PanThe Star TribuneHe\'s handsome, wealthy, athletic, highly intelligent (as he reminds us frequently), multilingual, sexually irresistible, musically gifted. Ruggero, the bisexual Sicilian harpsichordist at the center of A Previous Life, the newest novel by Edmund White, is also, well, dull. Only slightly more interesting is his late-in-life wife, Constance ... The setup is intriguing. Will they be honest with each other in their memories, or withholding? Will we be made to care? White nimbly switches between the voices and writing rhythms of Ruggero and Constance, drawing us into their colorful stories, which lean heavily toward the carnal. White, who deserves his status as an icon of gay letters, always has written frankly about sex. In A Previous Life he tackles bisexuality with explicit gusto but comes away with what are scarcely more than stereotypes: that a bisexual woman is fluid about partners, sleeping with people she is drawn to emotionally regardless of their gender, and that a bisexual man is just masking his basic gayness ... Confoundingly, White allows Ruggero to remain unevolved. He is vain and narcissistic as a young man, in middle age and in his dotage, never seeming to realize how his superiority complex cuts him off from mere mortals, makes him a boorish bore with no sense of humor.
RaveThe Star TribuneWith the basic facts of the case and its outcome widely known, what is left for a novelist? How will she maintain suspense? Mohamed overcomes such doubts with the feast of her prose. She brings magic to her project, achieving in fiction what no historical account could match ... The Fortune Men revels in the sensual details of its life-and-death tale, from the starry Somali desert of Mahmood\'s youth to the smell of cooked food threading the air of Tiger Bay ... Believable, flawed, labile, proud, defiant, fatalistic and vengeful, Mahmood captures our full sympathy, and his final days are filled with insight and pathos. In a reversal of the western perspective, Mohamed shows us Britain through the eyes of this outsider, the Black African, the Muslim. It\'s an eye-opening angle of vision and an unforgettable one.
PositiveThe Star TribuneFascinating and frustrating by turns, Russ is among Franzen\'s most memorable protagonists. In his inner conflicts we see our own ridiculousness ... Russ is in the throes of a personal and professional humiliation involving a work mission to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. He has had a falling out over it with a more popular youth minister, Rick Ambrose. This belabored story line struck me as too minor to occupy so much of the novel\'s first half. Franzen\'s interest in larger issues...is often buried beneath mountains of angsty prose that seem like backwaters to his narrative\'s forward flow ... With cinematic vividness, Franzen gives us two unforgettable episodes on the Navajo reservation, one involving Russ and Frances, another a perilous all-night escapade starring Perry. These marvelous, complicated scenes are handled with tremendous energy. They are keen and alive, satisfying and dynamic, if also mortifying. Similarly well done—though placed awkwardly late in the book—is a long flashback to Russ\' odd upbringing in an isolated Mennonite community in rural Indiana.
Robert Jones Jr
RaveThe Star Tribune... powerful ... Robert Jones Jr. depicts in exquisite, often excruciating detail the social ruination that slavery brought to the antebellum South ... Jones employs mellifluous prose to tell a story that seems almost beyond words ... Jones\' undertaking has a high degree of difficulty. He writes about same-sex love between enslaved people, attractions that undoubtedly existed but have so far been little explored by historians or fiction writers. It requires great deftness to place a gay couple at the center of a story set in a time when the very words for their relationship had not yet been coined ... Wisely, Jones takes a discursive approach, lacing his main story with chapters inspired by the Bible (mainly the Old Testament) or fueled by incantatory tales from pre-colonial Africa. Some of these side excursions work better than others. There will be readers who find them floaty and abstract, as I did at first. But allow them to cast their spell. Together they bring historical sweep, magic and leavening flights of lyricism to the blood, sweat and tears of an earthbound world ... Jones brings enormous depth of feeling and insight to the novel\'s characters, his women in particular. Burnished by their suffering, the enslaved women of Empty form a circle of near mythic power and resolve ... [a] marvelously rendered climax, violent as a Tarantino film and twice as heart-rending ... Labeling The Prophets a \'gay slave story\' fails to fully describe its ambition and imaginative richness. Jones\' astounding achievement is to open a world where love somehow dares to speak its name alongside our greatest national shame.
PositiveThe Star TribuneHow strange it would be to have a grown child go missing in your own city. In Charles Baxter’s absorbing new novel, The Sun Collective, that heartbreaking strangeness is just one of many. Set in Minneapolis, Baxter’s fictional world intermixes the everyday and the uncanny ... The novel’s politics are all over the board, perhaps reflective of the fragmented lunacy of contemporary America ... I found myself at times frustrated by storytelling paths not taken, motivations unexplored ... Hints are dropped, but Baxter seems content not knowing all the answers, or maybe believing that motivations are no easier to fully comprehend than instances of everyday magic. His gift is to tune us into the beauty and the strangeness that walks among us, right here in river city.
RaveStar TribuneGood as it is, it’s not Lot ... That said, the novel has a lot going for it, one of the best things being that it’s by Washington. It’s fascinating to watch such a brilliant writer of short fiction expand into the longer form, going deeper into his main characters, who are at once hard to love and hard to forget ... Each man has parents so terrible — mean, alcoholic, self-absorbed, neglectful — that collectively they paint a bleak picture of their generation ... This is no full-blooded gay romance beneath waving rainbow flags ... The nearly plotless story snares us through indirection to produce a pleasingly dark collage. Washington parts the clouds slightly in the final section to offer tentative hopeful signs for his ensemble.
RaveThe Star TribuneThis lovely debut, weighing in at around 200 pages, has the hallmarks of a restrained mini-classic: In simple, heartfelt prose, Jedrowski sketches a powerfully erotic first love transformed by politics into a romance roiled by risk and ethical ambiguity ... German-born to Polish parents, Jedrowski writes in English. He remains in admirable control of his story. His lovers are ardent and passionate, not sappy. He avoids the mistakes one often sees in debut novels.
Dennis E. Staples
PositiveThe Star TribuneThe book opens with a horrific stabbing in the woods at night, a murder that works more to establish a dark, tragic tone than to set up any real mystery that needs to be solved ... By turns cynical and plain-spoken, Staples is a guide with inside knowledge about the lives he depicts. Despite his occasionally clunky and disjointed prose, he makes a clear-eyed and distinctive debut.
PositiveThe Star TribuneHow do you make a story about some Chinese guys pilfering corn from an Iowa farm field into a fascinating, timely book that is global in scope? Easy. Report as thoroughly and write as well as Minneapolis journalist Mara Hvistendahl does ... Complex (if not very sympathetic) characters abound ... Hvistendahl gives the corn-stealing caper the full thriller treatment, complete with evocative, cinematic detail. But the cat-and-mouse story alone is not big potatoes, and is somewhat muddied by an incomplete rendering of exactly what motivates the Chinese government in the risky trade-secret war ... Wisely, Hvistendahl also reports on related complexities of the $52 billion global seed market.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIt was disappointing how frequently Year of the Monkey, a memoir/travelogue of Smith’s 69th year, was in its opening chapters bewildering, floaty and disjointed. Had the punk downtown poet become Carlos Castaneda? ... gathers strength and momentum as it goes ... There are achingly sweet recollections of travels with a poet named Ray ... The book has precious little about music. What’s there is priceless. Smith’s brief description of a tribute concert she gave two days after Pearlman’s memorial makes one ache to have been present ... mith mixes hope and despair, elegy and art, dream and reality. In the end, her enigmatic journey has become a fascinating one.
PositiveThe Star TribuneCelebrated Irish-born writer Edna O’Brien’s considerable achievement in her newest novel is to make forgotten people less forgotten, to render modern horrors less unfathomable ... her crystalline prose is unblinking, even when describing extreme violence ... Perplexing to me was the novel’s frequent, jarring and seemingly random switches between the simple past and simple present tense. With one major exception, Muslims in Girl are seen as depraved, misguided and ignorant, while Christians are mostly kind and charitable. Still, a tough and resilient girl such as Maryam would find it difficult to find a more brilliant writer than O’Brien to narrate her harrowing story.
RaveThe Star TribuneCasey Cep\'s fascinating Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee is a carefully researched and lyrically composed story about Lee\'s intention to write a nonfiction book recounting a string of killings in rural Alabama in the 1970s ... Cep surveys obstacles that included loneliness, depression, episodes of heavy drinking and the deaths of Lee\'s invaluable \"Mockingbird\" editors. There was confusion about the ideal protagonist in the Maxwell murder story ... Cep surveys obstacles that included loneliness, depression, episodes of heavy drinking and the deaths of Lee\'s invaluable Mockingbird editors. There was confusion about the ideal protagonist in the Maxwell murder story ... Though an absence is at the center of Furious Hours, the book never feels insubstantial. Cep likes detours, which well suits this kind of book ... This is Cep\'s first book. Let\'s hope it\'s not her last.
Dustin Lance Black
MixedThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... a heckuva memoir ... I use \'heckuva\' because it’s an impressive, readable story but also because that’s the kind of corny phrase that peppers Black’s account of a family that hung together despite dramatic differences and grievous hardship ... Although much of Mama’s Boy centers on Black’s indomitable mother, Rose, it frequently widens its scope from the personal to the political — often, alas, in the lingo of a campaign stump speech ... Black has a screenwriter’s knack for telling a rollicking tale, whether about a bike accident or a first date. Bits of suspense animate his narrative ... most engaging when Black vividly tells his life stories ... His tendency to mansplain his anecdotes with bromides about overcoming differences and national healing is less successful.
RaveThe Star TribuneOliver Sacks, however, has a way of writing about his areas of lifelong interest — they include libraries, neurological disorders, botany and the history of science — that never fails to captivate me even if they are far from my own passions. Sacks possesses the crucial knack of neither dumbing down nor writing over the head of a lay reader ... Much science writing for a general readership strains to explain specialized topics. For Sacks it’s more about enthusing his way to promote appreciation (and greater understanding). We get excited about, say, ferns because he is so into their beauty and resilience ... If you love fascinating tidbits, this book of uncollected or previously unpublished essays is for you ... neatly summarizes the extraordinary career of a brilliant translator between far-apart worlds.
Gary Eldon Peter
PositiveStar TribuneThere’s a Minnesota niceness to the stories in this debut collection ... This can push them occasionally into cloying, lessons-learned territory better suited to YA fiction. The tone throughout is sincere, gentle, intimate, heartfelt. But don’t worry: Peter is unafraid to show some teeth, find fault, insist on fair treatment, be direct. Peter writes revealingly about things we all experience ... Convincing and humane, these stories introduce a welcome voice that expertly exposes foibles and gently reveals how we hurt and help and love one another.
PositiveStar Tribune\"In Breaking News, Alan Rusbridger, who became editor of the respected liberal British daily the Guardian in 1995, surveys the tumultuous two decades that led to the present moment. He is a well-informed, earnest and entertaining (if long-winded) guide, armed with both statistics and anecdotes ... Breaking News defends the Guardian’s boundary-stretching collaborations with mega-leakers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Rusbridger may lack the writerly grace and skill of, say, Katharine Graham, whose memoir of her years running the Washington Post is a dramatic, readable marvel. Still, his book is a compelling behind-the-scenes guide to a revolutionary era in newspaper making.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Whether talking about his own writing, writers he has known, gossipy biographical tidbits, the allure of libraries, \'the greatest novel in all literature\' or the books he rereads regularly, White generously shares opinions he’s developed over a lifetime and also gives us a plenty of ideas for our own to-read lists ... Somewhat disappointing is the near absence of comment about Genet or Proust. White chose to omit the two French giants, as he wrote biographies of each. Enormously pleasurable, however, is how White can be convincingly enthusiastic about extremely difficult or avant-garde writers and also love a bestselling novelist such as John Irving. It is White’s gift to bring these seeming polarities into some kind of humming unison under a banner extolling the cherished communion between reader and writer.\
Seymour M. Hersh
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneIn Reporter, even the footnotes are priceless ... In thrilling detail, Hersh recalls how he began to confirm sketchy details about My Lai ... He tends to bog down a bit in a dizzying array of names, acronyms and House subcommittees that were frankly less important than his mega-scoops ... Reporter has more juicy background, action-packed storytelling and name-drops per page than any book in recent memory, all told in straightforward style.
MixedMinneapolis Star TribuneIf your cup of tea includes a story where delirious joy mixes page by page with cruel circumstance, you will find much to like ... For me, Tin Man works better as a sort of universalized fable of love and loss, and not as a story sprung from realistic psychology and fully examined individuals.
MixedThe Star TribuneRobust pleasure lies on nearly every page of Alan Hollinghurst’s novels, including his sixth and latest, The Sparsholt Affair. Turns of phrase, paragraphs, whole scenes deserve to be read a second time ... Brilliant out of the gate and energetically rendered in a wonderful final section, The Sparsholt Affair sags in the middle. Big time jumps, narrative gaps and a large cast make it a chore to track who’s who and which decade we are in. We don’t mind doing some heavy lifting, so long as there’s a payoff, but enticing early characters and plot lines are abandoned entirely, sometimes replaced by stories less appealing ... Despite being sometimes blocky and circuitous, The Sparsholt Affair uses its big time span wonderfully to contrast the secretive, mostly hidden and shameful same-sex encounters of David with Johnny’s life in a much more open gay culture. The novel has intriguing things to say about changing father-son relationships. I wish it had said more.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] vivid and charming memoir ... Maupin’s true-life tale bears stylistic trademarks that made his fiction popular: a knack for memorable characters, a humorous outlook even in the face of serious topics (wars, AIDS, life in the closet) and a heart-on-sleeve willingness to jerk a few tears and sprinkle plenty of fairy dust. He peppers the long arc of his 72 years with the snappy skill of a seasoned, deadline-driven vignettist ... Logical Family falls off a bit at the end, as Maupin interrupts himself with name-dropping anecdotes and perhaps too much about seeking to make peace with his parents, but his memoir is never less than engaging.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAlthough a reader may know what’s coming, the novel’s imaginative take on the twisted psychology behind the horrific acts is what keeps it compelling ... The final chapters are among the most mysterious and beautiful Tóibín has written; a high bar. In a sort of prose fugue, Clytemnestra returns from the afterlife cloaked in an amnesiac shadow and searching for Orestes.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] fascinating new biography ... This remarkable, readable and humane book pairs painstaking research with poetic interpretations. No detail is too small, as long as it sheds light on one of the 20th century’s most admired, influential architects. Lesser cites income tax returns, ferryboat tickets, dental visits, police reports obtained via Freedom of Information requests. Terrific short 'In Situ' chapters tour Kahn’s best buildings, describing the experience of moving through complex spaces lit by ingenious and meticulously planned placement of windows, cutouts, skylights and atriums.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMaybe it’s fitting that a new biography of the brilliant and troubled poet Elizabeth Bishop is something of a beautiful mess ... Marshall employs a keen eye for nuance, drama and psychology to write about a life both depressing and in Technicolor ... Marshall vividly traces Bishop’s struggles: with grief, shyness, booze, broken romances and long periods when she produced no poetry at all. But her skill as biographer tends to break down when it comes to exegeses of individual poems ... Marshall ends the book abruptly, with very little material after Bishop’s death in 1979, a regrettable omission, since Bishop’s reputation has grown since then, with publication of her letters, biographies and works of criticism ... The author’s decision to include a half-dozen short, first-person chapters recounting a creative writing course she took from Bishop at Harvard in 1976 fizzles. Besides stopping the flow, these self-absorbed autobiographical digressions are antithetical to Bishop’s own healthy disregard for the confessional poetry of such peers as Lowell, Plath, Sexton and Berryman. A reader who skips these chapters is better able to savor a fascinating and courageous life, uninterrupted.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneOne of the best things about Heroes is Josie herself...She wins our respect through her grit, her admirable way of interacting with her two energetic and intelligent children, her confidence and her resolve ... The novel’s picaresque aspects, the situations and people whom Josie and the children encounter on the road, unfold easily and are mostly done very well, with only occasional detours into what come off as ham-handed authorial intrusions.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThere is quite a bit of 'previously, on the Augusten Burroughs Show' material, including recaps of his precocious success as an advertising copywriter, a lengthy bout of severe alcoholism, rehab, AA and ongoing psychotherapy. The primary focus is on a series of adult relationships, one short-term and ill-fated, one long-term and meh, one a dream come true.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribunePerhaps a bit drifty, dreamy and downbeat at times, M Train nonetheless has many lovely set pieces and an overall tone of moody exaltation akin to her music.