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
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.\
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.
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.\
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 WeeklyTo 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 WeeklyThere 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.