RaveThe AV ClubWhitehead makes his foray into crime fiction, to transportive effect ... The author’s crisp prose rounds the many narrative curves ... A meticulous researcher, Whitehead re-creates the Harlem of the late 1950s and early 1960s through sights and sounds ... What most grounds the novel in its setting, perhaps more than the rich historical details, are the characters ... It is, in many ways, a very American story ... With his latest successful genre exercise, Whitehead questions all manner of strivers, even the likable ones who seem to \'deserve\' more. In Harlem Shuffle, upward mobility is a means, not an end, and legitimacy a matter of perspective.
Michael J. Fox
RaveThe AV ClubMichael J. Fox reminds us that hope is an exercise and a discipline, not just a feeling or even a state of mind ... Introspective and poignant, No Time Like The Future is the latest installment in Fox’s series of reflections on just how hard-won that famous sense of hope is ... Though it skips around a bit, the story is mostly linear, carried by an easy, almost upbeat rhythm ... Fox’s belief in a positive outcome, or just making it through the current setback, rarely ever wavers. But his optimism isn’t of the borderline fatalistic variety, of keeping your fingers crossed that things will work out some way, somehow. The grim reality is that Fox and his family have been through these things before: injuries, hospitalizations, physical therapy. The author’s resolve has been burnished by adversity, something he shares with his loved ones. If his hope is unfaltering, it’s because the love and support from his family and friends is steadfast ... Despite the aforementioned production-style approach to the book, this darkest-before-dawn moment is less a narrative device than it is an epiphany. Fox is ready to acknowledge the tolls that time and Parkinson’s have exacted on him. He’s never lugubrious, even as doubts crowd out memories of happier times. Fox’s pluck still shines through, especially in the asides scattered throughout even the most troubling passages. His gratitude is also ever-present as he recounts the second act of his career ... Before meeting it head-on, Fox shows greater vulnerability than ever before by just sitting with it, and with the possibility that, despite his best efforts, things might not work out ... reflects both the culmination of his own philosophy and the greatest test of it.
MixedThe A.V. ClubI’m Your Huckleberry is as much a one-man show as Citizen Twain, Kilmer’s Mark Twain-centered stage show. The erstwhile Batman does open up (to different degrees) in his memoir about breakups, movie sets, and tests to his faith, but always with a mind to entertain. But I’m Your Huckleberry is more sprawling monologue than a retrospective, full of asides and free association, often sanguine and occasionally resigned ... Kilmer shows great vulnerability and a knack for storytelling. But over the course of I’m Your Huckleberry’s 300-plus pages, that balance becomes heavily skewed toward the latter; as he makes grand pronouncements about the nature of art and humankind, Kilmer remains hesitant to reckon with his personal carnage ... he genuinely seems grateful for the opportunity to look back on his life, loves, and career. But he doesn’t broach those subjects with consistent candor ... some of that glossing over can likely be chalked up to nostalgia and Kilmer’s renewed lease on life. But his reticence also extends to reminiscing about some of his most famous roles—and debacles. There’s not much dishing ... Kilmer’s awe at his own prowess is far more endearing than it has any right to be ... I’m Your Huckleberry is most engrossing, even illuminating, when the author actively tries to reconcile his vision and ego with his faith and regrets. If he loses sight of the past a bit while setting up the next chapter of his life, it’s hard to begrudge him the glance forward, even if it does render I’m Your Huckleberry a series of ellipses instead of a statement on a life 60 years in the making.
PositiveThe A.V. ClubLacey’s sardonic humor is most prominent when contending with this self-righteous lot. The townspeople espouse a tolerance that hinges on knowing exactly what they’re abiding: They can only love the sinner while hating the sin if they know who Pew is ... But that’s one of many answers that isn’t forthcoming in a disquieting narrative reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s \'The Lottery\' and Ursula K. Le Guin’s \'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas\' (which provides the epigraph to Lacey’s book). Rather than turn Pew into a vessel for some lesson, Lacey further defies expectations with a conclusion devoid of closure and rife with questions. Some of these questions are posed by Pew ... Lacey...excels at establishing the feel of a small town in the American South—the combination of intimacy and secrecy that hangs as heavy in the air as the humidity. And though her prose is a bit plainer here, she displays the same strength of insight, peeling away the niceties and social status \'to see through those masks meant to protect a person’s wants and unmet needs\' ... What’s most impressive is Lacey’s restraint—like Pew, she remains an observer, withholding judgment without sparing any detail. A fabulist tale with no prescribed moral, Pew has the thrum of a foreshock, setting the reader on edge with the unlikely omens of hospitality and attrition.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg
RaveThe A.V ClubDaniel Mallory Ortberg’s Something That May Shock And Discredit You is three eloquent books in one: memoir, essay collection, and treasure trove of cultural analysis, all coming in under 250 pages. Ortberg is as nimble a storyteller as they come, so the shifts from painful personal revelations to pithy observations about Lord Byron turn on a dime while still mostly feeling part of the same whole ... The details are all Ortberg, as is the ability to turn eschatology into something more accessible and less judgmental; but the vague sense of dread that comes with puberty, spurred on by one’s growing awareness of the world, is universal. Such admissions are woven throughout the book, deployed with Ortberg’s searing wit and deep knowledge of TV, film, scripture, and Bulfinch’s Mythology. ... more a work of great perspicacity than one of empathy, though it is certainly compassionate. But just because we feel spoken to by this book doesn’t mean we are being spoken for; as insightful as Ortberg remains about literature and media and the human condition, he’s created a deeply personal language for a deeply personal story.
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveThe A.V. ClubA literary feat ... as cohesive as it is foreboding ... As the Dream House is built and torn down, Machado’s witty and resonant prose becomes a sturdier foundation than the promises made by her former partner ... balances information from the wider world with a very intimate history; citations from queer theorists and writers, along with the ever-growing wall of taboos enumerated from Thompson’s folk-literature collection, tend to elucidate instead of obfuscate ... an impressive, finely calibrated work of literature, one that throws open the door to a subject that’s still rarely broached, and makes the reader’s stay equally illuminating and unsettling. Machado, heartbreakingly enough, never loses her sense of playfulness amid all this dread ... By using familiar devices, she manages to tell all of these previously unheard stories in a devastatingly efficient manner. In assuming the roles of architect and archivist, Machado makes In The Dream House as much a memoir as a monument.
RaveA.V. ClubHis literary exploration of love and loss is certainly as cogent, incisive, and gut-wrenching as any season of BoJack. But wherever he honed it, Bob-Waksberg’s mastery of episodic storytelling, along with an uncanny knack for tragicomedy, is on full display in his debut collection ... As with his series, Bob-Waksberg explores the human psyche through the surreal, using offbeat stories to reveal truths about our relationships with ourselves, each other, and even our pets ... Bob-Waksberg’s evocative prose opens up strange new realms and familiar sites of drudgery alike ... Here are 18 reminders that not all loss is tragic, not all love is all-consuming, and not every happy ending lasts forever; and these truths are more comforting than any fairy tale.
RaveThe A.V. Club... gripping ... The Nickel Boys is a requiem for the lives and innocence lost. It’s also, in a way, a rejoinder to the cries of \'this isn’t America\' that ring out from those in the periphery over incidents of injustice ... Whitehead’s shown himself to be one of the most evocative writers of our time ... His prose here is elegant yet straightforward, which helps get inside the mind of the studious, increasingly disillusioned Elwood. Whitehead punctuates his sentences with fragments that are like poignant asides in his life before Nickel School ... Although The Nickel Boys is a more grounded work than his previous novel, Whitehead loses none of his inventiveness with metaphor ... Many people will undoubtedly find The Nickel Boys eye-opening ... Whitehead’s novel is certainly revelatory, but more for the ways in which it traces these atrocities to the past and present, weaving tragedy into multiple lifetimes. The Nickel Boys isn’t just a testament to systemic racism; it’s an archeology of pain.
PositiveA.V. Club\"... incredibly eloquent and ambitious ... Lost Children Archive feels just as timeless as it is pertinent ... Reading Lost Children Archive, it’s hard not to marvel at Luiselli’s technique ... But like the sunlight that pours in through the windshield on a journey westward, her writing, while dazzling, can sometimes make you lose sight of the very themes and relationships she’s developing. Luiselli’s prose is very considered; it often feels like she’s trying to find a way to tell the larger story in each sentence, rather than allowing them to accumulate ... Lost Children Archive doesn’t fail for succeeding—beautiful writing is still beautiful writing—but the unintentional result is that the experimentation in form, switching from a kind of journaling to the more intimate firsthand account of a 10-year-old boy, can come off as oddly detached ... when Lost Children Archive concerns itself more with the destination than the journey, it loses its vitality.\
Anne Helen Petersen
PositiveThe AV ClubThere’s a lot to unpack in her heavily annotated writings, but she utilizes the same accessible style that’s helped her readers take in contemporary feminist theory and 19th-century literary criticism in discussions of chick lit. Even those who believe the nation’s clock hasn’t been set back 60 years in the last 150 days will be engrossed by these women’s journeys ... Heading toward the conclusion, Petersen expands her scope for the chapters on Weiner and Dunham to discuss high and low culture (or avant-garde and mass culture), as well as the complicated relationship between the naked and the nude. And while those writings are certainly compelling, her choice of focal points can feel slightly more convenient than inspired. But let’s give the author the benefit of the doubt that, by broadening topics, she’s laying the groundwork for another collection of essays on women who wouldn’t stay in their place or hold their tongues; she’s certainly earned it.
PositiveThe AV ClubI’m Just A Person touches on a lot of the same tragic material that Notaro first shared in Live, the documentary Tig, and her HBO special Boyish Girl Interrupted, in which she first made the distinction that she’s just a person and not a hero for having survived cancer. And yet, this written record of her grief isn’t just a retread. It’s supplemental, yes, but also transcendental—here, Notaro isn’t as concerned with pacing or giving the audience a break from her misery. As a stand-up comic, Notaro is guileless, and here she’s even less concerned with the performance elements of the story. That’s not to say the book isn’t funny—there’s still plenty of levity, but it frequently gives way to important revelations, like Notaro’s realization that, contrary to popular belief, she had been given more than she could handle. Her grief and recovery are in their rawest forms in I’m Just A Person, but so is her hope.