David Canfield writes book criticism and features for Entertainment Weekly. He’s previously written regularly for Slate, Vulture, and IndieWire. You can follow him on Twitter @davidcanfield97
RaveEntertainment WeeklyBooks are made to get lost in, but the maze of Helen Oyeyemi\'s brain seems to grow more complicated by the novel. No complaints here. The Gingerbread author returns with the enchanting Peaces ... If you know Oyeyemi, you know this ride will give Snowpiercer a run for its money in the weirdness department. And sure enough, the mostly vacant train, populated by a few odd passengers and some mystically tinged worlds, provides the setting for the most surprising, confounding, and oddly insightful couple\'s trip in recent literary history.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyNguyen once more trades in genre staples — crime fiction and gangster drama get particularly juicy play here — but he\'s more dedicated than ever to the ideas behind them, the psychological experience of a life lived as haunted by war, colonization, disenfranchisement, and lies ... To be sure, the Vietnamese-American author\'s rangy gifts reemerge in another exceptionally rendered treatise on identity and trauma. But the effort here shows; there\'s more attempted by way of style and substance than, frankly, could ever realistically be achieved. In the end, the keen insights, caustic comedy, and thrilling formal confidence remain — but clunky, convoluted plotting gets in the way. It\'s an original, all right, but not quite at the level of the original.
Robert Jones Jr
RaveEntertainment Weekly... a grand achievement that pits love against cruelty and spares no detail in its brutal telling of the American past ... sets a tender queer romance on a harrowing plantation stage, tracking the action in lyrical, sensual detail ... Jones’ exacting depiction of slavery makes for, at times, excruciating reading — his focus on abuse is unyielding. Yet his prose feels powered by a softer emotional intensity ... while The Prophets’ dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison and Esi Edugyan, its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly. Known as the founder of the \'Son of Baldwin\' social justice blog, Jones does its namesake quite proud with this novel — a Black story and a gay story, certainly, but one that reaches far and wide in its interrogation of trauma, connection, and coexistence.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyWhat makes a good short story? Danielle Evans\' dynamite new collection proves a study in the form. Slices of life, each piece in Corrections captures its own mood, hums to distinct rhythms, and locates unique spaces for empathy and pain and catharsis. They\'re also delectably readable, propulsive accounts of loss and fear and redemption that twist with O. Henry-level glee.
RaveEntertainment Weekly[Krauss\'s] latest short-story collection reads like a catalog of her maturation, covering years of work that delves into the mysteries of relationships and sexuality. \'Future Emergencies,\' first published in 2002, is set after 9/11 and depicts a New York haunted by vague warnings and mask-wearing; its resonance is chilling. The more recent \'I Am Asleep but My Heart Is Awake\' is a devastating tale of grief. In every story, tiny details and emotional acuity provide a vivid look at how life goes on.
RaveEntertainment Weekly... if Emma Cline’s readers were holding out hope that she’d top her explosive breakout The Girls with a more seductive charge, well, a suggestive title like Daddy could hardly dash it. Yet this pitch-black collection of 10 stories emerges as its own kind of success by quietly rushing in another direction ... None of the plots will elicit much intrigue on topic alone ... It’s the stuff of niche literary darlings, not blockbuster best-sellers. The pieces soar independently — dark slices of life confidently weaving between styles — and in unison, portraits of young women seeking liberation, of older men doing wrong. True, the standout — \'Marion,\' a dizzyingly complex tale unfurling from an 11-year-old girl’s mind—feels closer to what made Cline a household name, but Daddy’s biggest reward lies in her showing us something new.
RaveEntertainment Weekly... powerful ... a rigorous personal investigation ... The book is difficult, undaunted by its subject matter. Scenes of domestic violence are depicted with agonizing clarity; the narrator’s struggle to come to terms isn’t kept out of view, but documented on the page, inviting us into the pain of her process. Trethewey does not hold your hand. But she does guide you, confidently, into states of grace and revelation and beauty ... Trethewey revisits her Deep South childhood, offering profound meditations on her mixed-race identity, allowing bits of family lore and American history’s bloody landscape to skirt her narrative’s edges. Her love of language proves crucial: Metaphor and allegory, modes of understanding instilled by her father, become tools for finding meaning in her mother’s tragedy — a meta-argument for the value of telling one’s own story in memoir. At the heart of Memorial Drive, though, is her mother, ghostly and incomplete, but mercurial, vibrant, and curious in recollections — a complex hero, the core to every great story. In this one, it’s the root of its sadness, too: There was so much more to know.
RaveEntertainment Weekly... a generous and precise family saga that spans decades while darting from coast to coast, tells a story of absolute, universal timelessness ... For any era, it\'s an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it\'s piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be ... Bennett trades in secrets with the best of them—her plotting, at its juiciest, holds a soapy cinematic pull—but she doesn\'t play coy, either. She\'s a storyteller in total command of the narrative, her shattered family portrait pieced back together with artful restraint and burgeoning clarity ... the book...speaks both to the intimate truths of family connection, and to the ever-complex, ever-enraging story of race in America.
Nina Renata Aron
RaveEntertainment WeeklyIf \'co-dependency is a girl’s song,\' as Nina Renata Aron writes, her scorching memoir proves it can be a beautiful one, too ... Aron details the spiral, of screaming matches and vomit and things thrown across rooms. It’s her side, the nagger, the enabler, told in a rich, intense, hard package — a gritty tribute to the women who stick around too long.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyA brutally fresh kind of homecoming novel, The Prettiest Star weaves between resentment and redemption in its unvarnished portrait of ignorance and cruelty ... But Carter Sickels, often writing in the voices of Brian\'s tormented mother and sister, searches for a softer story, too, and a kind of dignity in death that\'s not pretty, maybe, but is surely human.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThe first half is a treat, layered in grimy pre-9/11 NYC nostalgia, as aspiring musician Laura, 22, moves to the city and falls for Dylan, a sexy, troubled drummer ... her spiky affection for New York could sustain a whole book’s worth of asides on cramped studios, scrappy artists, and thwarted ambition. But Gould’s got more on her mind ... The final act lacks emotional pull, a structural gambit that’s thematically rich but never quite in tune.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThe In the Time of the Butterflies icon makes a satisfying and long-awaited return to adult fiction with this kind tale of grief and sisterhood. Treading familiar themes and maintaining a loose, fragmentary structure ... The author doesn\'t break any new ground but does settle into a deeply poignant groove.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly... a harrowingly, bizarrely imagined future. The award-winning author...has long had a feel for sweeping, subversive explorations of American life ... This is not Jen’s wittiest work, but it holds a brilliant mundanity.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveEntertainment Weekly... in Emily St. John Mandel\'s fiction, there\'s a before and an after, but the action never feels less than rivetingly current. The author of Station Eleven returns with a new novel, and it\'s just as good if not better than her post-apocalyptic triumph ... Mandel\'s elegiac, playful rendering of the fallout remains singular, delicately threading characters and stories and worlds into an epic tapestry. The plotting marks a master in her prime, gradual before breathless; a marvel of intricacy from beginning to end — and back again.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThe seemingly unforgivable is hardly so simple in Maisy Card\'s lyrical, ambitious debut, which rigorously explores the story behind and impact of one man\'s grand deceit ... Card is a restless writer. Her first chapter delivers a stunning series of second-person character portraits; they build into a centuries-spanning epic about race, trauma, and the weight of a lie.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyTaylor writes under the weight of trauma in his debut novel, winding from despair toward something close to hope ... Taylor’s vivid characterization is punishingly effective; his essayistic insights into cultural dynamics and their impact hold searing power. Erotic and ambiguous, Real Life is more provocative than thrilling, but hard to shake.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyA sort of willful tearjerker ... The first chapter, an ode to the mundane routines of air travel, contains real bite and an authenticity the novel loses hold of; subsequent airborne revelations (She’s pregnant! He’s gay!) feel indulgently mawkish. But Edward’s path to finding purpose and connection is realized with an affecting, quiet empathy. You’ll sob to the end.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyOur looming climate disaster finds its witty, anxious, definitive poem in Weather, a slim but sharp novel thickly layered in post-Trump malaise ... Offill embraces satirical current references, risking glibness, but doesn’t rely on sound bites. She writes with soul and pursues the truth, gearing up for the end of the world.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly... [a] wise debut ... Nemens makes a few first-novel mistakes: Analytical interruptions by our journalist narrator never fully gel, and a few conclusions reached about the mythic star in question feel undercooked. Hers is also, at first glance, a most unconventional baseball novel. These character studies unfurling under the hot Arizona sun interlink, chapter by chapter, like the ones in Elizabeth Strout’s Maine, and the action off the field is of far greater interest to the author. Yet that’s why The Cactus League speaks so strongly to baseball’s enduring vitality.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThis masterfully considered if uneven study of gender and society cramps readers into the quarters of a 19th-century New England school for girls ... Clare Beams’ cool, cutting prose hypnotically evokes the oppression of female bodies and minds, though her rushed conclusion feels less vivid than frenetic ... B+.
Therese Anne Fowler
MixedEntertainment Weekly... the ending feels painfully inevitable. Attempting to hit the sweet spot between Celeste Ng and Emily Giffin, sprinkling in some Liane Moriarty-esque chorus narration, Therese Anne Fowler crafts a readable saga nodding toward a bevy of social issues. But the lack of originality is glaring, its assembly of elements intended to attract readers of suburban fiction adding nothing new to the canon.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly... tender, melancholy ... The glacial plot casts its own spell, wandering around with two beautifully broken souls determined to find meaning — find themselves — in a world that often doesn’t seem to give a damn.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyThe year’s best spy thriller is stranger — and more horrifying — than fiction ... [Farrow] weaves a breathless narrative as compelling as it is disturbing ... rather bracingly exposes the rot that’s persisted across elite American institutions for decades.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyYou’ve never encountered a father-daughter story like Rainsford’s slim debut ... Rainsford possesses such a hypnotic command of her premise. Underworld elements keep creeping into this moody fairy tale, but a young woman’s liberation is the main, intriguing attraction ... B+.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAtwood skirts around questions of her old heroine’s fate with the glee of a writer who knows she has her reader in the palm of her hand. Who can blame her for not playing fair? She gets to show off a little ... There may be no novelist better suited to tapping the current era’s anxieties than Margaret Atwood ... In the sequel, Atwood focuses on how tyrannical regimes destroy themselves. Her command of these mechanisms is, unsurprisingly, astonishing ... The contrasts The Testaments draws within Gilead are exceedingly blunt. Everyone who appears here is either monstrous — most of the men in this book are even worse than those of Handmaid’s — or heroic, aiding in ways big and small to the pursuit of justice ... Atwood deftly balances her three narrators as her plot hurtles forward, but her characterization is lacking ... It’s all very speedy but emotionally inert, Atwood lining up her pieces at the expense of a more rigorous engagement with interior experience ... The pacing is flawless. The prose is lean, mean, and charged ... B+.
MixedEntertainment Weekly...there’s the classic Alice Hoffman spin ... Hoffman...has never been a subtle writer, but in this milieu her heavy hand shows: From the first scene (a grim near-rape), contrasts of good and evil are too bluntly drawn, and her inspiring heroines lack dimension. At least the author hasn’t lost her feel for a fine-tuned plot.
RaveEntertainment Weekly... as indelible and lifelike a creation as you’ll find in contemporary fiction ... a sequel that’s even better than the original. Olive, Again builds into the closest thing to an epic that Strout has fashioned. Strout, as ever, doesn’t reinvent the wheel here: again we read interrelated stories, Olive centered in some and skirting the edges of others, and again regular folks enter the spotlight, sometimes encountering the bizarre, other times reckoning with unrelenting sameness. But the novel welcomes several characters from Strout’s previous books, going back more than 20 years into her bibliography; they converge with Olive’s regulars, subtly, in a final chapter that ranks among the author’s most moving pieces of writing to date ... explores aging with profound grace ... Strout crafts each story expertly, but Olive, Again gains novelistic momentum as it expands, too ... For decades, Strout’s work has focused on the beauty of the ordinary, the drama and humor and tragedy lurking within it. Each life is meaningful, she so persuasively argues, and every once in a while we can brush that meaning up against one another. As we reach the end and make peace with lives imperfectly lived, that’s where the magic is.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAdrienne Brodeur can construct a scene with the best of them ... smart if unsubtle ... a memoir that richly explores a complex mother-daughter bond.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyBen Lerner...discards the riveting first-person immediacy of his previous novels for a more wide-ranging approach in The Topeka School, to mixed results ... The Topeka School interrogates toxic masculinity and the erosion of political discourse with a level of brilliance fans of Lerner should be familiar with ... Lerner’s careful frame keeps the story largely stuck in its ’90s setting, but the telling is intently, clearly contemporary. Thus the author searingly and precisely links the dawning of the Clinton years to the terrors of the Trump era ... But with so many points to hit — Bob Dole, the Westboro Baptist Church, and Donald Trump all get ample space here — Lerner’s ferociously singular prose doesn’t carry as much power ... there is the sense that Lerner is straining to scale up the impact of this novel, to make explicit the thread that weaves his disparate threads into an explosive, politically relevant, male-dominated whole ... The Topeka School doesn’t quite get there. But perhaps, as a broader meta-commentary on fiction of the Trump presidency, it’s dismayingly effective, too: a reminder that, no matter how sharp a critique you construct, you’ll find yourself fighting on his ground in the end.
RaveEntertainment Weekly...sublime ...[There are] many instances in which Red at the Bone deepens and surprises ... This short novel contains immense empathy for each member of its wide ensemble. Thus, as Woodson covers nearly a century, from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre to 9/11, her grasp of history’s weight on individuals — and definitive feel for borough life, past and present — proves to be as emotionally transfixing as ever.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThe Dutch House arrives just three years [after Commonwealth]—the shortest gap between novels for Patchett since the ’90s—and while it shares those strengths, it’s a less polished, more experimental effort. This marks a rare foray into first-person prose for Patchett, and her focus on perspective proves rigorous ... Best is The Dutch House’s first section ... As Patchett glides through the years, her philosophical inquiry intensifies while her narrative peters out ... Maeve, held in Danny’s image, is kept at a distance. Dramatic incident is minimal. Even one pivotal character’s late re-emergence is handled quietly, delicately, less impactful on story than mood. The book lingers in that way, though, like any good fairy tale, setting in its hooks with a dreamy sadness.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyGoing Dutch casts a scintillating eye on the queer urban millennial male ... James Gregor’s debut novel swerves with a queasily, intimately familiar form of discomfort: the yearning of a generation faced with grim job prospects, heightened virtual connectivity, the seemingly endless and lonely and unbridgeable space between the excitement of singledom and the comfort of monogamy. It’s a book of deceptive ambitions, a breezy page-turner that, every few pages, slides in an observation that inspires some combination of laughter, mortification, and admiration ...
Gregor’s feel for the character’s manipulations is slick, if a little severe. The read on Richard, smart as it is, feels more sociological than empathetic. And Anne, in all her harrumphing moodiness, delights on the surface, but she gets the short end of the Gay Best Friend stick; her demanding nature verges on mean-spirited caricature. Indeed, Gregor oscillates between the kind and vicious versions of this story. He’s more comfortable within the latter but fights to edge the former to victory.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyThe...book is wise, nuanced, restrained, and—perhaps most radically—kind. Wall’s approach is quiet and intellectual, yet of an overwhelming grace that reminds us: This is exactly why we read literary fiction ... The Dearly Beloved feels so galvanizing. In the vein of the great Marilynne Robinson, Wall compassionately tackles theological matters; she pays close attention to how her devout (and not-so-devout) characters think, how they feel. They’re rendered with distinctive detail ... In The Dearly Beloved, Wall gives us the gift of bearing intimate witness to human beings grapple with their faith, fall in love, build a family. She realizes the power of the novel in its simplest, richest form.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThrillers, at least in terms of premise, don’t get much more psychologically rich than The Chain ... McKinty drops in character details like he’s filling out a résumé but merely because, well, there’s no time for anything more: Her daughter is in danger, and she has to get her back. This inherent breakneck quality lends The Chain structural confidence. Rarely does second-to-second pacing feel justified; here, it’s essential ... Is McKinty up to the task, though, for well over 300 pages? The author at times seems to be at war with the demands of his genre: A sort of cruelly, engrossingly simple story of parental desperation bumps up against corny crime staples — larger conspiracies, literal shadowy figures, the occasional red herring. The novel is at its best when its focus narrows, with punishing clarity, on the emotional intensity of its central predicament. As Rachel becomes more determined to bring the whole chain down, McKinty loses a bit of narrative credibility; more frustratingly, in the back half of the book, he slows down, adding fat to what initially reads like a tremendously lean novel ... works as well as it does because of how off-balance the author keeps [the characters]. You’re teetering right along with them ... McKinty stretches the bounds of belief in the plot’s progression. But by God are these sequences nail-biting. What comes next is clunky and a little didactic, making the story bigger than it needs to be, but at least we’re in the hands of someone who knows how to finish things off — with one last irresistible sprint into darkness. In a book like The Chain, you have no choice but to pray for the worst.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyFew dissect painful father-son dynamics and the tensions of small-town life with such intelligence and heart; in Chances Are, these elements anchor the author in rich emotional territory yet again ... But structurally (and, in turn, aesthetically), the novel develops into a masculine melodrama. Until its dud of a climax ... Chances Are settles into a moving rhythm. But for some reason, Russo traps three men he could write in his sleep in a dreary beachside mystery ... Russo can weave a tale as well as anyone, but he shows his work too much here — and the work is clumsy.
Sarah M. Broom
RaveEntertainment WeeklyOne of the year’s best memoirs, The Yellow House finds an epic, fascinating, empathetic history of New Orleans within the life of one woman, her family, and the home they grew up in ... The book is at once intimate and sprawling, spinning at times dozens of stories in what amounts to a vital reframing of a misrepresented community, and an urgent meditation on the American dream.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIn this deft collection that covers everything from internet addictions to women’s empowerment to reality TV, all roads lead to capitalism. (The best stuff in the book, even so, tends to be more personal and less critical, particularly one gorgeous piece covering psychedelics and religion.)
RaveEntertainment WeeklyRarely, a literary ending comes along that feels too perfect to limit to safe, vague praise. I’m not talking about the wild twists or clever reframings that’ve distinguished some of the year’s buzzier titles. Inland derives every dollop of its narrative tension from its climax-oriented structure, paralleling two character studies that must, by the laws of good storytelling, intersect. Obreht brilliantly approaches this inevitability by weaving it into the fabric of her haunted setting, where fate can’t help but grab the steering wheel ... Obreht is a robust writer: There’s meat on her characters, places, plots, themes, dialogue — all vividly rendered, deep and fresh and exciting, offering plenty to chew on ... What Obreht pulls off here is pure poetry. It doesn’t feel written so much as extracted from the mind in its purest, clearest, truest form.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly... the first-time novelist captures human interaction with the polish of a seasoned dramatist, armed with a bevy of tools — a feel for smooth dialogue; a rich sense of place; a knowledge of history and its impact on individuals, families, and communities — that charge her words with authenticity ... American literature loves a good destructive homecoming, and Benz doesn’t stray too much from the tradition, keeping her reader off balance as she shifts among several conflicting points of view. The approach is effective, if a little deceptive. You can look at The Gone Dead as either a halfhearted crime thriller, one not particularly interested in the quick pacing and tight plotting inherent to the genre, or a well-rounded Southern novel, wherein injustice is ingrained ... Benz’s gift for structure is undeniable...Her sprawling cast glistens with distinct cadences and perspectives that combine for a satisfying, affecting whole ... tackles big topics intimately. Perhaps its most unique element as a Southern novel is its potent underlying melancholy ... The climax feels far too rushed, but it does lead into a note-perfect denouement, in which The Gone Dead takes one final deep breath. On the exhale, listen closely.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyIn The Gone Dead, the first-time novelist captures human interaction with the polish of a seasoned dramatist, armed with a bevy of tools — a feel for smooth dialogue; a rich sense of place; a knowledge of history and its impact on individuals, families, and communities — that charge her words with authenticity ... American literature loves a good destructive homecoming, and Benz doesn’t stray too much from the tradition, keeping her reader off balance as she shifts among several conflicting points of view. The approach is effective, if a little deceptive. You can look at The Gone Dead as either a halfhearted crime thriller, one not particularly interested in the quick pacing and tight plotting inherent to the genre, or a well-rounded Southern novel, wherein injustice is ingrained ... Benz’s gift for structure is undeniable...Her sprawling cast glistens with distinct cadences and perspectives that combine for a satisfying, affecting whole ... Family, land, power — The Gone Dead tackles big topics intimately. Perhaps its most unique element as a Southern novel is its potent underlying melancholy...This accounts for the novel’s deliberate slowness, with Benz taking her time in exploring and understanding a permanently scarred landscape.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyLife is complicated, but in [Arnett\'s] debut novel Mostly Dead Things, it’s got nothing on the dead: presented for all to see, macabre and refined ... Fundamentally, this is a rock-solid family novel, brightened by its eccentric milieu ... The book is very Florida, very gay—hot to the touch, in other words—and Arnett leads with sharp character development. The author demonstrates keen judgment by getting out of crazy’s way. One masterclass in deadpan description surfaces early on ... The prose could still use a jolt. Dead Things may be animated by graphic explainers on animal stuffing and cutting analyses of family dynamics, but plot isn’t Arnett’s strong suit. She prefers stepping back and allowing Jessa to survey the action. Always a woman of few words, Jessa is well-drawn, nuanced and thoughtful, but her \'simple, no mess\' philosophy can turn tedious in narration, especially around Dead Things\' bulky midpoint. You almost wish the book were even weirder—for a moment or two where Arnett would really unleash on the madness of her premise. Dead Things is, instead, almost achingly warm ... The reflective, inquisitive quality of Arnett’s writing is key to its success. She’s a natural novelist because of her curiosity ... Indeed, Arnett gives no element of her novel the short shrift. Her sex scenes are steamy, volatile, full—a treatment of lesbian romance that feels refreshing and rare. Her Florida is transitory, artificial, amnestic ... So the heart of Dead Things beats: to the drum of the living.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyFor a one-stop counter to all those trend pieces bemoaning the supposed \'death\' of the rom-com, look to Helen Hoang ... Hoang’s books are tenderly personal ... Hoang is a sensitive writer, but also a very funny one ... There are so many good things about this book. The plotting is tight. The romance unfolds to irresistible, if familiar, beats. The set pieces range from perfectly comic...to erotic, the heat between the couple luxuriously realized on the page.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIt’s hard to believe, in such a short amount of time, that Greene could revisit this period with such clarity and grace. His emotionally transparent story resonates not just for the intense sadness at its core, but also its implicit message of perseverance — a complex portrait of a family struggling to go on, manifested in this melodic, sensitive tribute ... A freelance music journalist, Greene writes in the present-tense, a stylistic choice that pays off if only because he’s able to so comprehensively guide his readers through even the darkest of moments. He is descriptive, perceptive, documenting with a biographer’s care bursts of pain or numbness as they’re felt and internalized ... Greene turns away from no emotion in his work; the feeling, for the reader, can be overpoweringly personal. Though Stars is told from its author’s perspective, the memoir is at its best when expanding beyond his experience, exploring what others are going through as they wade through tragedy.
RaveEntertainment Weekly...rarely has a novel so fully brought to life a place most couldn’t pretend to know ... Phillips...immerses readers in this region. It’s in the rich, humane characterizations; the plot’s gentle surprises; the reminders of the past; the rendering of the landscape ... As [the] family’s tragedy moves to the fore, the depth of Phillips’ storytelling prowess reveals itself. She challenges her readers — and characters — by offering new angles on her inciting incident, and imbuing each with authority and complexity. Phillips’ slant is American, but in the tradition of great Russian art — from Tolstoy through to the films of Andrey Zvyagintsev — Disappearing Earth tells delicate, impassioned, small human stories within sweeping, brutal, imposing political realities ... Disappearing Earth wades through the darkness with heart. Its final three chapters, especially, overflow with life ...
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyDennis-Benn...writes about the immigrant experience with abiding, bone-deep empathy—swinging between standard English and patois the same way that Patsy and her daughter navigate their own need to code-switch as the years pass. Estranged from one another and bound to a world that tends to treat black womanhood and queer sexuality as invisible at best, their separate but intertwined stories wend through hurt and hope and inalienable dreams; not just for a better life, but a truly honest one.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyOn Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous doesn’t read like fiction—or, more accurately, what we think we know to be fiction. It’s lyrically fragmented: the rubble of an entire life, exploded, then delicately pieced back together on the page ... It’s a searching book, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart ... It is transporting, mysterious, wise ... Vuong’s experiment isn’t perfect—lovely prose can take a turn toward the affected—but he proves to be a remarkable storyteller. Little Dog’s grandmother Lan comes to life in the most disturbing, visceral, bizarrely poignant Vietnam War story I’ve ever read. Depictions of poverty, queerness, and the immigrant experience are vivid, exacting, and humane. Same goes for On Earth as a whole. This book is no ordinary novel. This thing feels alive.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyCasey Cep’s Furious Hours fills in the gap of Lee’s post-Mockingbird career with insatiable curiosity and impressive research. It reveals not just her intellectual interests, but within them, her personal relationships and motivations. Cep seeks to immerse us in Lee’s obsessions, her inner life. This profoundly ambitious goal, approached innovatively and at times ingeniously, isn’t quite reached, but the effort is admirable ... Cep’s second chapter is particularly chilling, detailing the initial shock to follow Maxwell’s first murder—of his then-wife—in 1970, and how he evaded arrest ... Cep thrives in specifics. Maxwell’s rise and fall is intriguing enough, but the author vividly embraces his story’s true-crime aesthetic, drowning it in sticky Southern atmosphere ... This does not make a whole book, however; Lee hovers over the first section of Furious Hours as an unmentioned, invisible figure, before gradually slotting herself into the world ... The problem, as other critics have discussed, is that rather than feeling holistic, Furious Hours introduces three compelling but unfinished strands of a larger narrative ... Cep seductively keys the reader in to Lee’s processes by reflecting on the holes, inconsistencies, and challenges of reporting out Maxwell’s killings and death. In that sense, there’s a stirring poetry to Furious Hours that eludes most contemporary nonfiction ... Furious Hours uniquely, frustratingly confronts a long-incomplete story by telling an incomplete story of its own.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIn Downing’s skillful hands, My Lovely Wife takes several wild turns, each bleaker than the last, and its sturdy construction (strong characters, deliberate pacing) bolsters the insanity. But Downing’s best choice here is her narrator: the unnamed husband, a simple fellow suckered into an unhealthy habit by his beguiling wife. His commentary reframes Millicent’s psychopathy with dark, hysterical mundanity, as if a mere symptom of their discontent.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"... a gonzo literary performance one could mistake for a magic trick, duping its readers with glee before leaving them impossibly moved ... Intriguing characters are kept on the story’s margins, yet in so vibrantly surveying this landscape, Choi gives each room to breathe ... Facts are debated in Trust Exercise, yes, but Choi always tells the truth.\
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"Freudenberger employs her distinctive skills — her stylistic restraint, the unmannered quality of her prose — to slightly different effect here [compared to her previous work], relying on a spare, meditative telling in the construction of what amounts to a very interior novel ... Yet for all its fascinating insights, Lost and Wanted lacks cohesion. The emotional momentum that fuels Freudenberger’s best fiction... is absent, replaced by scattered — though certainly potent — profundity ... Indeed, for all the territory that Lost and Wanted covers — from race to gender dynamics to quantum physics to academia to parenthood to the TV business’ ins and outs — it’s ultimately an intimate depiction of the experience of loss. But Freudenberger doesn’t tighten her novel accordingly. Instead, like her brainy hero, she gets lost in her own head.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami... artfully infuses her crime saga with tremendous empathy ... Lalami’s scrupulous construction lends The Other Americans a page-turning excitement. Some characters only pop in when most convenient, their personal dilemmas relatively slight — contributions, and little more, to the book’s larger arguments. But each gets a moment that strikes like a thunderbolt: electric, resounding, and precisely delivered ... the novel fundamentally focuses on the intricate dynamics of life in the here and now. It provides a nuanced response to the whiff of malaise in the air, the animus taking over the American day-to-day ... The conclusion reads unusually, tentatively hopeful. Let it settle, though, and it feels, if not satisfying, at least appropriate. In a novel that knows hate but believes in people — that ultimate contradiction — a little optimism goes a long way.\
PanEntertainment Weekly...here we are again with The Parade, the author’s first 2019 title which distills his worst tendencies into a stiff, opaque sub-200-page parable ... The Parade finds worthy areas of inquiry in its slim, spare telling, yet Eggers all but rejects the principles of good storytelling. Billed as a novel, The Parade reads more like an extended short story, reserving its knife-turn for the final page and plodding until then ... Eggers treats this morality play like a plastic wind-up toy. He introduces simplistic main characters before planting a set of obstacles on their predestined paths ... Eggers’ embrace of the saccharine had me waiting, begging for the cynical hammer to drop ... Eggers’ writing in The Parade is fine — often lovely in its attention to physical detail, utterly lacking in soul. The allegorical nature of the prose hints at weighty complexity, but what materializes ranges from a college term paper steeped in pessimism to a narrative assembled from crocodile tears ... the author’s latest is hardly eye-opening in the way fiction can and should be. Eggers is good enough to know better.
T. Kira Madden
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Madden details her years growing up queer in ritzy South Florida through a tough, raw literary voice. The debut author gives readers uncomfortably intimate access into her difficult childhood ... Long Live is a bit dense at times, stuck in its immediacy, but as it builds to the death of Madden’s father, it finds some peace, painfully messy as it may be — and is all the richer for it.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"... a book that whirs through mythic lands and spikes its many plot twists with the enchanting allure — and nightmarish tinge — of a fairy tale, to be absorbed in a pleasant, sleepy daze before haunting its reader’s dreams ... no less reliable is Oyeyemi’s tenderness, finely calibrated through her focus on the bond between mothers and daughters, which carries on through generations ... What a strange, ponderous book this is... a beautifully, wildly inventive beast. Nobody else writes like this: puncturing the timelessly poetic with harshly contemporary asides, animating plants and dolls with a cool nonchalance. And how is it that this dark, nutty novel exudes cozy warmth above all else?\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"The Far Field becomes a layered examination of pressing Indian political conflicts. But Shalini’s wounded narration — her wistful, nostalgic anguish — still pulses through most intensely, lending the novel the feel of a sorrowful family epic. Here is a singular story of mother and daughter — a loving, broken bond so strong it touches, changes, and hurts countless lives beyond theirs.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Merlo is a sturdy focal point for Leading Men, his last days and his memory of better days imbued with a slick, glittering emotional pull. But the book stiffens as its meditations on fame and artistry increasingly dictate the narrative, rather than the organic tension between Merlo and Williams. The prominence of Anja... becomes a bit of a drag ... Castellani has a lot on his mind, and generously employs the craft necessary to convey it. Leading Men is unafraid to expand beyond its glitzy hook into something deeper, sharper. But like Merlo and company, until the novel’s enormously moving final chapter, we’re gradually left in the haze of a steamier, drunker time, where two men’s passionate romance, doomed to fate, could find new life — briefly and unforgettably — in a single longing glance.\
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyLaura Sims’ debut novel is an immersive investigation of obsession ... Sims’ approach is not judgmental ... The author so prioritizes her clever, contemplative heroine’s voice that, even as killer one-liners and suspenseful sequences abound, what settles in most clearly is an overwhelming melancholy ... Sims is smart enough not to let readers off the hook by reveling in mockery ... Looker is a wicked slow-burn without a clear arc to follow. The prose could use a serious tightening ... But this is still a strong, tense effort, short and addicting enough to be scarfed down in no more than a day.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"[In Our Mad and Furious City is] an introduction to a voice so fiery it burns to the touch. This is not to say Mad and Furious always works ... It’s obvious Gunaratne knows these boys well, eschewing coming-of-age clichés in an effort to thoroughly, authentically detail their lives and pain. His rendering, violent and pointed as it may be, brims with empathy. There’s also a sort of experimental ambition here ... The novel periodically expands, admirably if unevenly, into the hearts and minds of Ardan’s mother, Caroline, and Selvon’s father, Nelson.\
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Elizabeth McCracken holds a funhouse mirror up to the Great American Novel. Whimsy and weirdness spark at Bowlaway’s edges ... As Bowlaway moves through tremendous social change, McCracken develops her characters with remarkable depth. Her sense of detail is precise but comprehensive ... This is McCracken’s masterpiece, a story of reinvention: that most American of themes, the promise that’s guided a country through depressions, wars, tragedies, betrayals. The author has reframed the family saga for the misfit: that truest American character ... It is rousing.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Drenched in African myth and folklore, and set in an astonishingly realized pre-colonized sub-Saharan region, Black Leopard crawls with creatures and erects kingdoms unlike any I’ve read ... James’ hyperactive plotting will lose you (don’t expect much linearity), and the novel is overlong, no matter how many corners James finds to explore in this world ... the fragmented narrative gets in the way of momentum ... And yet: For all its political power and artistry, Black Leopard, Red Wolf triumphs in James’ swagger. He hasn’t merely produced a literary earthquake. He shows off, his stylistic flair a cocky muscle-flex. This is a concert, a production, an epic. This is a revolutionary book.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Becoming arrives like a glass bottle of decency, preserved from a nationwide garbage fire. This is a straightforward, at times rather dry autobiography from a major public figure that stands in remarkably sharp contrast to the state of our discourse ... The book’s first third, Becoming Me, is dedicated to Obama’s upbringing in ‘60s Chicago and her educational development. It can drag, progressing like so many memoirs of its type. But Obama also constructs episodes from her childhood which vividly, subtly capture the experience of growing up black in America ... Obama’s strength in Becoming lies in hindsight, her ability to take a step back from a specific anecdote, and not only contextualize but ruminate on it, really consider its power.\
Cote Smith, Zack Akers, Skip Bronkie
PanEntertainment Weekly\"... Limetown doesn’t convince as stand-alone narrative fiction ... Resembling a fictionalized Serial, the [podcast the book is based upon] is an expansive, gorgeously produced work; an entire town comes to life through Lia’s research ... The book mostly forgets this, following 17-year-old Lia as she discovers secrets about her uncle and family. Her connection to Limetown‘s main story comes into view — a nice bonus for listeners, perhaps. But the family story plods, with too much focus on moving plot. There’s a good book somewhere in the world of this podcast. But its creators may need to listen more closely.\
Karen Thompson Walker
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"The Dreamers eschews typical disaster plotting; there’s no Purge-level anarchy or menace. Instead this is an exquisite work of intimacy. Walker’s sentences are smooth, emotionally arresting—of a true, ethereal beauty ... we’re invited into the dreamers’ worlds, and there, in the slumbery depths, this book achieves its dazzling, aching humanity.\
MixedEntertainment WeeklyAuthor Sam Lipsyte presents a hero for our times in Hark, a meditation on belief and optimism pushing up against political upheaval. The writer’s scope has widened from his previous novel, the superb Gen-X character study The Ask. Indeed, here’s the latest instance of a seasoned, acerbic novelist suddenly on the hunt for a target...vying to make sense of the absurd present. Yet Hark’s vibe ranges from timeless to dated, even as it strains to hit post-2016 notes ... The novel playfully explores what draws this miserable, diverse group to nonsense, but its foundation—a listless ensemble without a spark in the bunch—crumbles. Which is a real shame, because fans of Lipsyte...will pick up traces of his best work. He’s particularly good in the abstract in Hark, building out his premise and shaping a god complex for an \'end of men\' world ... Lipsyte, in the most general sense, understands how figures like Hark rise. He traces that evolution incisively, bringing a refreshingly light touch to his dystopia-adjacent novel—not marred by perfunctory nihilism, not fixated on educating or warning, not limited to cynical apocalyptic pronouncements. This feels like a step forward for the Trump-era satire. But then we’re missing a reason to invest. Lipsyte seems all but divorced from his characters, realizing them with a crippling sameness. Hark’s most insightful passages could be attributed to anyone; even as they describe or refer to specific people in the book, there’s no specificity to them. The emotional connection is lacking. The story scatters between its principals, starting slow before rushing for a plot, an arc, an ending, a purpose ... Lipsyte’s still a compelling stylist, but here, crafty sentences function like unfulfilled promises, winding toward profundity that never arrives.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Heavy lives up to its name. With extraordinary craft and pain, Kiese Laymon’s stark memoir chronicles one man’s scarring journey into adulthood, sentence after sentence piercing in its emotional intensity through all 241 pages. Heavy covers grim territory, but reads too intimately to look away ... Laymon’s personal story develops into a national indictment, one that cuts deep into the heart of American mythmaking ... Heavy is raw but controlled: a refined, warm, generously poetic literary work.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"By now the clichés [about families] write themselves. Yet debut author Kathy Wang confidently leans into them, spicing up old stories — the tense reunions and fatal betrayals and dying fathers — with fresh faces ... Wang writes from a witty, sarcastic distance; she’ll zoom out when the family gathers for a meal, reveling in their dysfunction, before tightening around a pivotal character moment, the prose suddenly awash with warmth ... But Family Trust gets only so much out of the minutiae; it occasionally plods, unlike more streamlined novels of its type. At least Wang has her setting: She depicts Silicon Valley with seductive specificity, telling tales of instant billionaires and offering glimpses of irritable geniuses changing the world.\
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Adjei-Brenyah... executes his premises with an elegant Black Mirror-like realism, though his world-building is a bit uneven. The book drops recognizable faces — a teen drawn to activism, a retail worker drained by Black Friday’s spectacle — into worlds so strange, they couldn’t possibly resemble reality. And yet in their gnarly intensity, their polemical potency, they hit us where we live, here and now. Sometimes it takes a wild mind to speak the plainest truth.\
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyBitter Orange twists and bends, arouses and agitates, like a seductive nightmare. A demented memory play — Atonement by way of The Little Stranger ... Claire Fuller (Swimming Lessons) enhances the mystery with luscious detail ... The plot’s movements are rendered secondary, at least in the early going, to the atmosphere, and it’s to the novel’s benefit; with sensations so alive on the page, you’re constantly kept on your toes, attuned to the mania ... B+.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAll You Can Ever Know gently but firmly challenges the stories told to its author in childhood, the myths intended to make her feel loved and wanted and \'normal,\' but that could never paint a complete picture ... The author...revisits her coming of age with a deep melancholy, favoring clarity over sentimentality. She writes crisply, intimately, bringing us close to her experiences of pain, isolation, and discovery.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Particularly in coming-of-age fiction, dialogue can be a liability; quips can mask nuance, and realism is aspired to far more often than it’s reached. But dialogue is the engine, the power, of How Are You Going to Save Yourself. Holmes’ uncanny ear is so delicately rendered that the book not only bursts with life during each back-and-forth, but it evolves, steeped as it is in the rhythms of family squabbles and serious discussions and, most centrally, friends shooting the s—t ... If not overwhelming, How Are You Going to Save Yourself is certainly tough, entrusting its players’ words (and, perhaps more importantly, lack thereof) to communicate what their actions cannot. The trick doesn’t work every time. But the message sings throughout, and the final blow Holmes delivers is inescapably staggering.\
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyJM Holmes believes in dialogue ... his lyricism, his depth of prose, pops with quiet authority ... Holmes’ uncanny ear is so delicately rendered that the book not only bursts with life during each back-and-forth, but it evolves ... How Are You Going to Save Yourself moves to these familiar, lifelike beats, and achieves an electrifying singularity in the process. Though pitched and structured as a story collection, this is a book of novelistic richness.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyMurakami (1Q84) crafts notoriously windy novels, but he’s an equally gifted short-story writer. That quality is evident in Commendatore ... Murakami calls Commendatore his homage to The Great Gatsby, and the comparisons are obvious. Yet he aligns with F. Scott Fitzgerald in subtler, deeper ways, too — in the searching quality of the prose. The book’s missteps, from painfully dry historical analysis to some offensive treatment of the female characters, undermine its affecting melancholy ... Murakami executes his mission with metatextual ingenuity ... B+.
Omarosa Manigault Newman
PanEntertainment Weekly\"Now there’s Omarosa’s tell-all: the logical next step in our collective, steep, seemingly endless descent toward disgrace. Above all else, Unhinged is a meta-commentary on the bleakness of our political culture ... It’s useless to review Unhinged as a standalone written product. It’s engineered as a media tool, structured in a fashion that complements what its author says on TV and reveals in a steady stream of recorded semi-bombshells. The book itself reads mostly like the Fire and Fury sequel you never wanted: a swift account of the major events to surround Trump since he began his campaign for president, filled out with one adviser’s observations, opinions, and insider \'knowledge\' ... That this is an effort in rebranding is hardly subtle, but Unhinged is not an outrageous retaliation, a disgruntled former staffer’s hyperbolic rantings. It’s the first account by a departed, disgraced Trump White House official—of which there have been many—to actually admit complicity, the abetting of a duplicitous, bigoted administration.\
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThe unnamed narrator of Cherry, Nico Walker’s coarsely poetic debut ... provides an agonizing character study ... The book is gritty, profane, and raw ... Walker’s prose resembles that of Denis Johnson (particularly Jesus’ Son), only a little rougher around the edges. Indeed the writing here is conspicuously uneven. Its uncompromising nature at times feels less realistic than crude, less relentless than repetitious; character depth isn’t the primary goal here, but Walker doesn’t have a firm grip on Emily, a figure of both sympathy and culpability who lacks internal consistency. Walker’s expression still shines through. One major reason: Cherry doesn’t ask for pity. It presents a landscape ravaged by war and drugs, greed and pain, and introduces a voice that sounds ugly only until you read closely enough to see the beauty lying underneath an American tragedy.
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"Fink rather neatly compresses three podcast seasons into one book. His flashy horror stylings don’t fully translate to the page — the creepy, anxious factor of his audio work is second to none — and the pacing, as Fink tries veering between new points of view, turns clunky. But this Alice Isn’t Dead remains an intriguing complement, imbued with newfound soul — and romance. Alice has always known suspense, but as a novel it finds true love.\
MixedEntertainment WeeklyGreen spins a fine speculative yarn — even if he bows out with an unduly cheap, sequel-staging cliff-hanger — but the writing is lacking. The political parallels are so blunted here, they couldn’t cut through butter, and the dialogue verges on ghastly ... heroes banter with the stilted quippiness of sloppy YA ... Remarkable Thing has robots and aliens to spare — but the actual people need an upgrade.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyShortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Washington Black depicts slavery — unsparingly — but it’s about freedom ... Washington Black is a classic Bildungsroman in many ways, albeit one that subverts or transcends the genre’s tropes at critical junctures ... In Washington Black, Edugyan writes within the constraints of her time period aptly. The novel’s towering achievement rests in its simultaneous realism and imagination. Wash’s candid narration grounds the story ... The more extraordinary his life becomes, the more Edugyan brings out his complexity — a duality which showcases the author’s gift for emotional precision ... Edugyan’s prose is elegant, nuanced, but her fury at this fact — the passions lost over centuries of agony — powers through like a godly storm. She confronts slavery’s legacy with acuity, depth, and staggering grief.
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"...it can’t help but seem a little well-trodden all the same. Shteyngart empathetically draws the divide between Barry’s privilege and the struggles faced by those he comes into contact with, though not without a little inevitable condescension...This is indicative less of an intriguing character flaw than a weakness in Shteyngart’s characterization. Lake Success untangles major themes, with a wicked feel for modern life’s aimless chatter, but it’s lacking in soul ... Perhaps it’s the nature of what feels fresh, sharp, and needed in this bizarre new world. For what can yet another entitled, delusional, wealthy white man tell us about where we’ve gone wrong?\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"It’s a loose, clever format to tell your life story. But, as Posey learned, it can be an intimate and revealing one, too ... Airplane is an eclectic mix of monologues, recipes, revelations, and collages. It’s all in the effort of sharing herself — her quirks, passions, and creative spirit.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...devastating calls to action that affirm the galvanizing power of pointed, human storytelling ... a definitive attempt at confronting the epidemic, from its source to its current scale ... Macy is a terrific reporter, scrupulous in detailing the significance of her findings. She hits the big established points ... For those coming into Dopesick already aware of the basics, then, it can read a little too familiar. And while each number Macy cites in the book (and there are many) indicates horror and urgency, certain sections are overstuffed with figures ... But fortunately, Macy’s heart is with the people. Dopesick’s second section — filled with gut-wrenchingly candid interviews with addicts and their families — is the most essential.
Laura Van Den Berg
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Strange, unsettling, and profound from start to finish, The Third Hotel is a book teeming with the kind of chaos that can only emanate from the mind. It could be fairly described as a meditation on grief, or marriage, or travel; fresh insights on each materialize regularly, at enviable levels of nuance ... Laura van den Berg channels genre masters like Hitchcock and such evocative literary works as, particularly, Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. She gets under your skin and hits bone. Hers is a terror tale as mercurial as life, veering between the grisly and the gentle ... An award-winning writer of short fiction, van den Berg is a storyteller of astonishing detail. Her descriptions — whether concise or elongated — simply demand attention ... Van den Berg can be heavy-handed with the parallels she draws, the big ideas she’s confronting, but it’s all in service of this masterpiece of life and afterlife.\
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyClock Dance is a greatest-hits album in novel form. Anne Tyler’s latest book features most, if not all of her trademark themes and writerly quirks, and it moves briskly, but in absence throughout is a certain personality — a particularity ... the novel toggles between playing to Tyler’s strengths and going through the motions of her relatively threadbare story beats ... It’s that dreamy flow which, at her best, marks the author’s wisdom and vision as a chronicler of the human condition. But in Clock Dance it’s lacking in potency. Tyler seems anxious to keep things moving, more concerned with how character details and experiences fit together, puzzle-like, than really living in their humanity ... Clock Dance is perhaps ultimately an argument for seeing an uneven story of high potential through to its conclusion. This is a book that improves significantly as it progresses ... Rest assured, the dialogue is fun and snappy throughout; the final pages offer a warm and appropriately, exceedingly sentimental ending. Tyler still hits her marks.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyGessen is not much of a stylist here; his colloquial approach ranges from appealingly informal to sloppy, and phrases are repeated almost verbatim, without the necessary emphasis ... He’s never as fleshed out as he should be, but then, his wry observations...are completely engrossing. It’s portraiture ...A Terrible Country is a splendid guidebook disguised as a decent novel.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyMakkai spikes a sadly familiar historical narrative with kaleidoscopic compassion ... Makkai is intuitive, evading traps of sentimentality. She leans on her established strengths — realistic characters, emotional complexity — and in the context of this 80s milieu, their potential is bracingly realized. Her relaxed prose flows; her fascination with human behavior enhances the book’s vivid ensemble. Makkai’s writing even assumes an effortless sweep, plunging readers into a saga of mesmerizing intimacy ... Makkai has a real feel for grief, achingly describing the city she’s long known inside and out as it’s suddenly permeating loss. You don’t just see the ghosts of her Believers — you spend time with them, learn their flaws and virtues and darkest fears, cry at their funerals right alongside those who’ve known them for decades.
James A McLaughlin
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAtmosphere, as its opening so impeccably indicates, is everything in Bearskin. This is not exactly the page-turning thriller so overstuffed with twists it leaves you dizzy by page 100. It’s a slow-burn by design, a tale of suspense that reels you in through McLaughlin’s scrupulous skill. There’s no escaping the mountainous isolation enveloping Rice, and as the novel pushes forward and stakes a claim in richer psychological territory, there’s no escaping the man’s tortured mind, either ... Ostensibly a character study, Bearskin is most satisfying as a philosophical investigation of man and nature, washed in noir ... it’d be better off without its most familiar beats, its reverting to genre expectations. But when its imagery, so stark and often poetic, takes center stage, Bearskin is elegiac, hypnotic—unshakable.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Li goes right into the action but is tentative about how to navigate it; the pacing starts out as frantic as the restaurant, struggling to establish a consistent tone around chunks of exposition. But stick with it: Li’s talent for human tragicomedy grows more evident by the page. Her characters — Nan, the venerable restaurant manager on the brink of disaster, especially — come alive, and her erratic plotting consolidates, leading to a cogent finale. By the climax, Li generously realizes the dreams, the regrets, and the resilience of a family holding on to its American dream, hoping it doesn’t slip away.\
RaveEntertainment WeeklyTwo things David Sedaris is talking about more than he used to: Donald Trump and death. The essay collection Calypso, his first in five years, finds the beloved humorist rejiggering his tone — right along with much of the country — to meet a newly somber national mood. Or maybe it’s just the shadow of late middle age: the looming reality of mortality, the increasing pervasion of funerals and illnesses and retirements in one man’s orbit. It’s hard to tell exactly from where the motivation for the shift stems. And indeed, therein lies Sedaris’ genius — he reflects the culture inwardly. Through his peculiar mind, Sedaris captures biting truths, documenting with journalistic precision his quiet public indignities and milking them for all their tragicomic worth.
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"The atmosphere of anguish is so overwhelming that it feels as if you might suffer from heatstroke or get carried off by a 100-mph storm wind. You’re helpless to the power — the sheer virtuosity — of Groff’s evocative prose ... This is an author who knows how to immerse her reader; but a depth of mood doesn’t always translate to a depth of narrative ... No story flails, but the collection’s grueling darkness proves limiting: Surprisingly, Florida seems like our best evidence yet of Groff’s unparalleled gifts, while simultaneously an indication of what can weigh down her work.\
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Alam is a writer of true empathy ... Mother isn’t big on plot or surprise. It thrills in its attention to nuance, its construction of a full, flawed, loving heroine. Alam’s generous rendering rings authentic. Whatever takeaway one has of Rebecca, a protagonist sure to polarize due to the verisimilitude with which Alam draws her, she emerges with an open, beating heart. It’s partly because Alam knows when to gracefully drive in the knife. He’s wry, but never cruel — confident enough to pinpoint life’s ugliness while keeping hope alive.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"In the context of our enduring fixation, Chasing Hillary reads like a surprisingly intimate campaign memoir ... Unusually, it is Chozick’s own, admitted obsession with Hillary Clinton which lends her book not just credibility but gravity. Having been on the front lines, Chozick has a keen understanding of the current political climate. She grasps the power of obsession in today’s politics and doesn’t pretend to be immune; rather, she crafts a compelling narrative out of her own biases and experiences that reads like a juicy but insightful novel. At times, she comes up short when it comes to honest reflection on the big themes...But Chozick thrives at bringing campaign shenanigans down to a human level ... Chasing Hillary succeeds because, unlike so many recent tell-alls which have purported to shed light, Chozick relishes the incendiary ... Chozick observes Clinton critically but in admiration. Their relationship is richly complex, if mostly unspoken: a fascinating portrait of two brilliant, wounded women unknowingly headed for a collision course ... In its emotional messiness, Chozick’s story commands nuance. Politics is personal, and the personal is never clear-cut.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Motherhood is a starkly intimate recital of waiting and questioning, while the world indifferently passes by. As psychological inquiry, it’s undeniably effective. But the book, consumed as it is by hypotheticals, takes a circular shape, tracing over itself with increasingly sharp insights and blunt language ... But it’d be too easy, too limiting, to say that Heti’s literary effort is unsuccessful. To the contrary: Frustration and ambiguity are rooted in the book’s very argument. However redundant Motherhood is, that’s where the book’s sneaky power lies, in a layered question which lacks an answer: How should a mother be?\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Every once in a while a book comes around that fills a need — that communicates ideas so effectively and humanely its social value leaps off the page. Heads is such a book ... The author thoughtfully reveals contemporary racial dynamics by letting authenticity lead the way. She poses dilemmas, and we observe them play out as if she’s plucked scenes directly from our day-to-day ... Writing in versatile prose and with a penchant for naturalistic dialogue, the author calls to mind writers like Junot Díaz and Tayari Jones in the way she weaves timeless human conflict into a quietly political tapestry. Well-observed as they are, some of these entries could use a little more meat on the bones.\
James B Comey
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"He demonstrates wit and humility in his anecdotes; later, he conveys urgency in his ruminations on this moment in time, and he’s not afraid to express reluctance and uncertainty ... This is not the dry law enforcement memoir that such a linear structure would typically beget. Instead, it’s cunningly calculated. Both explicitly and subtly, Comey draws himself as Trump’s polar opposite ... He pores over each of his most controversial decisions but comes to conclusions certain to satisfy no one but the most willingly forgiving ... His earnest manifesto on leadership informs a climactic righteous screed; he states his fear of being an egomaniac, only to awkwardly wield that insecurity as a weapon against the biggest egomaniac around ... Comey’s scathing arguments against Trump could hardly be more compelling, and Loyalty is infinitely more credible than Michael Wolff’s gossipy best-seller. But the point remains: Not even a fundamentally decent, morally upright former FBI Director could resist the appeal of a little Trump gaslighting.\
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"With The Recovering, Jamison still articulates a clear, compelling mission. But the book may not strike such a chord, layered as it is with highbrow references and unconventional structures ... There’s something profound at work here, a truth about how we grow into ourselves that rings achingly wise and burrows painfully deep. In this astounding triumph, Jamison reveals how myths make us who we are, situating herself within a storied American movement before steering us all toward a new, clearer state of being.\
PanEntertainment WeeklyTangerine is cinematically engineered, an aromatic stew of ingredients ripe for a big-screen treatment — exotic ’50s setting, unreliable narrators with inscrutable motivations, mysteries clouded in madness ... The plotting all but demands comparisons to Patricia Highsmith; the sweaty, paranoid atmosphere screams Hitchcock. This isn’t to say Tangerine is at the level of those masters. It’s deliberately evocative of them. And once that initial intrigue wears off, Mangan’s touch loses its luster rather quickly. Her style feels more imitative than original, a dispiriting reminder of what more daring storytellers could do here. The writing is laborious, particularly early on, and Mangan’s Hitchcock emulation turns problematic as confounding sexual politics increasingly drive the narrative. It becomes clear that there’s not enough of a story here: The twists are fun, but hardly jaw-dropping, and the descriptive redundancies feel like padding for a book thinner than its page count suggests.
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"The plotting all but demands comparisons to Patricia Highsmith; the sweaty, paranoid atmosphere screams Hitchcock. This isn’t to say Tangerine is at the level of those masters. It’s deliberately evocative of them. And once that initial intrigue wears off, Mangan’s touch loses its luster rather quickly ... The writing is laborious, particularly early on, and Mangan’s Hitchcock emulation turns problematic as confounding sexual politics increasingly drive the narrative. It becomes clear that there’s not enough of a story here ... The book is undeniably readable, even at its clunkiest, and some of its scenes are vividly imagined.\
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThe House of Impossible Beauties is a work of unrestrained passion, a novel both unabashedly queer — flamboyant and proud, built out of chosen families, pulsating with club vibes whilst clouded in the haze of trauma — and unmistakably Latin ... Stylistically, the novel is a glorious mess: It swerves with melodramatic prose, and finds easy opportunities for exposition in its straight-talking queens. To be sure, the book is hardly perfect, at times galumphing in its story movements. But those rough edges might just be the key to The House of Impossible Beauties.’ enthralling, invigorating success.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"While McNamara was — spoiler alert — ultimately unable to unmask the killer’s identity, her book is reflective and candid in such a way that it still produces revelations ... What we discover, beautifully, is McNamara’s interest in human beings. There’s a spooky, suspenseful magic to the way the author constructs bite-sized short stories and infuses them with that lurking inevitability of terrible, potentially deadly crimes ... the book’s patchwork in Part 3 — effective as it is — can’t quite compensate for the loss of her voice. And yet this is all part of what makes I’ll Be Gone such a singular, fascinating read. It’s lifelike in its incompletion. Had McNamara lived to wrap this book on her own, one suspects the end result could have been a masterwork. It still is, mostly — a posthumous treasure that feels thrillingly alive.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"McNamara is unsparing in explaining the killer’s macabre habits, but ethically so, favoring information over indulgence and emotion over gore. She’s also able to perfectly execute the procedural aspect of true crime ... Part 3—effective as it is—can’t quite compensate for the loss of her voice. And yet this is all part of what makes I’ll Be Gone such a singular, fascinating read. It’s lifelike in its incompletion. Had McNamara lived to wrap this book on her own, one suspects the end result could have been a masterwork. It still is, mostly—a posthumous treasure that feels thrillingly alive.\
PanEntertainment WeeklyIweala is a unique and surprising writer; the story he tells is neither of those things ... The tragic inevitability of Niru’s journey is less illuminating than familiar, less gut-wrenching than exhausting. The page-turning effect is monotonous, a screed inflamed by anger and pain. We’re not permitted to get to know Niru, goes the novel’s argument, because he’s not permitted to know himself. Speak No Evil feels patched together in that respect, alternating between stunning and tired chunks of narrative almost on a whim.
MixedEntertainment WeeklySpeak No Evil reveals the worst-case scenario ... interrogates what it means to live in a climate of police brutality, or to develop an identity that intersects with multiple marginalized groups ... The tragic inevitability of Niru’s journey is less illuminating than familiar, less gut-wrenching than exhausting. The page-turning effect is monotonous, a screed inflamed by anger and pain ... Speak No Evil feels patched together in that respect, alternating between stunning and tired chunks of narrative ... Iweala’s forceful writing, defined by sentences of only a handful of words that move at an accelerated clip, shines when he digs into Niru’s psyche. He has a rare gift for capturing stream-of-consciousness thought, tackling it at a pace that’s quick but authentic. His book’s structure is rooted in the style, and so it’s strange the degree he seems to resist its potential ... With every step Iweala takes toward tragedy, our window into Niru’s soul gets narrower.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyOverrepresented as it may be in fiction, the road trip provides an ideal structure for acclaimed novelist Jesse Ball (A Cure for Suicide), a writer of an elegantly poetic bent ... It’s a transcendent, consummately strange sketching of the human condition.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyThe destigmatization of mental illness has become a focus in popular entertainment circles, particularly the YA space, and the bracing Freshwater takes that effort several steps further. Brilliantly, it reconfigures Western conceptions of identity, trauma, and even consciousness by discarding Western approaches to character.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyWith Brass, Aliu has introduced herself as a major new literary voice ... the novel expands magnificently as it introduces a parallel narrative: Elsie’s now-teenage daughter, Luljeta, heading down a similar path, littered with regrets ... The shift makes for a shatteringly intimate mother-daughter tribute, a love letter brimming with pain.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Halliday’s big revelation isn’t some jaw-dropping plot point. Her politics aren’t bleeding out of every turned page. You discover what she’s writing about as you go along, and then re-discover and re-discover.\
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"To call Gnomon a work of genius is not entirely a compliment. Nick Harkaway’s epic, unwieldy, unpredictable new novel is outwardly brainy and pridefully digressive, and the distance it projects from its reader feels excruciatingly deliberate ... These mini-stories range from poignant to dull, which again, seems almost beside the point in the grander scheme of the novel ... That there’s so much to recommend here, so much to grapple with and admire, is at its root a product of that very pure mission: to both be literary and endear readers to the literary. So it’s all the more disappointing that Harkaway can’t quite execute that mission — can’t quite match his herculean ambitions ... The reading experience sours as Harkaway’s writing stays maddeningly expository...For all that Harkaway comments on the vitality of books and storytelling, he too often strays from their most basic pleasures.\
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"There are narrative patterns between each of the five stories which powerfully unify the book in theme and feeling. Many of them feature protagonists meditating on the people who matter — or mattered, at one point — the most to them in their lives … For Johnson’s characters, art and storytelling provide windows of understanding into human nature; it’s a lovely and timeless sentiment, one that was no doubt shared by the author himself … Here’s an author turning toward the past, conjuring up the ghosts of those he’s loved and lost, writing of wild experiences with affectionate abandon.\
Maude Julien, Trans. by Adriana Hunter
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyWithout taking away from Julien’s actual experiences, what she accomplishes as an author and storyteller is impressive. Her present-tense prose is concise; compact but clear descriptions of torture are unshakable, and brilliantly build on one another as you keep turning the pages in disbelief. It’s hard to overstate the achievement, of relaying years of real trauma with poetic immediacy. She effectively brings you inside her profoundly paranoid father’s mind, both as she simplistically understands it as a child and as she comes to terms with it as she grows ... You can feel the weight of the story catch up with Julien in the book’s climax; there’s an awkward, overwhelming balance of resolution, summary, and continued terror that lacks the cogency of what preceded it. It damages the book’s addictively blistering flow, but at the same time, she expands the story’s bounds of emotional intelligence.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyWasson masters the art of the monograph by locating a sharp argument within a sweeping, messy, compelling history ... The creative process is like democracy in action. (The book cleverly posits this theory against the backdrop of, among other political moments, the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.) Wasson’s dizzying style drives the point home. Though he jumps around, he never gives a player short shrift, and his conversational tone captivates. The book’s focus tightens as its narrative strands converge, but it maintains a loose unpredictability throughout. It holds the element of surprise—true to the spirit of its subject.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyUnflashy as it may seem, her writing sparkles when she alternates between detailing her characters’ motivations and describing their new home in all of its volatile, foreign, scaldingly hot charm. She demonstrates a masterly touch in the way she drops dashes of bleak Hungarian history into marital squabbles, family meals, and morning jogs. The familiar, even obvious rhythms of Strangers in Budapest mostly work to its benefit. Keener’s prose occasionally meanders, as reminders of Annie’s state-of-mind turn redundant and the Budapest sun’s overpowering heat is relentlessly emphasized, but it always clicks back into place, fusing emotion to setting and past to present with cutting brevity ... Strangers in Budapest doesn’t exoticize or patronize its location; rather, in a rare achievement for an American novel of this international emphasis, it revels in the complexity of its appeal. The more we learn about the city — the more we travel its roads, wander its stuffy apartment buildings, admire its parks and rivers — the more mournfully satisfying the book becomes. We come to understand why these characters are drawn to Budapest. We see why they’re drawn to the dead.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyPochoda’s sharpness as a writer comes through in her patience. Early on, it’s clear that, as with many books that share Wonder Valley’s structure, vignettes will overlap and mysteries will eventually be pieced together. Yet uniquely, revelations arrive without announcement; pivotal moments quietly creep into paragraphs. The ending is magnificently unexpected, almost ingenious, and the surprise factor sneaks up on you. Its subtle brilliance is just that — subtle ... There’s heartbreak and disappointment to spare in Wonder Valley, and every character is rendered with empathy. Each element in the story has texture, from the weather to the architecture to the people inhabiting it. Pochoda lets no one off easy, and, at times, she gets a little carried away sketching out the idiosyncrasies of her setting. But crucially, Wonder Valley has an innate understanding of what makes hiding from home, or taking a leap into the unknown, or ripping off your clothes and racing through traffic, naked, such deeply human impulses. The book tells an essential truth: Everybody’s running from something.
PanEntertainment WeeklySpanning decades within a little more than 100 pages, it tells a basic story in an increasingly perilous context. It intends to grab you, hold you, and never let you go — but it never really does ... Working in such a small storytelling space and with so many swirling elements, there’s precious little room for error here. This proves untenable. Weiner’s drawing of Bobby, for starters, is offensively off-base: The book indulgently examines his homicidal nature with doses of poverty porn, yet he’s merely used to establish contrasts of class and stability. Further, the breakdown of the Breakstone marriage, which takes up most of the action, is chronicled without distinctiveness. That these stories are paralleled throughout is an almost jarringly cynical choice. Weiner’s style is neither comic nor empathic nor particularly insightful; the narrative plods forward with simplistic characterizations that grow tiresome, and flabby sentences mistaken as artfully unformed ... In its empty cynicism, there’s simply too little to feel or to contemplate; in more ways than one, Heather, the Totality marks a pretty thin debut.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyThe results are mixed in the way memoirs often are, even as it features his distinct voice and an unusual structure. It both falls victim to the genre’s trappings and maximizes on what can make it so uniquely powerful ... Hodgman, known for his dry humor, is typically restrained and offbeat here; his stories tend to be meditative and cutting, peppered with touches of absurdity. Yet you can feel the author hitting up against the walls of the conventions of memoir as he revisits insubstantial anecdotes that fail to convey the sense of displacement which threads the book ... Hodgman is not a great descriptive writer and so it’s often puzzling the extent to which the book relies on rote descriptions of his past ... The beauty of Vacationland comes through when Hodgman isn’t bogged down by his genre’s conventions ... It’s only when Hodgman gets away from the 'painful beaches' of Massachusetts and Maine, and into the choppy waters of his own mind, that Vacationland presents a world worth sinking into.