s friendships are marginal and shallow, their ambitions mostly alluded to ― and the narrative is sprinkled with those heart-stuttering moments familiar from teen rom-coms ... The swoony sentimentality is seductive, but it also left me dissatisfied, even suspicious, as I often feel when a literary novel leans into comfortable tropes rather than destabilizing them ... Normal People is not, speaking of Austen, particularly funny, though the characters are always laughing ... In other ways, Normal People does resemble Austen’s work: It’s a novel of reading and misreading, of the exterior clashing against the interior. It’s a novel about power, status and capital, and yet it allows its characters to be human and its trajectory to be optimistic. Circumstance is meaningful, but not determining. Rooney uses this romance to test how money and society shape intimate human connection, and how it can find ways around and through those bounds.\
PositiveThe Huffington PostThroughout the book, Novey is particularly insightful about the innumerable tangled threads of power that hold society in fragile balance ... Novey’s characters are forever picking at their privileges, seeing them not simply as rhetorical admissions but as dangerous things, knives they might accidentally cut someone with ... Those Who Knew, though buoyed by a certain optimism, doesn’t traffic in idealism about the political tools at hand ... Novey’s novel imagines a more incremental, more grounded type of toppling [of power]: An excruciatingly slow, sometimes sordid grind toward accountability and inclusive governance ... A slender novel needn’t be an insubstantial one, and Novey certainly packs hers with weighty themes, but I couldn’t help but feel they might have been better served by a more patient, deliberate exploration. Throughout the novel, Novey is prone to collapsing scenes that might have blossomed out into comic or shocking action, instead whisking through them with serviceable exposition ... Novey adeptly constructs uncanny moments...and they account for some of the most gripping passages in the novel. But somehow they come to feel insubstantial ... Yet Novey’s breadth of insight, her ability to hold gender, class, racial and geopolitical privilege in her sights simultaneously, often conjures riveting reading.
PanHuffington PostWhy do we keep giving all those extra chances to less-than-mediocre men? ... The book sucks ... Katerina is the novel any weedy college bro high on Henry Miller and the Beat poets would write if he kept banging away at his vintage Olivetti long enough: hysterically emotive, narratively pedestrian, exhilarated by its own borrowed style ... This plot reeks of wish-fulfillment ― the gorgeous, desirable model; their charmed love story; her candle held for him decades later; his destiny as the one writer in his generation who would, as he puts it, \'burn the fucking world down\' ... A doomed romance can certainly be compelling, with the aid of fresh language or lively characters. But Katerina wafts through the novel as little more than a sexy red pout atop two long shapely gams, and the narrator, while enraptured by his own navel, never manages to describe that navel, or the affair, with anything approaching insight or originality ... His favorite words include classics like \'fuck,\' \'life,\' \'crazy,\' \'pain,\' \'sex,\' \'art\' and \'love,\' and he’s unafraid to reuse them, often many times on the same page ... It’s as though Frey can’t think of any fresh ways to say or describe things, so he resorts to repeating his words, hoping the repetition will stand in for throbbing inspiration.
MixedHuffington PostLake Success is a wincingly funny, sometimes too-gentle satire of the 1 percent in Trump’s America ... Shteyngart is the latest in a series of prominent novelists ― Salman Rushdie, Meg Wolitzer ― who have explicitly taken on the Trump era in their fiction, and the latest to run into the challenges of creating literature out of such obsessively trodden ground. It’s satisfying to see Lake Success’ buffoonish banker skewered, but it also feels a bit rote ... passages of Lake Success read like snippets from lefty opinion pieces and reporting on conservative voters, but make it fiction ... As the novel wears on, the acuteness with which Shteyngart punctures Barry’s grandiose self-regard comes to coexist with an unearned tenderness, as if the book has begun to buy into Barry’s delusion, to feel pity for his wasted life, to coddle him and even rehabilitate him.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAlienated characters populate all of Moshfegh’s stories ... This languidly lovely, monied heroine is unusual for her, though her humorously flat cruelty is familiar ... As self-destructive and semi-suicidal as the narrator sounds, one expects that My Year of Rest and Relaxation will evolve into a cautionary tale of addiction and idle hands making the devil’s work. Instead, her self-medication―which she herself treated with veiled suspicion―turns out to be effective ... But My Year of Rest and Relaxation isn’t, at any rate, a prescription: It’s an eerie exploration of how class dictates the degree to which we can care for ourselves, and the degree to which we must ceaselessly engage with a world that batters our souls.
RaveThe Huffington PostJack Sheppard, a legendary 18th century pickpocket and jailbreaker, operated for only about a year before being hanged for his crimes. But in that short span, his madcap spate of robberies and subsequent daring escapes from prison enthralled the working-class population of London. An immediate folk hero, he was immortalized in theatrical works by John Gay and, later, Bertolt Brecht. ... Confessions of the Fox is a historical novel, but it’s also speculative fiction, metafiction and a political argument. And the figure at its heart, Jack Sheppard, is, in Rosenberg’s fictional world, a trans man...Rosenberg, who is trans himself, recalled that most publishers were far more eager to publish a possible memoir about his experience as a trans man than a speculative historical novel featuring a trans character ... It’s a book that’s just as interested in its political messages as it is in its craft and narrative, and, unlike most books of this ilk, it’s compelling on each level.
Sayaka Murata, Trans. by Ginny Tapley Takemori
PositiveHuffington PostMurata draws a poignant portrait of what happens when a woman’s oppression meets a man’s grievance ― and one of them has to give. Convenience Store Woman closely observes the inevitable failures of a society to embrace all within it, and the contrasting ways disenfranchised men and women manage to cope ... Through the eyes of perceptive, dispassionate Keiko, the ways in which we’re all commodified and reduced to our functions become clear.
MixedThe Huffington PostIf we still want to have children, are we selfish to do so? It’s an attack that neatly reverses the cruel stereotype of child-free women as too self-absorbed to care for other people. In reality, this argument goes, bringing children into the world without their consent is a callous infliction of our own reproductive urges on helpless innocents ... Rose toss[es] this argument out there almost casually, never really pursuing the full ramifications of it ... I’m left unconvinced by the question itself: Some people might wish they’d never been born, but others might be grateful. It seems useless to try to weigh one group against the other ... Mothers prodded me to think about my possible role as a mother in new, challenging ways.
MixedThe Huffington Post\"I felt so seen by the book that I started to feel something else: manipulated. Loving The Female Persuasion felt as shamefully predictable as clicking on an Anthropologie ad on Facebook and ordering the dress it kept showing me, proving myself to be exactly the person Facebook ad data suggests I’d be. Of course I loved the book. It’s perfectly designed to make a person like me love it ... The novel seems to have been written for a more slickly packaged feminist era than this one ? for a Hillary Clinton presidency, or at least for a past world in which such a presidency felt like a sparkling inevitability rather than a tattered, flawed impossibility. Feminism looks different now, or, at least, there’s broad agreement it should ... a novel sifting through the small failures (and huge successes) of a prominent young white feminist hardly feels like a major statement about the movement. In 2018, aren’t there more vital, surprising and layered stories to tell?\
PanThe Huffington PostIs it needlessly cynical to read a pompous celebrity’s very bad novel purely in order to dunk on it? Yes. But the true joke is on me, because it’s physically impossible to dunk on a novel that is already dunking on itself so hard. Bob Honey is an exercise in ass-showing, a 160-page self-own ... Nothing hangs together. Often when critics compare a novel to a 'fever dream,' they mean it as a compliment, conveying that the book creates its own otherworldly universe and dream logic. When I say that Bob Honey is reminiscent of a fever dream, I mean that it’s nonsensical, unpleasant and left me sweaty with mingled horror and confusion ... Scattered throughout is the sort of gleeful racism and misogyny that qualifies Penn’s work as 'darkly comic' ... It’s not often that you read a literary novel about which the most flattering adjective you might use is 'derivative,' but such is the case here ... This is all, apparently, supposed to seem deeply witty and profound. Instead, it’s akin to the product of a postmodern literature bot. It doesn’t seem quite possible that a human person wrote this mess.
PositiveHuffington Post\"The Power is framed by correspondence between a supplicating male author, Neil, and a female author, Naomi, to whom he’s writing for thoughts on his historical novel manuscript, which constitutes the rest of the book. The letters in themselves are fascinating, revealing, as they quickly do, that the sexual power dynamics have been neatly flipped in this imagined future: Neil is ingratiating, flattering, apologetic over taking up Naomi’s time … One of Alderman’s dominant themes: A world run by women would be no kinder, more caring, or sexier than our current model … What’s particularly fascinating in Alderman’s novel is her assessment of how desperately the powerful cling to their privilege, and how much force is needed to unseat a hegemony as deeply rooted as the patriarchy.\
MixedThe Huffington PostWang’s novel depicts a smart woman confronting an unplanned roadblock in her carefully engineered path, then feeling her way toward a terrifying unknown. The tight first-person can feel somewhat claustrophobic and familiar ? a cerebral depressive slowly unraveling in front of herself ? and much like the protagonist’s Ph.D. project, Chemistry doesn’t astound with its originality of concept or virtuosic language. But the work has its quiet, unassuming power, as the narrator’s clinical approach and outsider eye infuses the story of her mental breakdown with both wry humor and pathos. Weike Wang explores a young chemist’s reckoning with her own limits and possibilities in this capably crafted, thoughtful novel.
RaveThe Huffington PostThe genius of Catherine Lacey lies in the fact that her new book, The Answers, doesn’t feel like too much; the pieces are bizarre and timely and fit together like puzzle pieces into a somehow timeless examination of humanity ... Lacey’s prose radiates elegance beneath its unassuming, unflashy surface; there’s nary a maladroit word or an unrevealing detail. She skillfully balances a truly absurd array of hot-button topics and weird narrative twists, playing them off each other virtuosically to weave a surreal-feeling story with deeply pragmatic concerns ... The Answers offers no answers, of course. Instead, in its stark portraits of bewildered, alienated people, it lays bare the unresolvable paradoxes of need that we all hold in our hearts.
RaveThe Huffington PostHer parents’ habits and catchphrases, her oddly religious yet profane upbringing, and her own mischievous attitude toward her childhood religion are the stuff of pure comedy, and Lockwood doesn’t waste a drop of it ... It’s a testament to Lockwood’s way with words that glimpses of such grotesque wrongdoing, painfully candid reflection on her youth and her family, and countless sidesplitting anecdotes about her boxer-clad father and her safety-obsessed mother can not only coexist in this book, but weave together seamlessly, constructing a memoir that’s propulsively readable and brimming with humor and insight.
RaveThe Huffington PostBeyond the exhilarating and terrifying evolution of the girls’ friendship, Buntin excels at capturing the sensations of girlhood ... At every turn, Buntin’s prose flows with the easy, confident rhythms of an accomplished writer, and though there’s really no mystery in the narrative, it reads nearly as compulsively as a thriller ... Marlena’s vivid portrait of a friendship between two teenage girls in a troubled community ? one who made out, and one who didn’t ? viscerally captures the sensations and heartaches of adolescence.
RaveThe Huffington PostWhite Tears is a supernatural mystery, a horror story, and ultimately a tale of black Americans’ historical exploitation by white profiteers ... The book is moody, threatening, and profoundly dark; Kunzru’s prose has a Delilloesque density, constructing settings and atmospheres so charged and vivid they seem to envelop the reader in a miasma of mise-en-scène. Carter and Seth’s work, and the idealistic gloss they layer over a creeping sense of historical guilt, receives no artistically optimistic reading from Kunzru ... White Tears isn’t exactly a re-centering of black experience, but a collapsing of the white hero mythology that often guides American movies, books and TV shows that nominally address black culture. It zeroes in on an impulse that yearns to be pure, uncompromising and compensatory, finding the nasty worm of entitlement and exploitation that’s burrowed at the heart ... At every turn, Kunzru’s words concoct a dreamlike world where the past isn’t dead, nor even past, and the boundaries of reality flicker at the margins. For a nation seduced by a fantasy of white appropriation, maybe a horror story of white appropriation is exactly what we need.
PositiveThe Huffington PostBatuman wittily and wisely captures the tribulations of a shy, cerebral teenager struggling with love, friendship, and whether to take psycholinguistics or philosophy of language. Where many fictional depictions of young women show them exploring their sexuality and navigating romance, Selin is the rare heroine who’s too diffident to act on her sexual feelings toward Ivan ... This meandering approach to a novel can chafe. Memories of my own college days of nerdy unrequited love and intellectual insecurity make Selin’s story engrossing to me, but for those whose life took a different path, the internal monologue of a Harvard student in the ‘90s might seem precious and trivial.
RaveThe Huffington Post\"[Han] refracts the Gwangju Uprising through her own particular lens: her fixation on the body itself, and its connection to the soul; human tolerance for unspeakable acts; and the tearing of social fabric both by violence and by a refusal to accede to it ... Human Acts, like The Vegetarian, isn’t a book about forsaking or repairing violence; it’s about the inescapability and deathlessness of violence in humanity. Every effort to paper over the horrors of what these protesters suffered, at the hands of their own nation’s soldiers, whether through time or literary censorship or personal forgetting, fails. The violence of the past rises up again; it was never really past ... A visceral, searing excavation of emotional and physical trauma that is rooted in just a few days, but spans decades.\
RaveThe Huffington PostThe unpleasant, even grotesque behaviors of her characters seem amplified thanks to Moshfegh’s cool, matter-of-fact prose. In either first-person or close third-person narration, the blunt, unemotional words with which her characters relate their petty cruelties, addictions, and even bodily functions never ceases to be slightly jarring ... There’s something refreshing and funny about her unvarnished portrayal of human squalor, but also something unsettling and difficult to swallow. It’s not a book to reassure readers of the essential goodness of the human race; it’s a queasy jolt to our optimistic selves, a reminder of the lowest, most id-driven proclivities of humanity. This may sound unappealing, yet Moshfegh’s talent is a sheer delight ? and the heedless misbehavior of her characters is a reminder, needed now more than ever, that we’re not such an elevated species as we’d like to think, and that following our base impulses can lead us nowhere fast.
MixedThe Huffington Post\"Ruskovich’s prose, which keenly captures the harsh beauty of the Idaho mountains where the novel takes place, can be intoxicating; the sticky sourness of lemonade and the sting of woody smoke in the air hit the reader almost viscerally in the tastebuds and nose. Yet the forceful, crackling life of her scenery isn’t quite matched by the characters that move within it. By giving the narration of the novel mostly to its women, Ruskovich sets Wade, the man at its heart, to the side. Aside from jumbled memories of his early years, his romance with Jenny, we hear little directly from him. The result, perhaps intentional, is that he remains a cipher, from the shape of his mourning to the possible shades of guilt, rage, heartbreak and betrayal that might lie underneath it ... It’s a novel about the psychological ripples of an unthinkable crime, but it ultimately wavers when it comes to laying bare the psyches of its subjects, which remain too opaque to be revelatory ... Lyrical, sharply beautiful prose washes through Idaho, a dark and poignant debut that never quite manages to bring its characters to life yet remains gripping from beginning to end.\
PanThe Huffington Post...a dull retread of not just the first book and movie, but the first two books and movies ... Thus we get Mark and Daniel scuffling after prenatal classes: What a hoot! (Remember when they did that in the first book? and the second?) Even Bridget seems too bored by the replay to get worked up ... By the third time, Bridget seems, instead, like yet another friend who keeps getting back together with her noncommittal ex despite the bunting of red flags fluttering around him. Instead of being happy for her, you start to greet the news with dread.
RaveThe Huffington PostCollins’ impressionistic, psychologically observant collection captures moments from a past era that should remind idealistic readers today that our disillusionment is not new ... At every turn, Collins burrows deep into the minds of her characters, mostly black women, and brings to life their daily joys and frustrations as well as their persistent anxieties ... Nearly 30 years after her too-early passing, this author’s powerful debut collection manages to perfectly embody the existential torment of her country.
PositiveThe Huffington PostIn a first-person twist on her buoyant, bustling London narratives, Smith examines the trouble of combining the personal and political, and captures the thrills of girlhood, dance, and first friendship.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAs he wends his way through the landmarks and their histories, Dickey thoroughly and convincingly explores the many underpinnings of ghost stories and hauntings ... Dickey neatly dissects not just the historical, but the visual and atmospheric elements that evoke a haunting.
PositiveThe Huffington Post...women in public aren’t yet equal. And if you were suffering under that delusion, Trainwreck is particularly illuminating, a reminder that the moment when a problem, in its most obvious form, has become taboo might actually be the most dangerous moment.
RaveThe Huffington PostNot often does a novel so expertly seduce its readers into an alternate state of consciousness that it mimics an actual dream state ... The Lesser Bohemians, in short, doesn’t ease readers in. Instead, it teaches us to understand and bend to its unusual cadences and the unpredictable rules of its tiny universe. It’s not a book you’ll want to repeatedly take up and put down, because the most satisfying moments spent with it come after you’re dozens of pages in, when you realize that instead of struggling against the current you’ve been caught up irresistibly in its powerful pull.
Peter Ho Davies
PositiveThe Huffington PostPart of the joy and value of The Fortunes lies in its vivid survey of the history of Chinese people in America, and many readers, especially non-Asian-American readers, might find their eyes opened to a new understanding of the Chinese-American historical identity ... In a thought-provoking, sharply written, four-part novelistic chronicle of Chinese-American life, The Fortunes proves uneven at times but the powerful prose and themes shine through.
RaveThe Huffington PostPlenty of doorstop-length novels promise to be what The Nix is: capacious enough to find sympathy for its most comically deplorable characters, specific enough to precisely skewer specific societal ailments, funny and cleverly written enough to sustain a length that could easily pall if readers had to power through many flabby or dull segments. That it’s so entertaining, so full of energy, and packed with social and political observations that adroitly destabilize our comfortable assumptions about modern life is a triumph.
MixedThe Huffington PostLosing It approaches this story with an honesty and nuance that can often be lacking in depictions of female sexuality ... Rathbone has a crisply compelling prose style and an honesty about female sexuality, but Losing It nonetheless doesn’t read as a raw, unfettered take on a 20-something coming of age. The plot often relies on simple contrivances and awkward scenarios that would seem equally at home in a sitcom script ... When it comes to a beach read, Losing It is excellent, but it won’t throw too many curveballs.
Yasmine El Rashidi
PositiveThe Huffington PostChronicle of a Last Summer reads as an impressionistic memoir (though of course it’s fiction), a philosophical meditation on the nature of change and stasis, the story of a family fractured by political circumstance ... this digressive, philosophizing book takes advantage of her strengths in observation, psychological and otherwise, and in analyzing the dynamics beneath Egypt’s recent instability ... A thought-provoking story of a young writer growing up in Egypt through three summers of unrest.
PositiveThe Huffington Post\"Sharma paints Maya’s spiraling life in raw, sharp-edged, almost confrontational language ... Maya’s addiction cycle, and her attempts at breaking it, structure the novel. It’s the plot, such as it is, and it can be both hypnotically compelling and somewhat listless, as one might expect ... A psychologically astute portrait of a woman’s cycle of addiction, the ebb and flow of her life around it, and her own hilarious, bittersweet and brilliant inner monologue through it all.\
PositiveThe Huffington Post\"Emotionally harrowing yet full of rather implausible sources of comfort, A Little Life somehow throws readers between the most unlikely extremes of horror and joy that life holds, making for a compulsively readable if artistically flawed sophomore effort ... A Little Life is ambitious, and its flaws are commensurately major: the indistinctness of many secondary characters, the lapses and odd elisions in the narrative. The story’s themes tend toward the trite ... But the triumph of A Little Life’s many pages is significant: It wraps us so thoroughly in a character’s life that his trauma, his struggles, his griefs come to seem as familiar and inescapable as our own.\
RaveThe Huffington Post\"Touching on body image, mass media, consumerist religiosity, and the tortured relationships between ourselves, our bodies, our food, and each other, Kleeman’s haunting, dazzlingly-written novel pulls you inexorably into another world, where the rules are different yet painfully familiar.\
MixedThe Huffington Post...in Moshfegh’s usual adept style, Eileen, the titular protagonist of Eileen, can both manage to be heartachingly relatable, with her unrequited crushes and her physical insecurity, and so repugnant and perverse that I squirmed at times against the urge to turn away ... [the] final twist belongs in a soap opera, so pat and unlikely is it — a shame after Moshfegh’s masterful construction of an atmosphere of unease, which flickers out with an 'um, really?' This can’t help but undermine the haunting resonance of Eileen’s dark themes, though she does take on deeply unsettling realities.
RaveThe Huffington PostEach of the nine stories arises from Filipino experiences, both in the country and of the diaspora, and Alvar interweaves them into a cobwebby ecosystem ... Though slightly uneven, Alvar’s In the Country frankly and evocatively limns the torment of internal conflict, as her characters seek a seemingly impossible compromise between themselves and the world they live in.
PositiveThe Huffington PostBy winding us closely into the lives, families, and social networks of the main cast of characters before, in some cases, showing them resorting to horrific crimes or being (if unjustly) charged with terrorism, Mahajan makes the humanity, the psychological unraveling or misplaced idealism or confusion, of each person in his novel more tangible than any news item ever could.
PositiveThe Huffington PostThe treatment of her harmful behavior as idealistic can be somewhat troubling, even as it slowly becomes clear there’s far more behind her slow gravitation toward vegetal life; the nuance is literary, but slightly romanticized. And yet, by the end of the book, it’s clear that we’re wrong to romanticize, as The Vegetarian paints a confounding portrait of not one woman, but two damaged sisters seeking desperately to deal with the violence of living in their world.
PositiveThe Huffington PostA brief, meditative novel contemplating the bonds of family and community over the years, and the quietly tragic ways they stretch and break, My Name Is Lucy Barton may not be entirely captivating, but it is a poignant and skillfully drawn read.