RaveThe New York Times Book Review... reflective, earthy, humane ... rife with the problem of privilege, the profoundly leveling experience of the virus, and an ever-present sense of absurdity and humor ... Shteyngart uses a 19th-century-style omniscience, moving from mind to mind within a scene (and, like Tolstoy, even occasionally inhabiting the minds of animals) while drawing back and commenting to the reader from a perspective that none of the characters are privy to. This choice seems suited to the subject: We were all thrust into a vast calamity that we didn’t understand and over which we had no control. The world feels relentlessly godless. Our all-knowing narrator steps in to give us the big picture in inimitable Shteyngartian style ... This narration also allows the novel to adopt a tone of wry self-reflexivity, as in this slap at the very idea of writing a pandemic novel ... There are wonderfully vivid descriptions of food and weather and sex ... In this dense, ambitious novel, some elements fall flat. The speculative tech of the Tröö Emotions app seems to belong in a different book (although those umlauts are funny), and the more the characters tried to explain it, the less sense it made to me. And I didn’t need Sasha’s ongoing betrayal of one of his closest friends. I appreciate that Shteyngart wants to be unflinching about Sasha’s failings, but it struck me as too cruel for his character ... The novel’s strengths abound. It upends clichés, pieties and commonplaces while also noticing salient details of the lockdown ... It works because the author is aware of his characters’ hypocrisies and vanities. Shteyngart doesn’t let them off the hook, but he does allow them (and us) some respite.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewHis particulate telling is measured and understated, which is the right approach to such a high-mannerist American extravaganza (Guns! Sex! Money! Plus audio!). The book’s real power comes from Toobin’s ability to convincingly and economically evoke a broad range of people ... As for Patty Hearst herself, Toobin treats her as a person, not a tabloid phantasm.