MixedFull Stop... not without value as a briskly written, compact overview of the various spatial strategies writers have successfully employed, and might continue to be fruitfully employed if writers had a more synoptic view of them, along with a few models of the way they can work ... To the extent that her book convinces writers there are indeed credible alternatives to the reflexive preference for Freytag’s \'arc\', Alison will have served a worthy purpose. But the book never really destabilizes the notion of \'story\' itself as the ultimate object of the fiction writer’s craft ... Although the analyses provided could be of interest to some readers not themselves writers, the book would likely be most useful as a supplementary text in a creative writing workshop. Perhaps this also accounts for Alison’s at times somewhat breathless prose and frequent reliance on figurative phrasing rather than a more analytical critical language. One could wonder, though, whether this gives the book greater accessibility or underestimates most writers’ (and writing students’) tolerance of more critical rigor. A book that considers thoroughly the principles animating the impulse to \'experiment\' in fiction, and looks at all the formal strategies adventurous writers have attempted, would surely be a service to readers and writers alike. That book has yet to be written.
MixedFull StopIn its emphasis on place and its reliance on the character sketch as the primary narrative strategy, Tonic and Balm is strongly reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, although in some ways it is a kind of inversion of Winesburg: where Winesburg is depicted as a static, soul-stifling sort of place, very much rooted to the social order underlying it, Doc Bell’s Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show is of course an itinerant home for itinerant people, who manage to forge a functional community of sorts rather than involuntarily subordinate themselves to the standards of a community that does not value their contribution ... This nudges the novel toward sentimentality, a quality finally not shared with Winesburg, Ohio. If Tonic and Balm, like Anderson’s story cycle, succeeds both in creating memorable characters and in fashioning a formal whole that is more substantial than the aggregation of its parts, it is less harsh in its vision of human possibility under pressure from social convention, suggesting some degree of compassion and solidarity might win out in response to such pressure ... that the novel does not settle for merely recreating period details in an attempt at historical fidelity (an effort with which too many historical novels content themselves) is entirely to its credit. But the attempt to extract from history an elegiac redemption story may not entirely avoid superimposing a present idealization on the past.
PositiveFull Stop\"... [a] long and comprehensively developed [novel] that [allows] the reader to settle in for a comfortable enough read, although... the story must be pieced together, and is not merely offered to us from a unified narrative perspective ... Riddance has its share of slippages and ambiguities, but... it is also more recognizable in its formal structure, a novel masquerading as another kind of text ... Sybil Joines’s dispatch is the main attraction in Riddance as well because it features much of the novel’s best and most imaginative writing ... Riddance [shows] that [Jackson\'s] work is firmly situated in established literary history — perhaps we could say it, too, emerges from the silences and gaps lurking in that history.\
RaveFull StopSolar Bones can be called experimental, although any reader who gives the novel a chance to validate its strategies is likely to affirm relatively quickly that these more adventurous qualities of the novel — adventurous, but not conspicuously ‘difficult’ — do not ultimately make it inaccessible except to the most passive kind of reading … The novel becomes a mystery narrative of sorts, although it is a mystery for the narrator himself to resolve, as the reader may not even be aware that there is a mystery to be resolved in the first place … Perhaps the novel’s greatest value is in demonstrating that unorthodox writing strategies need not make a literary work difficult for a patient reader, while also still engaging the attention of more adventurous readers.