MixedThe Seattle Times... reads more like a personal diary where Geller’s mother occasionally makes an appearance, but is more frequently populated by other family members ... This memoir requires some emotional fortitude to trudge through, let alone live through. The everyday minutiae of surviving an abusive home and chaotic childhood can read like a litany of misfortunes. While taxing emotionally, this approach also drags the narrative, which could have benefited from greater introspection by selecting key biographical episodes that are instructive in some way, rather than an ongoing matter-of-fact catalog of everyday tragedies. But maybe that’s part of the point. Maybe the only order Geller could hope to impose on her chaotic life was that of chronology. Maybe it’s a fool’s errand to look for something deeper, but I don’t think so ... When so much of contemporary nonfiction leans heavily on identity as a central theme and organizing principle, Geller’s resistance to such tropes is a welcome reprieve.
Chris Harding Thornton
PositiveThe Seattle TimesRick’s fall from grace is almost unbelievably swift, as if someone flipped a switch, in what is otherwise a well-paced, slow-burn psychological crime thriller ... Thornton leverages the constraints of small-town life to marvelous effect when ratcheting up dramatic tension. Despite being set in the Great Plains, this is a highly claustrophobic tale where unaired grievances and the smallness of small-town life sit on your chest and don’t let up ... Thornton herself is a seventh-generation Nebraskan, and this intimate familiarity shines through in vivid descriptions of hardscrabble life out in western Nebraska ... Thornton balances these lyrical descriptions of place and mood with snappy dialogue that effectively summons small-town shorthand — gruff greetings, hushed speculation, dry quips — which, alongside a steamy affair, grease the narrative and make for a quick read ... This thriller manages to grip readers in a bloodless fashion. Less a mystery than a psychological drama, Thornton presents readers with a convincing character study charting how quickly self-destructive tendencies can veer into full-on self-annihilation, and the many paths one can take to get there.
MixedThe Seattle TimesGlass conjures this fictional atmosphere very successfully, but once introduced to this tone and atmosphere, the plot never diverges. Instead, the narrative plods on — the steady line of a heart monitor without a heartbeat ... What begins as an enticing, albeit mute, style quickly loses its luster. The prose is, at times, so purply one cringes ... There is surely a way Glass could have elevated these devices into something literary, but she defaults to them so frequently that they remain elementary ... Still, reading Rest and Be Thankful glides as easy as any Netflix limited series. And perhaps that’s part of the problem. Perhaps this story would perform better as a short story, or even a novella.
RaveNPRStructured like a detective thriller, this episodic book is organized around a series of visits to erudite experts and rare archives around the world—from a smelly tannery in upstate New York, to a fluorescent basement full of flayed cadavers, to Hell itself—which just so happens to be a wing of the Bibliothèque national de France in Paris ... Rosenbloom takes readers on unexpected excursions into the history of clinical medicine, the ethics of consent, and death-positivity ... Driven by an engine of curiosity, Rosenbloom moves through history at a brisk pace, bookending each chapter with excellent hooks and cliff hangers, all of which makes for propulsive reading. But Rosenbloom does lose momentum toward the end of the book, when she veers away from myth-busting and bloody histories to examine the fine print of how corpses intersect with the law ... Delightful and propulsive, Rosenbloom\'s measured balance of bloody thrills with historical fact and ethical nuance makes Dark Archives a titillating Halloween read.
RaveThe Seattle TimesOstensibly a novel, Homeland Elegies reads more like a collection of essays, centering around a series of instructive scenes rather than a linear plot. Though it occasionally divulges in lengthy internal monologues, much of the argumentation is dressed down and dramatized in conversations ... What distinguishes Akhtar’s novel is the agency he assigns Muslims ... Impressively, the vital ideas presented here might be outshined by Akhtar’s talents as a writer. What could be a cumbersome read is made propulsive by his observant eye for character, rapier wit and indelible turns of phrase ... Akhtar is cementing his place as one of America’s most vital writers working today.
RaveThe AtlanticThe book challenges Sanderson’s archetypal wanderer qualities—his white maleness, his writerly aspirations, his roving voyeurism—not by treating him as the husk of a bygone era, but by cheekily interpolating commentary in his life story ... a very different kind of road narrative ... The setup allows Tobar to act like a master puppeteer and stage moments of dialogue, ranging from friendly ribbing to razor-sharp criticisms. He uses these layered voices to air authorial concerns over dated conventions of the road novel (valorized masculinity, disaster or colonial tourism) ... striking to read, and a reminder that The Last Great Road Bum aims to straddle two eras of the road novel: the swashbuckling freedom fantasies of earlier decades and more recent explorations that have, in part, questioned those very freedoms and their preconditions ... In dialoguing with his central character, Tobar cleverly makes narrative space for these complexities. The protagonist’s commentary in the footnotes is Tobar’s main avenue for dramatizing the genre’s growing pains. Tobar takes care to chart Sanderson’s incremental political awakening to show that life on the road need not be frivolous; it can be instructive too.
Marie Mutsuki Mockett
PositiveThe BelieverIn addition to providing...historical context of white settlership and agriculture, Mockett also documents illuminating conversations she has with her harvesting team. These conversations prove meaningful, particularly because Mockett maps her thinking so well ... The impulse to bridge political, geographic, and cultural divisions may remind readers of writing that proliferated after the 2016 election, as journalists raced to explain \'the other half\' ... While it is tempting to cast American Harvest as yet another book about the \'white working class,\' it resists such categorization. Undoubtedly, Mockett was privy to much of the criticism waged against this genre and took active measures to avoid these trappings. Moreover, her unique food-focused question and efforts to historically contextualize her observations help keep American Harvest a safe distance from that quagmire of a discourse. But what ultimately sets American Harvest apart is the fact that Mockett scrutinizes both sides of the divide, not just the \'other half.\' Her question implicates a contradictory attitude on the part of both city dwellers and country folk; Christians and atheists ... Her forthrightness engenders trust among the harvesters and her readers as well ... Though she did not feel comfortable sharing her fullest self with the harvesters, she does so with the reader, while putting on a masterclass of reporting with humility.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesThis modern fable, written from and for an America consumed by identity politics, illustrates just how deeply embedded the impulse toward othering runs in this country ... This highly disassociated relation between Pew and their body produces some of the most stirring, beautiful sentences in the novel while chipping away at society’s compulsion to organize itself according to how our bodies look ... Despite the fact that our protagonist is nearly mute, this novel is highly oral and features several kinds of speech: gossip, monologues and parroting, for instance ... Pew’s off-kilter narrative voice, along with simmering tensions around difference and belonging, propel the reader forward.
PositiveThe Star TribuneKevin Nguyen’s debut novel, New Waves, upends tropes of this genre and satirizes the self-important culture of \'startup bros\' ... Technology, as demonstrated by Nguyen, often reproduces and amplifies existing systems of oppression ... Though the stage is set for a thriller, this is a novel of grievances—social, cultural and personal ... By dramatizing decisionmaking processes of investors and CEOs, Nguyen convincingly shows how technologies considered \'neutral\' can, in fact, reflect bias ... Despite this abundance of modes, the overall style is dry and straightforward. In the absence of style and the red herring of criminal intrigue, what propels the novel forward is its easy readability and cactus-sharp wit. Nguyen is at his best when parroting startup speak, punched up with democratic aspirations, and exposing the Catch-22 logic of tech investors and executives.
RaveThe Seattle Times... a mouthful of hot gossip, black-market dues, colorful nicknames and a changing New York City neighborhood that renews pressure on who can and cannot be trusted ... rollicking ... This intricate, expansive, meandering plot reads like a detective thriller and ends with satisfying, borderline-corny resolutions in the form of restored love and a moonflower funeral, almost like a rom-com ... Written with the dramatic flair and petty delight of a WWE commentator, these squabbles are usually limited to verbal insults lobbed back and forth and occasionally devolve into physical skirmishes. But even violence is rendered comedically as slapstick ... This novel, like New York, is mouthy and abundant. The narrative perspective rotates through a select number of characters and, as it shifts, so too does the stylistic voice and register. In the strongest passages, McBride draws a gargantuan breath and goes off ... While the novel leans toward comedy overall, it does not overlook the social and economic realities of race and poverty outlined above ... In a city where history is paved over and where the present landscape is defined by scaffolding bent toward an ever-developing future, this novel resists the usual nostalgia for a lost artists’ utopia. Instead, it animates a neighborhood scrimping by and revitalizes another nostalgic sore spot — that of community.
PositiveThe Star TribuneThough steeped in grim political realities, the novel reads like a tall tale ... Azar strikes a remarkable balance between the fantastical and historical fact. What unites these two fronts is an exactness, by way of enumeration and time, which lends credibility to both aspects of the narrative. Events are chronicled with exaggerated precision ... Elsewhere, steps are enumerated, as if navigating a treasure map. What is inexact, however, is the toll of violence ... We can only estimate the number of lives lost in the Islamic Revolution and its violent aftermath.
PositiveThe Seattle Times... an anxious work concerned with the \'disaster imaginary\' ... Weather collages together not so much a world on fire, but an atmosphere of smoke ... It’s funny because it’s so casual, but so too are the now-quotidian feelings of dread and anxiety ... a paranoid style of thinking, as if the paragraphs were newspaper clippings pinned to a wall and the reader is stringing together uncanny connections ... By braiding apocalyptic thoughts with everyday life, Offill shows how susceptible—and adaptable—we are to fear.
RaveThe Seattle Times... a carnal triumph ... [Greenwell] bring[s] to these experiences the kind of attentiveness one only feels at the threshold of something ending and something beginning ... the narrator feels at home in language and in his sexuality, which Greenwell writes like no other living writer, slowing down heightened experiences enough to transcribe them. He moves breathlessly between physical touch and interior feeling, giving voice to shame, \'exquisite\' pleasure and everything in between. He withholds nothing, and is almost surgical in his examination of the narrator’s psyche, but nothing about his writing is clinical — it is silken and warm and abundant ... Page after page, Greenwell fearlessly confronts the messiness of sex and desire: how easily pleasure slips into cruelty and back again, the thin threshold between shame and pleasure, how quickly one abandons consent in pursuit of pleasure, eclipsing even self-imposed limits ... The language around desire never loses emotional depth, even as it moves between different registers, from Hallmark-sweet to corrosive.
MixedThe Washington PostLayered and complex ... Uncertainty persistently dogs these characters, but it also looms over the reader in a novel that tells a complex story using complicated, stylized writing ... VanderMeer’s style here, marked by an archaic syntax and clipped sentences, is cumbersome for a reader trying to gain a foothold in this strange, new world ... Though lush with sensory details, the odd cadence brings to mind a speaker in a royal court, reading from a scroll of dry parchment ... While the ornamental style complements elements of lore peppered throughout the novel, such as the archetypal beings of the trickster fox and the lone traveler, it hampers narrative momentum. That could be forgiven if the world of Dead Astronauts were less convoluted, but we are, after all, hopscotching between multiple realities, timelines and character perspectives ... This notion of hedging expectations is an apt, if sobering, takeaway from this trying parable of climate change.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesBen Lerner’s third and strongest novel to date ... There are many kinds of speech (political, public and private, freestyle, etc.) and succulent language textures on nearly every page. Lerner, a poet himself, shows he is not only a master wordsmith, but a skilled architect of plot in the debate scenes. Adam’s takedowns of his opponents are as riveting as any Federer-Nadal tennis match ... Darren is the least convincing character. He is a grab bag of easy associations for a high-school outcast with dark leanings...Elsewhere, Lerner deploys language with such concision — and is so exacting with his character’s interiority — that using video games as a metaphor is unimaginative and flattens Darren into a stereotype ... Initially, the thinly veiled family drama seems to merely be a clever device for exploring issues like toxic masculinity and the degradation of debate, but Lerner’s characters are so layered, so full, that they cannot all be dismissed as puppets to commentary. That said, there are certainly parts of the novel where the temptation proves too great to comment on contemporary politics or to plant a symbol for psychoanalysis ... These moments are usually marked by heavy-handed exposition and, while they do elevate the narrative, they also stretch it thin and cause the plot to lose momentum.
Alicia Kopf, Trans. by Mara Faye Lethmen
PositiveThe Washington PostWritten in short bursts, like dispatches from the Arctic, Brother in Ice takes readers on an unlikely journey ... The lack of a traditional plot is buoyed by the book’s startling pace, which makes for a fresh and invigorating read.
Anne Garréta, Trans. by Emma Ramadan
MixedThe Rumpus\"To write a genderless narrative is inherently a political act, and Sphinx is born from the experiences of marginalized subjects who are constrained in everyday life by social norms. But Garréta manages to avoid participating in a politics of identity by eliminating gender altogether rather than trying to represent the experience of a specific marginalized subject … Garréta would have written a better book, and a better Oulipian book, if she had not used these binary tropes—opposites attract, symmetrical narrative arcs, black ‘soul’ and white puritanism. Had she tried instead to abandon these patterns and forms, to dissolve these restrictive molds in favor of new or hybrid genres, the book would be more compelling.\
RaveThe RumpusLuiselli masterfully blends journalism, auto/biography, and political history into a compelling and cohesive narrative—something her clients don’t necessarily get in court ... Luiselli uses the personal to get political but smartly sidesteps identity politics to focus on policy instead, thus enabling a broader coalition around immigration in general. Writing clear-eyed, she guides the reader through court proceedings and critiques the language of the law and media, without losing sight of her subject: undocumented children.