PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksIn classic Donoghue narrative style, it all unfolds in a confined space under cramped conditions ... As the summer turns to fall and the conditions on the island deteriorate, the impossible task of trying to sustain life takes its harsh toll on the physical and mental state of the men, convincingly conveyed by Donoghue’s raw descriptions and her exceptional skill with emotionally authentic dialogue ... Haven’s plot action is limited, allowing instead for the story’s focus to be placed fully on the volatile dynamic escalating between the three characters as they confront life-threatening circumstances. The novel’s tension reaches its peak with the painful revelation of Trian’s secret, propelling the narrative to its dramatic if predictable end. Most striking in Haven’s conclusion is the emergence of Cormac—a self-effacing latecomer to Christianity—as the real leader and man of God, and a pointed message from Donoghue about what \'true fellowship\' really means in the face of Artt’s religious fanaticism.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThere is nothing linear about Yuknavitch’s narrative—time being an entirely fluid element in the novel—and the language, descriptions, and metaphors are elaborate, lush, and very dream-like, often disorientingly so. A reader intent on deciphering a logical progression to the storyline will be disappointed: this is a story to give in to, to float through, to be carried along by ... Laisvė’s mission connects three fascinating substories, emerging interspersed with her own. In each intricately woven narrative, it is an overwhelming desire for liberty and release from the oppressive bonds of their individual social circumstances that motivates the characters ... Yuknavitch is unsparing in her criticism of American social hypocrisy ... Yuknavitch has so much to say in this haunting, elegiac novel, and it takes time to swim through it all and appreciate what she is trying to do. Some of the most powerful writing in Thrust concerns women’s bodies, rights, and freedoms: timely indeed ... this is a book of and for dark times.
RaveChicago Review of BooksRare are books that can truly—in the most genuine and interesting sense—be called experimental, but Alexandrian poet and writer Noor Naga’s first prose novel is one such rarity. Sharp, switched-on, and self-interrogating, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English masterfully continues, long after the last page is read, to provoke uncomfortable yet essential questions about what we demand from literature that represents otherness ... Naga ridicules our ignorant expectations of \'marketable\' literature depicting otherness. As a writer, Naga does not excuse herself from this scrutiny, the final revelation of this inventive and brilliant book scathingly proving her very point.
RaveChicago Review of Books\"... this book is intelligent, sexy, and highly entertaining. It also showcases Moreno-Garcia’s evolving mastery of her prose style—more streamlined and confident than in Mexican Gothic—and the enviable sweep of her creative ability to write fascinating characters within and through multiple genres ... Moreno-Garcia’s portrayal of Maite is one of the most intriguing and delightful aspects of the novel: the character elicits from the reader a confusing combination of sympathy and derision ... The historical detail of Velvet Was the Night lends the novel its gravity and intellect, but it is the author’s considerable skill with developing characters and thrilling, fast-paced plotlines that gives it its energy. The perfect summer indulgence, this book leaves the reader keyed up, breathless, and eager for more of what Moreno-Garcia has to offer.
Pedro Mairal tr. Jennifer Croft
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksIn the hands of a writer less skilled in nuanced storytelling, The Woman from Uruguay could have been a tired tale of a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, led astray and ultimately made a fool by his baser instincts. But in his latest novel, celebrated Argentinian writer and poet Pedro Mairal works through the familiar trope of bungling male sexual desire to reflect more philosophically on the nature of intimate relationships, and the ways in which we can so perniciously lose our individualism in the connections we form. The result is a tender meditation on desire and the fragility of the human heart, translated elegantly by Man Booker International winner Jennifer Croft.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... engagingly told by Moss in her characteristically streamlined and suspenseful prose ... Within the walls of each cabin, Moss subtly renders the delicate intricacies and troubled dynamics of family life ... The final paragraph of Summerwater is one of the most chilling in recent memory, pointing to the devastating consequences of bigotry and hatred, and to the undeniable mastery of Moss’s storytelling.
RaveChicago Review of BooksThe Pull of The Stars beautifully does what good fiction borrowing from history can do: it allows us to look indirectly at our present, painful circumstances and know, with some relief, that we are perhaps not in such unprecedented times as we may believe ... Over several extended passages, she meticulously describes the challenging medical complications that Julia confronts and the procedures she heroically performs. All of the novel’s action happens within the confines of the tiny maternity ward—a whole world unto itself—confirming Donoghue’s mastery of seemingly small interior scenes packed with granular detail, powerful momentum, and plenty of suspense.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe goal of these books is laudable, and the material certainly rich ... earnest ... Miller quite deftly reveals Yeats’s shabby character ... Miller’s characterization of her protagonist as a flawed and contradictory being is effective: we both admire Georgie’s resolve and find her unbearably foolish and even contemptible in her naivety ... There is much to recommend about More Miracle Than Bird, despite some slow moments in the plot, over-description, and occasionally stiff dialogue – perhaps not surprisingly, mainly between Georgie and Yeats. The inclusion of the colorful supporting characters Ezra Pound and Dorothy and Olivia Shakespeare, adds a dynamic element to the story, and Miller’s ability to create atmosphere in her writing is notable as she convincingly evokes the sights and sounds of wartime. More Miracle Than Bird is an entertaining read and a fine portrait of another of history’s forgotten women.
MixedThe Chicago Review of Books... a dark and disturbing mix of social satire, mystery, and fairytale ... Thomas’s unsparing and visceral portrayal of their lives and dangerous obsessions, while not sympathetic, is penetrating and perhaps for some readers even triggering ... would succeed as a novel on the intellectual merit alone of the interplay between the girls’ class privilege and an ultimately deadly preoccupation with image, but Thomas makes the curious decision to add an element of mystery to the story involving the school’s headmaster that feels incongruous and hurried, too easily explaining away the darkness at the heart of the book and denying a satisfying resolution to any of the girls’ predicaments. In the end, despite a wealth of witty and perspicacious turns of phrase, the novel feels uncertain of its purpose and stops just short of its mark.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksA contemporary retelling of the story of the self-styled knight’s exploits and his utter devotion to his romantic convictions in the face of dark times and unkind opposition is an entertaining and surprisingly effective framework employed in Salman Rushdie’s latest novel ... Quichotte and Sancho’s trying progress across America in this road novel allows Rushdie to tackle some difficult subject matter, including the racism and violence the two men of Indian origin encounter ... Much of the novel is, in fact, convincingly concerned with the ways in which, as the world begins to come apart at the seams, white supremacy rears its ugly head, and political and social chaos reigns in the era of Trump ... A frequently bewildering read befitting our equally bewildering times,Quichotte is ultimately and hopefully about connection and love as the path forward[.]
RaveChicago Review of BooksToews delivers her most damning portrayal yet of the Mennonite community and its devastating impact, most particularly on the lives of its girls and women ... There are even moments of humour, particularly when the women are tickled by the absurd idea of asking the men themselves to leave Molotschna. Toews expertly draws out each woman’s voice and intellect ... It is in these grand moments of clarity in Women Talking that we can hear Toews’ angry authorial voice behind the narration in her condemnation of the failings of the patriarchal Mennonite community.
PositiveChicago Review of Books\"And The Age of Light is sumptuous, full of the kinds of details of Parisian culture and life that can captivate readers ... While some of the emotionally charged dialogue exchanged between Man and Lee feels contrived at times, The Age of Light is still a beautifully written story with its lush descriptions and skilled characterization. Where the novel loses its way – though by no means fatally so – is in the weakly integrated war scenes that appear periodically throughout the novel and feel like an afterthought. Given that the story of Lee Miller as a respected artist in her own right arguably began with her war correspondence – not necessarily during the tumultuous few years she spent with Man Ray – more might have been made of these scenes in this otherwise absorbing novel.\
PositiveChicago Review of Books\"At only 144 pages long, Ghost Wall is a slip of a book, powerful in its tightly controlled prose and multiple understated themes ... More broadly, and perhaps even more timely, Moss’s novel contains political undertones and motifs relevant to our nationalistic age of walls and border security.\
RaveChicago Review of Books...whip-smart and rather disturbing ... Amazingly, Martin manages to convince us not to entirely condemn Peter, even as he does some rather despicable things ... The real hallmark of Early Work is the language. Martin has a remarkable ear for natural dialogue and pitch-perfect, witty banter, giving the novel a polished feel and a confident tone that herald more great fiction to come from this author.
RaveChicago Review of BooksFar too little fiction reflects the experiences and realities of those with disabilities, and when it does, it often reads as an exercise in tokenism. In So Lucky, a disconcerting but very necessary book, Griffith presents a protagonist with substance, complexity, and purpose. Mara is so much more than her diagnosis and limitations, but her story underlines the insidiousness of ableism and the lamentable mistreatment and neglect of the chronically ill and disabled among us.
Veronica Gerber Bicecci, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksMexican author Verónica Gerber Bicecci’s first novel is like a Rubik’s Cube in the best possible way: there may be an elegant solution, but this puzzle of a story doesn’t make it easy to find. The head-scratching challenge of deciphering the messages and meanings hidden in the combination of Gerber Bicecci’s spare words and enigmatic diagrams is one of the most appealing aspects of this unusual narrative ... As with any good work of experimental fiction that defies conventional expectations, however, there are no definitive answers here and no elegant solutions.
MixedThe Chicago Review of BooksKeener’s attempt to bring together her unsettling year-long experience living in Budapest with a fictional mystery surrounding the death of a WWII veteran’s daughter is a promising—if not entirely successful—framework for this rather slow-moving novel ... Keener’s writing is unquestionably skillful. Her ability to render multidimensional characters through sophisticated description and dialogue is excellent. But the buildup to the novel’s climax and revelation of the so-called mystery of Deborah’s death is paced too slowly. Ultimately, it is overly ponderous, perhaps as a result of one too many themes intersecting clumsily in the novel, stalling its momentum and diluting its suspense.