RaveSlate... consistently hair-raising ... bracing ... You can make shit up, but you can still be telling the truth ... The most indelible stories in Festival Days observe just as unflinchingly as Beard’s characters face the extremities of life and death. I can’t think of a writer who puts words to our most difficult moments as adroitly as Beard—who so steadfastly refuses to cut away when things get tough. It never makes Festival Days an ordeal to read, though I found myself needing to take a walk when I reached the final page of each piece. During those walks, I found myself revisiting the stories, feeling invigorated to be in the company of someone who seems so much braver than me, and to soak up just some of that bravery ... Beard’s big-heartedness and plain-spokenness makes death less scary than it seems most of the rest of the time. I think it’s because of a writerly trick that Beard uses in each of these stories, which has the effect of making the deaths proper culminations of the pieces in which they appear ... Beard is fond, as a writer, of finding three or four recurring images in a story and returning to them again and again, worrying over them like prayer beads...It doesn’t feel repetitive; it feels like the work of a writer, taking things that might otherwise become familiar and finding new meaning in them each time they return ... When, in her characters’ final moments, she returns one last time to those images, the effect is comforting. Even when these deaths are frightening, sad, or violent, they have meaning: the order imposed by a writer who patiently, kindly, takes us by the hand and explains how things are.
RaveSlateI felt that my position in relation to the book’s capacious intellect and imagination and moral purpose was a vertiginous one. It was thrilling and frightening, reading this book ... publishers...should be leaping at the chance to publish something this important, this beautiful, and this much fun ... each time I thought the book was done surprising me, Knox flexed her own golden gauntlet and opened another gate and flung me through it. At the end, I was shaken and grateful for the worlds I’d seen ... When I was finished with The Absolute Book I wanted everyone I knew to read it so I could discuss it with them ... [a] majestic, brain-bending novel[.]
PositiveSlate MagazineLee does her best to scour Stoppard’s life and 50-year career for that human fallibility, and while at 750 pages (plus notes) Tom Stoppard can feel as daunting as one of the master’s more vexing theatrical works, it never treats (as so many biographies do) the fame and accomplishment of its subject as foregone conclusions. Instead, Tom Stoppard remains alive to the unlikeliness of Tom Stoppard’s career from the very beginning ... [Tom Stoppard] encourages the reader to return to Stoppard’s work in ways that are richly rewarding. Lee gives wise, learned readings to each major play (and a number of minor ones), teasing apart their themes, interpreting their theatrical gestures, and placing them cleverly in the context of their author’s life and work.
RaveSlateCritics have compared Tims Creek to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, and it’s true that Kenan’s grasp of his lightly fictionalized home’s history, geography, and culture was as keen as Faulkner’s ... You might argue that Kenan’s treatment of Tims Creek’s white characters is more thoughtful and complex than Faulkner’s treatment of his Black characters ... The 10 stories in the new collection are as rich and provocative and funny as the ones that came before; I particularly liked a tall tale about a Tims Creek plumber who, on a trip to New York with his wife, somehow ends up in Billy Idol’s entourage. Horrible Percy Terrell returns, in a story that explores with a keen eye and true generosity a white man beginning to confront the lies and thievery of his family’s past.
PositiveSlate... abides by limits, and within those limits—thanks to those limits, in fact—it is a wonder ... The House is the world on which Clarke exerts her formidable world-building skills ... What’s unsettling about the book, and what I loved most about it, is that this dramatic irony is not played for comedy or for pity. Instead, it illuminates the unbridgeable gap between us, the readers, and Piranesi, and puts forth an argument that the differences between us may be just as damaging to us as they are to him. He may not be able to see how life in the House has warped him, the way we can—but our understanding of the majesty of the House is nothing like his. His enchantment at the wonders of the House, at the world he lives in, is alluring ... Of course the Other’s stories begin to fall apart, and of course Piranesi begins to understand the nature of the House and of his existence. That he trails us a bit in that understanding means that the book didn’t quite astonish me, the way Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so often did. Instead, Piranesi is after a quieter kind of magic, exploring the ways human beings can adapt and find meaning in even the direst of conditions. Ought we all be devoting more of our energies to appreciating the beauty of our own lives and less to determining the circumstances of our imprisonments?
John Jeremiah Sullivan
RaveNPRA few months ago, the writer John Jeremiah Sullivan published, for all intents and purposes, the perfect magazine piece ... The bad news is that \'A Rough Guide to Disney World\' does not appear in Sullivan\'s new essay collection, Pulphead. The good news is that 14 other stories do, and they\'re all almost as good — which is to say, they\'re among the liveliest magazine features written by anyone in the past 10 years ... The essays in Pulphead ... What they have in common, though, whether low or high of brow, is their author\'s essential curiosity about the world, his eye for the perfect detail, and his great good humor in revealing both his subjects\' and his own foibles ... a collection that shows why Sullivan might be the best magazine writer around.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThe extravagantly entertaining Skippy Dies chronicles a single catastrophic autumn at Seabrook from a good 20 different perspectives: students, teachers, administrators, priests, girlfriends, doughnut shop managers. At the center of it all is Daniel Juster, known as Skippy, whose death — on the floor of Ed’s Doughnut House, just after writing his beloved’s name on the floor in raspberry filling — opens the novel … The ambitious length of Skippy Dies allows Murray to take on any number of fascinating themes. One of the great pleasures of this novel is how confidently he addresses such disparate topics as quantum physics, video games, early-20th-century mysticism, celebrity infatuation, drug dealing, Irish folklore and pornography … Murray confidently brings these strands together, knitting them into an energetic plot that concerns Skippy’s death — and his roommates’ attempts to contact him afterward — but also expands into an elegy for lost youth.
PositiveNPR'New York City in death was very much like New York City in life,' writes Colson Whitehead in his apocalyptic tragicomedy Zone One ... Whitehead, whose previous novels include John Henry Days and The Intuitionist, is concerned with existential loneliness in Zone One, and lampooning contemporary society and its excesses ...the book also means to deliver the visceral satisfaction promised by Whitehead's gruesome adopted genre, the horror story ... Zone One is a smart, strange, engrossing novel about the end of metaphors and the way that, as Mark Spitz knows all too well, no barrier can hold forever against the armies of death.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewGrossman’s book was not only a cracking yarn but also an exploration of the way fantasy entices the reader — especially the teenage reader — with visions of a majestic alternate future, a place where meaningful quests are handed out to those otherwise at sea. The novel mapped the gulf between Quentin’s ideas of heroism and the scary, awful reality of actually being a hero ... Quentin is restless, indecisive, frustrated and frustrating; Grossman, to his credit, isn’t afraid to explore his protagonist’s rougher edges, but hanging out with ever – dissatisfied Quentin can get a little tiring ... Both plotlines in The Magician King look deep into the well of magic in Grossman’s fictional universe, and both central characters learn it’s assuredly not turtles all the way down ...in keeping with the preoccupations and innovations of this serious, heartfelt novel, turns the machinery of fantasy inside out.
MixedNew York MagazineSwamplandia! suffers from a tonal disconnect, toggling between Ava’s tale—a spooky journey into a desolate landscape, like Winter’s Bone in steamy Florida—and Kiwi’s, a picaresque satire of modern excess … There’s never a chance that Swamplandia! might go off the rails...for soon the magic of Ava’s hunt for her sister falls away and a weird, dissonant story turns into a familiar, if harrowing, tale of abuse and escape. Too bad, because Ava’s search for her sister is haunting, and Swamplandia! is at its best when it explores the corrosive fear and grief that come with loss.
RaveNPRA good baseball coach and a good novelist are a lot alike, according to Chad Harbach's satisfyingly old-fashioned debut, The Art of Fielding … The characters in The Art of Fielding do suffer. They lose jobs, marriages, ballgames. They see their futures snatched away without explanation, and hurt each other without justification. But Harbach is such an empathetic writer — such a good coach — that Schwartz and his teammates suffer in ways suited to them, and feel as smart and human and real as a reader could hope for … Harbach's novel might remind you not of the highbrow writers one associates with n+1 but of John Irving's The World According to Garp in its length, its warmth, its love of sudsy plot twists.
RaveSlate[Liew is] a master of basically any style of cartooning—from Pogo-style funny animals to Mad Magazine satire to commercial caricature to wartime adventure to gekiga manga. The result is a multilayered masterpiece of comic-book and real-world history, a portrait of the postwar world made in a thrilling postmodern style. It’s funny and rich and satisfying, and one of the best comics of the year.