PositiveSouthern Review of BooksA slippery creature ... A book that is at once an admirably honest and questionably composed portrait of the legacy of the Yugoslav wars in the twenty-first century ... He is at his best in depicting moments of casual violence that mirror the pervasive all-consuming reality of war. The stories range, temporally, from the time of the Yugoslav Wars themselves to the present, and throughout it is the cold honesty that gives The Distortions its power and poignancy ... The Distortions is a work of readily apparent truth, honesty, and significance. Consistently, The Distortions manages to neatly blend the everyday violence of life with quotidian concerns and affairs ... One cannot help but to be somewhat disappointed by the overall lack of risk-taking on the sentence level to be found at any point in Distortions. Linforth, for all his stark, crystalline honesty and willingness to explore the human realities of the postwar years in the former Yugoslavia through a myriad of voices, never changes speed in his use of point-of-view or technique ... We are never given direct access to the minds of our heroes and heroines, instead relying on neat, orderly, often rather titled summaries of emotions, thoughts, and memories in a way that is somewhat discordant with the overall theme and feel of the book. For the reader unconcerned with the goings-on in the slippery underworld of the sentence, however, The Distortions will prove to be a quite readable study of a region recovering from historic violence.
RaveSouthern Review of Books... utterly odd, wickedly funny, and sharply satirical ... Moshfegh’s third-person narrative entity is rich in her trademark blend of arresting language and blindside humor as she triangulates truth and thought amongst several characters ... The playfully incisive voice of the narrative entity propels the swift and resonant plot through these principle perspectives with technical ease, making her approach all the more effective ... Third-person narrative voice, that foundational element of fiction, is a weapon in Moshfegh’s hands. Lapvona, despite the centrality of temporal-geographical setting to its success, has no time or need for tedious exposition or whitewashed backstory. The reader is immediately immersed and instantly comfortable with the storyline and central premise, a testament to Moshfegh’s viselike control of her narrative entity, even as the book reads with a deceptively casual tone. Here is the skill that has been on display throughout her career, and is the defining characteristic of an oeuvre that thrives in a succession of slightly left-of-center worlds and actors ... Behind Lapvona’s strange hilarity and smooth prose is a scathing lampoon of society’s fundamental social-economic inequality — divided along lines of class, gender, and religion — a portrait of haves and have nots all the more apt for the damning parallels the book draws between the world within its pages and the one without — modern America, indeed, is all too fitting an avatar for a deranged medieval wasteland reeling between famine and plague. Moshfegh has made a remarkable career out of technical skill, narrative audacity, and dark humor, and in many ways, her latest effort is her strongest. Lapvona is at once thoroughly entertaining, meticulously crafted, and unsettlingly thought-provoking, and it seems a bit much to ask any more of a novel than that.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... at turns humorous, emotive, perplexing, and on balance, effective ... rances is far from the most scrupulous, kind, or likable of characters. But it is her somewhat distasteful mission and overall ethos that makes her amusing, and which provides ample room for Winter to display her skill with humor, which she does often and with good reason. As the book progresses, she is able to layer in more depth, both to her novel and protagonist ... is at its best when Winter changes speeds in her scene-heavy, primarily fictive present narration, mixing in Frances’ strikingly visceral memories of Adrienne ... By the time we reach the midpoint chapter relating how Frances met Adrienne, one wonders why this storyline wasn’t the central focus of the plot. The engaging and quite successful section, one that explains the jacket design even if it further confuses the title, feels the most alive, as does the entire Adrienne plotline. As a result, Winters resorts to reanimating the book’s initial tensions halfway through, granting a few days’ reprieve for Francis to get the money and for her book to continue to enjoy forward momentum within the ostensibly central storyline ... For the fast pace and natural humor Winter is able to bring to her work, Sedating Elaine at times is inelegant on the sentence level. The point of view, as a limited third-person focused on Frances, never gets close enough to be able to map her inner world without an authorial guiding hand. While this exposition can be somewhat foreseeable, the real issues are mechanical ones ... the book maintains its readable humor and contact with emotion. While the redemptive arc is certainly present, Winter manages to avoid too much predictability and, crucially, keeps from totally whitewashing Frances. The unlikeable character is indeed alive and well, and for that alone, Sedating Elaine is a notable accomplishment.
RaveChicago Review of BooksTo infuse in the readerly experience some measure of the sensations and emotions navigated by the protagonist; to mirror life and art, so to speak, is an approach as tricky as it is effective. In her debut novella, Love, Maayan Eitan realizes this goal rather ably, painting a portrait of a young sex worker that itself contains the fluidity, disquiet, and uncertainty of its subject’s life ... Written with an honest, if ephemeral voice, and in a fairly straight ahead first-person, the book races along with its heroine ... Throughout, Eitan leaves the reader to fend for herself, eschewing exposition or backstory in order to prioritize scene, an immersive choice that furthers the thematic and narrative aims of her work ... Most of the plot is given over to Libby’s experiences and encounters, and the book holds little back in its most visceral scenes. Yet honesty is an important and successful feature of the novella—one that forces the reader to reckon with the true nature of her work and the lives of those engaged in it ... The book’s most successful technical-formal decision is the use of the rapid, loose, and free-flowing first-person narration ... The reader is able to experience her manner of living and surviving in an authentic, verisimilar fashion. In this way, not only character but story become real and immediate agents of effective fiction ... Movement and authenticity are the most arresting elements of Love ... Love stands as a moving, revealing book that manages to bring something of its uneasy, important fictive world into the real experience of reading it.
Francesco Pacifico, Tr. Elizabeth Harris
MixedThe Chicago Review of Books... both an exemplar of metafiction and an impish commentary on the Americana masculinity-forward novel of mid-century ... There are drawbacks. The book’s conceit — from the present tense of the title to the constant self-reflexivity of the narration — feels forced at times, as the parenthetical (and, sometimes, even the bracketed sub-parenthetical) aides grow somewhat tedious as Marcello takes space to update us on his life since the time of writing or his editorial philosophy. Even his obsession with sneakers, mentioned no less than a half dozen times in the opening, relatively brief chapter alone, feels more artifice than actuality, more characterization than character. The calculated feel remains throughout, leaving the reader only to guess as to where the balance of intention falls, and to venture ahead ... As a seasoned novelist, however, Pacifico knows how to play to his strengths ... Pacifico peppers his work with humor, wit, and even occasional pathos as we learn his life story. One perhaps wishes he had made the choice, at times, to shy away from his self-interruptive asides to spend more time on that physical Roman world he knows and writes so well ... A difficult novel to make sense of, it is an interesting, amusing, and fast-flowing work, but one that perhaps never quite finds its center of gravity. By the end, the most salient point made by The Women I Love is a proof that constructing a book to refract around the negative spaces of an earlier age and of a marginal form is rather difficult. There’s an absence here, a conviction missing from the raison d’être that saps it of propulsion, unity, gravitas ... This is, to be sure, a bold work. Perhaps not in technique or style, but in narrative and in form. With its usurpation of the masculine-literary convention and its constant attempts to explore the depths of the metafictional whirlpool, Pacifico’s latest effort does not lack for confidence. And while oftentimes this conviction is both well-earned and well-used, there are more than a few who will perhaps find reason enough to get out of the water. Ultimately, The Women I Love spends so much time exploring what it isn’t that the reader struggles to find out what it is, even as the amusing story of an amusing man falls into shape around the evolving forms of novelistic convention and societal change.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... bright, perspicacious, and elegant ... Most notable for its sterling point-of-view and the literary ancestry it invokes, White on White primarily, although not exclusively, trails along these technical lines, namely in its clear evolution from Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy ... a discursive, intimate first-person narrator to, via dropping authorial flags and bleeding syntax and diction into each other, thrust a secondary character into immediacy with the reader. When done properly, as it frequently is in White on White, this method is a subtle and effective one ... hile Savaş perhaps does not possess the same electric prose, razor-sharp precision, or mechanically flawless use of, as this reviewer has termed it, first-person free-indirect (something that can be said of all Cusk’s contemporaries), she is nonetheless a more than legitimate literary descendant and engaging practitioner of the craft ... Propelled by a rich voice and sharp eye, and ultimately offering an insightful study of the decay wrought by time on relationships and identity, White on White stands as both a well-defined and well-executed work in its own right and a prime example of the evolutionary process of the novel as an art form, the employment of an extant technical-mechanical route to reach a new and enlightening destination.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... a fresh release from a well-loved author can often be the most gratifying. It is in this light Claire Chambers, a writer who has established herself as a prominent and accomplished novelist with a wide audience, has come through once more with her latest book ... Chambers prides story above all else, and moves immediately into the action from the opening pages. Our protagonist, Jean, is a refreshingly original one ... Chambers’ straightforward and useful narrative patterning creates an accessible, relatable story that never allows itself to become sidetracked or drawn astray. Moving with the brisk pace of a London morning, we follow Jean across the plot from scene to scene, often opening with a specific moment before transitioning into exposition designed to inform the audience of the internal and external events since the last chapter. While it is an approach that takes few chances in style or form, it has an obvious and fulfilled purpose, clearing the narrative decks for Jean and the pursuit of her remarkable journalistic white whale ... Intertwined nicely with the central plot—and given a rather surprising, if welcome, amount of attention given the book’s overall ethos—is the geo-temporal location ... inexorably wound up in its plot, as Jean’s oppressing tensions—her conventional mother, the limits placed on her by social convention, and the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry—give life and propulsion to the book as a whole ... That readership Chambers enjoys as a result of her successful career will recognize and admire the clear-eyed prose and emotionally resonant storytelling that dominates the genetic makeup ... By the end, the style used in Small Pleasures manages, much like the good journalist who serves as its heroine, to present the facts without getting in the way of the story, and makes for a book that will satisfy its audience.
PositiveChicago Review of Books[A] focused and coherent debut ... Told in a forthright, clearheaded, and sensible first person, by a narrator who is eminently likable if perhaps a bit dull, Luchette’s début demonstrates that its author has mastered that first essential element of the craft—clarity of purpose and a precise motivation behind their work ... The simplicity ultimately serves its purpose, allowing the story of Agatha and her nomadic sisters to take center stage all its own, unembellished and unmolested. Luchette adopts a method all their own, intertwining form and content ... Agatha of Little Neon reaches that goal which all novels fundamentally pursue—saying something authentic and essential about the human experience—and does so with verisimilitude and the grace that comes with living simply.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... sparkling confident ... McClorey proves herself not only well aware, but fully in command of this elusive fictive element ... A startling and charming debut, the lifeblood of McClorey’s work is the expertly formed and controlled voice with which our protagonist relates her often humorous, subtly sad, narrative. The book has a utopian grander to it, a Confederacy of Dunces-esq cosmopolitan inventory that paints its players in bold relief...What’s more, McClorey has more than a trace of John Kennedy Toole’s uproarious plot making and brilliant craftsmanship to her, with interior and exterior dialogue that sings and descriptions that slice through the daily world ... As we move through the wonderfully strange yet brilliantly familiar events of Amy’s landmark summer, we learn about her tragicomic backstory via precise memory that never feels authorial or expository; instead each passage of Amy’s past—given in a manner that causes each to read like a coveted piece of a historical puzzle serves as an organic outgrowth of a natural scene, with McClorey’s smooth mechanics allowing her to seamlessly render her protagonist’s moves between fictive present and past. From page to page, across the whole, Nobody, Somebody, Anybody is a book that’s hard to decipher and harder to give up. It lends itself to long luxurious bouts of reading, propelled by its arresting worldview, unique voice, and quick pace. McClorey also manages a well balanced sense of readerly mystery, playing on that narrative-temporal location right up until the technically daring, utterly engrossing ending ... a finely calibrated book for its era, one that even—while feeling more fortuitous happenstance than anything—fits in a loose, thematic way with a pandemic-weary world ... McClorey proves herself more than capable in all aspects of the art of the novel—a rare feat for a freshman effort. With a singular voice, a carousing, quixotic, dauntless protagonist, rich and organic humor, the disarming, thought provoking ending, and above all, the current of sadness and depth of humanity that runs below the surface, time and again the reader finds themselves simply impressed ... From start to finish, here is the uncommon book that is supremely sure in conception, approach, and execution, and one that avoids trying to do too much—a common pitfall of the discursive first person. This last point should be interpreted as high praise:McClorey finds a razor sharp narrative focus and doesn’t allow her heroine to stray off course. By limiting her temporal range and perspective, McClorey is able to keep every scene charged with energy and importance, steering clear of those self-serious, overly introspective moments of expository reflection that often come with a first person narrative in which the act of the telling and the appearance of fictive events are distant in time. By keeping her narrating and narrative protagonists nearly one in the same, separated by only weeks, and with the former knowing little more than the latter, McCorley creates a central character of refreshing accessibility, vulnerability, and verisimilitude ... stands as a remarkable first novel, one that will stay with its reader and makes bold promises about the future career of its creator.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... among the more satisfying and accomplished books of the past year ... Arnett signals her writerly evolution from the first lines of this new work. Allowing no spare moment for the reader to acclimate themselves, the taut, confident opening chapter of With Teeth immediately establishes the punctuated tension and merciless urgency that the earlier effort sometimes lacked. For all the accomplishments of the latter...Arnett now pushes in a new direction and ends up with a follow-up novel of greater skill, ambition, and poignancy than the first ... In a manner more fully realized than in her first effort, here Arnett crafts a protagonist that the reader comes to feel for despite her clear flaws ... For all the wisdom of the point-of-view decision on the macro level, at the micro Arnett’s mechanics and structure do, at spots, belie a lack of total comfort in the form ... The completely unexpected, nearly absurd, wonderfully strange passage that serves as inspiration for the title is indicative of With Teeth’s refreshing interest in the art of the scene. At times, Arnett would be better served staying a while longer in a given moment...Overall, however, the book moves so quickly in leaping, lingering, then leaping once more, that the reader is constantly engaged and excited to read ahead ... As the book progresses, it is the strangeness, the off-white coloring in which Arnett paints, that provides the momentum ... The best moments of With Teeth are when Arnett fully settles into a slice of Sammi’s life and mind, letting rich prose seamlessly guide the narrative from physical description to inner thoughts. In a novel that often embodies in form the hectic interpersonal dynamics of the twenty-first century American family that it takes as content, even brief moments of reprise stand as key landmarks. By taking a second to breathe, we are able to keep pace with so wide-ranging a plot, to stay invested in the characters and outcome ... Arnett has managed to wrangle the wilds of love, family, and motherhood to tell an engaging, voluminous story in bright, lucid prose.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... leans heavily on its namesake as it drives towards its landing, and while we do safely reach the end — completing a long, adventurous, and large-scale journey along the way — at times one cannot help but wonder as to the result if more attention might have been paid to the how over the where ... Shipstead’s plots are ambitious, entertaining, and eventful; in these respects, Great Circle is her preeminent offering. The story, at once timely and timeless, fits well in our modern, individualistic age, a clearly well-researched and carefully considered examination of American history. The dual protagonists are engaging and at times inspirational heroines, talented and capable women who offer a refreshing pair of female voices taking on traditional roles of adventure and daring. Shipstead’s greatest talents lie in conceiving boldly drawn characters who navigate and challenge intricately detailed worlds across stories wide in both scope and range; Great Circle is no exception ... draws upon all of Shipstead’s storytelling abilities to sustain its extensive plot, as these lines surge towards each other in rough parallel. While her endeavors are ultimately successful — a grand story is told in the end — and Shipstead aims for a work epic in scope and intimate in approach, her need to wrangle such a plot causes her to get in the way of her characters, prioritizing accessibility and ease of reading over verisimilitude or scenes that leap off the page. Like the navigational guide that gives its title, Great Circle will appeal most to readers who focus on the end more than the means, but for those with an attunement to the intricacies of style, mechanics, and technique, it proves a challenging and at times frustrating work ... Both narratives, told in mostly swift vignettes that aid in proving momentum to the book, build rather inexorably to their resolutions, and although Shipstead is naturally gifted in her ability to examine a private moment with a character, the voice and restriction of both narrator and author is never far from the reader’s mind ... However, the direct path has its place in the world, and Shipstead manages a wonderfully imagined plot of sensational scope. It will appeal to the reader who simply wants to be told a good story, without fixing an eye towards the finer points of method. Like its central character, once Great Circle is off the ground it moves swiftly and surely, drawing a direct, if circumscribed, line from a bygone age of adventure to a modern, dauntless, world.