PositiveLambda LiteraryThere’s a kind of bravery in attaching so many autobiographical elements to such a deliberately alienating character. Though the dialogue can be pitchy, her prose is well attuned to Prue’s outlook: a wry flatness lacerated by flashes of unwelcome insight. Prue may drift far from reality, but Dorn’s descriptions stay grounded ... As Prue’s life becomes increasingly fragmented by fame and blackouts, the narrative occasionally seems to lose its memory, too: Nina calls out Prue’s job as a defense attorney in a piece for Pitchfork but later expresses surprise that she’s a practicing lawyer, for instance. Still, such blips scarcely disrupt Vagablonde’s sheer consumability, its pages scrolling by like so many miles of Instagram feed. Vagablonde should be an ideal feel-bad read for the summer of 2020. Swig it down beside an empty swimming pool.
PositiveLambda LiteraryThe party Evaristo’s throwing is massive, and as a good host, she’s intent on making introductions ... Voices change chapter by chapter, all conveyed in something looser than either verse or standard prose. (Line breaks stand in for periods and capitalization is sparse, but ultimately the language feels no more experimental or less natural than, say, Homer.) Evaristo sidles up to her characters in the quiet moments of their lives...and lets their thoughts and histories unspool just long enough to convey who they are and how they got that way. In some chapters Evaristo’s approach can verge on caricature, in the boardwalk-artist sense: an exaggeration of traits that makes the subject more, not less, individual ... Part of Evaristo’s skill in convincing us we know her characters can be chalked up to her research skills, honed through previous historical novels. She populates every corner of Girl, Woman, Other with lively details collected from everywhere ... Certainly, Evaristo can poke fun at her characters. But one always senses it’s done with love. Bearing more than 450 pages, action ranging from 1895 to the present day across three continents, and an empathy deep as history, Girl, Woman, Other is a generous book in every sense.
PositiveLambda LiteraryThough most originally appeared in other publications, these 20 brief tales conduct a smoothly coordinated investigation of the human tendency toward blind spots and bad assumptions ... An occasional narrative twist feels overly neat, creating a structure too airtight to support much life. But more often, [Jemc] turns her utter command of her materials toward wild and stirring ends ... She plants several little utopias within the pages of False Bingo, sowing metafictional mischief with curiously untroubled plots and characters ... In these stories, the dread that hums beneath the rest of False Bingo is replaced by a whisper of melancholy. Perhaps it is, on balance, right to expect disaster, but what do we sacrifice by always compelling our attention toward the shadows? What chances might we be missing—even now—to unhex ourselves, and set our fates on a new and better course?
Kirstin Valdez Quade
MixedLambda LiteraryAt its best, Kirstin Valdez Quade’s new collection of stories, Night at the Fiestas, sidesteps cliché but keeps the grandeur of her setting by transposing it to her characters—people big as myth, opaque as Scripture ... When Quade writes about the down and out, she sometimes sounds a sour note of revelry in the squalor of her characters’ lives ... As Valdez Quade’s characters stray from the outlines of her own family’s history and slide further down the socioeconomic ladder, the more threadbare they tend to become ... On the other hand, it’s fair to note that, irrespective of its target, sourness is to some extent just part of Valdez Quade’s narrative outlook ... Night at the Fiestas is most powerful precisely when it resists bold strokes and symbols—when it lets the past remain unfixable and the motions of the human heart stay murky. In the shadows, Valdez Quade does some interesting things.
PositiveLambda LiteraryDespite its raw materials, it is neither a slab of Southern Gothic nor a zany romp through the land of Florida Man. To its protagonist and her author, taxidermy is no joke...It’s also a bottomless source of metaphor for Arnett—sometimes forced, but just as often fertile ... Arnett adeptly captures the comfort an odd, unfeminine girl might find in this model of close-mouthed masculinity ... Compromised as her attachments to the departed may be, Jessa is most at home in the past. Curiously, so is the novel itself. Compared with the visceral longings and disturbances of Jessa’s adolescence, present-day plotlines like the one involving the widowed Mrs. Morton’s nascent art career feel less charged with lived experience. In the present, characters wrangle exposition into dialogue and have their motivations laid out plainly ... [Arnett\'s] eye seems naturally and continually drawn to dust, grime, guts; even beyond the taxidermy table, there’s hardly a clean surface in the book. She’s at her best elbow-deep in the details, sorting through the mess of family history to determine what can be salvaged and what should be laid to rest.
RaveLambda Literary...[a] vivid first novel ... what does it mean to be a woman? How exactly is God’s presence distributed throughout creation?—these sojourns in other realms might have become unbearably high-flown. Instead, thanks to Blake’s attentive world-building, they read as natural side missions from the story’s un-science-fiction narrative ... Naamah houses an improbable bounty of life. Blake has packed a remarkable amount of earthly experience that is wondrous, funny, queasy, erotic into an ancient vehicle. Then, she made it sail.
PositiveLamba LiteraryDieterich outlines the fraught dynamics of a newly open relationship with merciless precision ... In such disintegration lies room for redefinition, and Dieterich describes that messy process with a level of intimacy that often amounts to bravery.
PositiveLambda LiteraryMoschovakis is a poet, and Eleanor is unmistakably a poet’s novel, alert to the textures of experience but relaxed in the pursuit of plot. It is elliptical in the manner of David Markson or Renata Adler, yet eager to point out its experiments and omissions ... All this could come off as precious; instead, it lands as a kind of generosity. The other risk with such meta-commentary is that it might bog down the narrative. But in fact it’s the narrator’s story that starts to produce the stronger pull. Her unstable bond with the critic launches a compelling exploration of the kinds of witness we seek in others and the insidious ways gender and power complicate friendship ... It’s a pleasure to journey alongside all three of them [the novel\'s main characters] as they drift and drift, and finally take flight.
PositiveLambda LiteraryIn Crudo, Olivia Laing Kathy Ackers \'Kathy Acker\' ... Through this bizarre and wholly unique lens, Laing tells an urgent, hyper contemporary tale about love and queerness in the age of political unrest and collapse ... Crudo is largely a plot less novel, as Kathy’s reflections on solitude, gender, and the current political climate are couched amidst the minutiae of wedding preparations, consuming food, and her travels with her soon to be husband ... The Internet is as much a character in this book as Kathy or her husband ... The book formally mimics this phenomenon, as the Internet itself has no plot or arc, and is just a series of mundane snippets of information punctuated by news of tragedy ... Crudo ends on a surprisingly optimistic and uplifting note.