RaveLos Angeles TimesBrief and devastating ... One Friday in April evokes, as vividly as any book since William Styron’s Darkness Visible, the ongoing present tenseness — or present tension — of suicide, which Antrim describes as a condition in and of itself ... We know he has survived, of course, but the terms of this survival remain conditional, even so many years after the fact. It’s a deft and unexpected approach, diffusing narrative tension in favor of a more inchoate set of anxieties, which only expand the deeper we read. At the same time, this enables One Friday in April to move fluidly between recollection and reflection, between what happened and the questions it provokes ... Antrim’s writing here is brilliant in its indirection and compression.
RaveLos Angeles TimesWilliams’ tone is caustic and discomfiting; it brings to mind the moment in which we are living, when matters of science and public health are regularly ridiculed or redirected in favor of political or economic platitudes...At the same time, her vision is too capacious for Harrow to be read so narrowly ... The implication is that chaos is both our invention and our destiny, which means there can be no solace or forgiveness for our collusion with it. This is the source of Williams’ fierce and unrelenting anger, and it invests Harrow with a potent moral weight ... a piece of writing in the vein of Samuel Beckett or Franz Kafka, its humor weaponized by rage ... \'Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears,\' Williams tells us — excavating, as she does throughout this magnificent and moving novel, the middle distance between silence and experience.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIt’s not hard to identify the social commentary in that dialogue, but Sayrafiezadeh is too nuanced a writer for this to be his sole objective. He is interested in displacement on both the macro and the micro scale ... The inference is that our stories live inside us first and then we impose them on the world. That’s as true of Danny as of any character in this dark and exhilarating collection, in which even the idea that we might ever come together is one more contrivance, its significance another fabricated illusion.
Anthony Veasna So
RaveAltaThere’s an incandescent quality to Afterparties ... The nine stories here explode like fireworks, flashing between humor, dislocation, and an aura of collective longing ... So’s book is so good in so many ways ... So is brilliant at tracing the lines between desire and displacement, love and weariness ... The collection as a whole...moves with the force of a novel in places, one story feeding into the next. This makes for a masterful bit of framing, in which Afterparties becomes more than the sum of its parts. For So, the build of the book, the structure of it, affirms its connections, the way each moment lingers beyond itself, and in so doing never really ends.
Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley
PositiveAlta...as Until Proven Safe methodically illustrates, quarantine has been around for centuries ... Manaugh and Twilley are not out to frighten us. They are too enthusiastic about their research. Throughout the book, they cross continents and disciplines, applying the benefits, and the detriments, of isolation to an array of circumstances.
Antonio Muñoz Molina tr. Guillermo Bleichmar
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Muñoz Molina is not after answers, or even definition; all that he has seen and read swirls within his memory like the bits of colored glass in a kaleidoscope. In that sense, his novel represents a psychogeography of the imagination, in which streets, encounters and scraps of history fold back upon themselves in astonishing, unpredictable, ways ... Burroughs-like cut-ups reveal how our inner lives have been outsourced, colonized by the marketplace ... The novel appropriates such bits and pieces and regurgitates them as lists and news bulletins. We re-experience Brexit and the 2016 presidential election, yet each comes off as equally consequential and inconsequential: events over which we have neither agency nor control. This floating quality extends to place and person, offering a porousness To Walk Alone in the Crowd gleefully exploits ... All these strands come together in the closing section of the novel, which traces a long meander from southern Manhattan to the Bronx cottage where Poe once lived. It’s a stirring attempt at reconciliation, although in a world of displacement, Mr. Muñoz Molina understands that this is not enough ... But walking, throughout, offers its own small consolations, not least the presence observation requires.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThat balance between hope — or acceptance — and forbearance factors into all 10 stories in the collection, which offer an unrelenting clarity. These are characters that don’t deceive themselves, even as they try to see the good, or at least the tolerable, in what they have ... This is the real stuff, adulthood at its most complex, in which we often find ourselves complicit even when we’re not at fault. Boyles makes the point explicit by linking several of these stories in a pair of overlapping cycles, one involving Mano and her sisters and a second built around Bobby’s community. It’s a strong decision, grounding the book within its landscape and making the stories bigger, more connected, than they might appear on their own ... That none of this will be resolved should go without saying. Life is open-ended until it stops. Boyles weaves such knowledge deep into her narratives, choosing to end many of them in the middle, in the moment just before the trouble starts. It is a deft and daring choice ... The questions Boyles is raising are universal. How much do we matter? What is a single lifetime worth? She doesn’t sugarcoat the answers; the communities in Site Fidelity face problems that are intractable and growing worse. All the same, she wants us to consider: What else do we have?
PositiveLA TimesNot much happens in Faysal Khartash’s Roundabout of Death — although in another sense, everything does ... Here we see the pattern of the novel, which is kaleidoscopic: personal and collective, serendipitous and fatalistic, marked by a bitter irony that can’t help flirting with despair. Again and again — often within the span of a paragraph — he shifts the focus from first to third person, present tense to past. The effect is of a floating point of view that narrows and widens, both deeply rendered and impossible to pin down ... What Khartash is tracking is the precariousness of memory — and identity. For Jumaa, who spends much of his time wandering Aleppo to check on his aging mother or gather food for his family, it’s a matter of obsessively recalling what is missing, the fiber of the city that has been destroyed. For others, the reckoning is more desperate.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesRegina is young, and more than that, she’s callow, selfish, absorbed by her emotions, unable to empathize even with the woman she claims to adore. That may be Choi’s most vivid achievement, to get us to care about a character who, for much of the book, we find difficult, disruptive, a force of chaos. I’m not talking about likability, which remains, for me, beside the point. Still, there’s no question that Regina can be infuriating, especially when she’s turning a deaf ear to Martha’s very real commitments: to her baby, to her husband, to her job. The more she whines about not being loved well enough, the more we drift away from her, which is what Choi means for us to do. By putting us so deeply into Regina’s head, she enables us to see what she’s misreading, how her immaturity, her intractability contribute to her misery ... That Regina can’t understand this only makes the moment more powerful ... a stunning insight, a deft evocation of the unbridgeable gap between inner and outer life. As My Education progresses, however, Choi loses sight of this, moving toward a resolution the novel doesn’t need.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... brief but intense ... Eisendrath is framing the essay as a form of discourse, one that offers an opportunity to think in public and in real time. A professor of medieval and Renaissance studies at Barnard College, she is fiercely aware of these possibilities ... By way of illustration, Eisendrath moves fluidly between the present and the Renaissance, between personal recollections and aesthetic arguments...he wants to take her readers \'into unknown regions of the universe, maybe even into unknown regions of themselves\' ... This can be a daunting challenge, but it works, because for a short book, Gallery of Clouds is both capacious — \'A thing that is nothing. A thing that is many things\' — and intensely focused on exploring \'the perpetual tension in rhetoric between words and things\' ... On the one hand, such assertions tend to trigger my resistance; I don’t believe truth — whatever that is — should be the necessary goal of art. Yet Eisendrath wins me over with the brilliance of her thinking, which grows ever deeper as all the circling complicates her point of view ... not for everyone. It is esoteric and discursive, a book of questions that cannot be answered, that elude us with the inconstancy of clouds. At the same time, what else is there? How else are we to mark our passage through the world?
PositiveLos Angeles TimesOzick is doing something interesting here—or a couple of interesting somethings. First, she is blurring the line between past and present to reflect not only the muddle of her protagonist’s memory but also the insular society in which he has spent his life. Even more, she is aligning Lloyd, a scion of the WASP establishment, with the outsiders ... Here is the prowess of the novella, as well as its author, now in her 10th decade: Antiquities gives us a narrator not only unreliable but actively self-deceptive, unable to reckon with who he is ... Age, we want to imagine, is what happens if we are lucky. But the reality is more complex. That is both the subject and the subtext of this novella, which is most resonant, perhaps, in how it never looks away from the slow but steady disintegration that awaits.
Mixed4ColumnsWhat [Russell] is after in this new book is a moral calculus, through which we might break down the precepts of evil into a series of principles that can be broadly recognized. It’s an ambitious idea, but also a fraught one ... throughout Being Evil, Russell backs away from what it implies. Instead, his approach to evil remains abstracted, raising questions less about its nature than how it is defined ... Russell, who in his desire to to put a frame around it, never fully investigates what evil is. There is very little shock and awe to this book, and no real consideration of what makes people behave as they do ... In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all explanation of evil; that is both its terror and its lure ... This proximity is missing in Being Evil, which, in its relentless attention to systemizing, fails to reckon with a key piece of the puzzle: that the conundrum rather than the conclusion is what’s most compelling here.
Positive4Columns... kaleidoscopic ... it is a book that aspires, as well, to the ineffable ... It’s tempting, in the face of all this desolation, to see Francie’s suffering as a metaphor for the limits of technology, which are the limits of imagination, or perhaps of our willingness to engage the hard reality of death. But that’s too narrow a reading of this provocative and disturbing book ... For Flanagan, it is this loss—of touch, of contact—that is the tragedy, the way technology abstracts us, renders us objects, or problems to be solved.
RaveThe Los Angeles Book ReviewHere is the key to Between Two Kingdoms — Jaouad’s disarming honesty. There is no self-pity in this telling and few of the expected pieties. Rather, what we get is a young person wrestling with a situation she would have once considered unimaginable, until it became the substance of her life. \'How do you react to a cancer diagnosis at age twenty-two?\' she wonders. This question functions as lodestar, something of a guiding light ... But how does this happen? And what does one do after it has? The key is not so much recollection but reconciliation, which is part of the intention of the memoir. What, though, does reconciliation really mean? How do we put a piece of our lives away? ... Jaouad’s point is that we never fully get better, just as we were never fully well in the first place. Life and death, health and sickness … they overlap and blur together in the singular experience of the now. To highlight this porousness, she reveals how cancer changed her family dynamics ... But Between Two Kingdoms is also about the struggle to remain a participant in one’s own life. Jaouad makes that explicit by shifting to present tense in the second half of the book — the part about recovery — as she travels the United States, visiting the people, many of them readers of her blog, who offered her solace during the years she was sick. It’s a bold move, this tonal shift, and at times it can be jarring. Yet this is also, I think, part of the point. Jaouad is writing about a process, a back-and-forth. In the tension between health and sickness, past and present, a new balance must be forged.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIf, in contemporary culture, we tend to regard the essay as inherently personal, Lopate reminds us that it has been, and remains, a mechanism of social and political expression, as well ... Lopate is attempting to ground an argument for a kind of intellectual or narrative continuity to our collective history, to trace overlapping lineages of thought ... I can’t really argue with the presence of any essay here. As an essayist, I admire them. As a teacher, I am already thinking about which ones to assign ... At the same time, I would have welcomed a few more iconoclastic selections because the essay is a vehicle of iconoclasm.
Dan Richards, Stanley Donwood, Robert Macfarlane
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesContemplative, impressionistic and suffused with aspects of the mythic, these pieces operate at times like prose poems, and they return to a key setting of The Old Ways: the secret spaces of southern England, the flashpoints and the hidden paths ... they offer not a guide so much as a set of glimpses, enhanced by Donwood’s vivid sketches, which resemble etchings in a fairy tale ... At heart here is a sense of inference, or influence; the way the present is imbued with the past ... a strangely lovely book, more complement than extension of Macfarlane’s work. But in their modesty, their open-endedness, these peregrinations recall to us that even the newest ground is also ancient.
PositiveLos Angeles Times... mutual antipathy infuses the novellas in Prefecture D, which circle one another although they are not continuous in any direct way ... His characters are not lost but adrift, swept up in inner longing, dissatisfied with or even broken by many of the aspects of their lives ... We need to believe in something, Yokoyama insists, whether the order of institutions or the stability of family. And yet there is only so much we can do. For the characters in these novellas, caught up in their amorphous investigations, police work is perhaps most important for the structure it offers, a way of giving shape or meaning to their days. What makes them recognizable and human is that this is not enough, that it can never be enough.
RaveLos Angeles Times... terrific ... a starkly dystopian novella reminiscent of George Saunders in its bleak humor, the directness of its prose ... at once a satire of aid organizations and a brittle examination of exploitation and its discontents ... This, of course, raises all sorts of questions about ethics, about coercion and how we (collectively or individually) bend others to our will. Russell is sharp on that, although even more in tracing Trish’s complicity—not only as the main contact with Baby A’s family, but also in the way she uses her sister’s tragic story as a strategy to close the deal with potential donors.
Positive4ColumnsUltimately, this ragged membrane is where the novel leaves us, on the line between rationality, faith, love, and something considerably more ominous. It is to Kunzru’s credit that he never lets the character (or, for that matter, himself or the rest of us) off this ontological hook. If he falters slightly in the closing pages—the last scene is set on the night of the 2016 election, which feels a little on the nose—it has more to do with the requirements of narrative, those necessities and insufficiencies again.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... densely plotted, interweaving overlapping story lines and points-of-view ... The result is a deeply moving picaresque in which Veselka examines conditionality as a state of being. Placing her characters at the mercy of events, she evokes the feeling of a floating world, pushing back against the forward movement of the novel in favor of something more circular. The tension this creates is provocative but familiar. There are no epiphanies here, only the small (and sometimes not so small) upheavals Veselka’s characters must navigate ... even as hope yields piece by piece to disappointment, it never fully evaporates ... That gut-punch of a scene establishes the seesawing action of the novel, built out of situations that appear at first off-kilter, even whimsical, before revealing darker strands of abandonment and risk ... Veselka traces these arcs with empathy and an earthy sense of humor but also with a ruthless eye. She is a remarkable writer, able to break through the surfaces of her narrative to reveal the animal chaos underneath ... In its way, that merciless truth of the universe represents a sort of mercy, and it makes The Great Offshore Grounds a saga of acceptance, which is to say a book of life. I don’t want to give away too much because one of its abiding pleasures is discovery.
RaveLos Angeles TimesSmith...is a spectacular essayist—even better, I’d say, than as a novelist ... Smith...get[s] at something universal, the suspicion that has infiltrated our interactions even with those we want to think we know. This is the essential job of the essayist: to explore not our innocence but our complicity. I want to say this works because Smith doesn’t take herself too seriously, but that’s not accurate. More to the point, she is willing to expose the tangle of feelings the pandemic has provoked. And this may seem a small thing, but it’s essential: I never doubt her voice on the page ... Her offhandedness, at first, feels out of step with a moment in which we are desperate to feel that whatever something we are trying to do matters. But it also describes that moment perfectly ... Here we see the kind of devastating self-exposure that the essay, as a form, requires—the realization of how limited we are even in the best of times, and how bereft in the worst.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewFor O’Mara, the answers are practical ... O’Mara’s concerns are more prosaic and hidebound ... O’Mara’s reliance on statistics and scientific data makes his investigation come off as abstract ... The issue with ,em>In Praise of Walking is O’Mara’s assumption that how good an activity may be for us is the most essential measure of its worth. If no one disputes the benefits of walking, I’d argue that they’re more difficult to quantify ... Each stage of the journey...has value on its own terms — which means it is the journeying rather than the arriving that offers the most necessary right of way.
PositiveLos Angeles Times... the material here brings us directly in touch with the cartoonist’s obsessive point of view ... his self-analysis can make us squirm ... It’s a subjectivity similar to that of, say, Ben Lerner or Karl Ove Knausgaard, in which the artist both is and is not the character ... It’s a complex weave, made more pronounced by the artifice of the form. Tomine makes this explicit throughout the book ... It’s tempting to critique Tomine’s perspective as a little close, a little small, especially at a moment beset by crises. Who has time for self-doubt when the world is coming to an end? But I want to make a counterargument. What better time to look in the mirror than when every one of us is at risk? ... the faith of memoir, or autofiction, is that this is what connects us: the expression of our humanity. For Tomine, that means showing us his process; the book ends as he sits down to write it, in a graphpaper sketchbook the design of the book you’re holding re-creates. It’s a full-circle move in the broadest sense, and it leaves us in the middle, where Tomine is, looking backward in order to look ahead.
K. Ferrari, Trans. by Adrian Nathan West
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThat’s a terrific set-up for a crime novel: The locked-room murder mystery transplanted to the cocoon of the car. Ferrari, however, is not after resolution so much as entanglement, a widening net of implication in which Mr. Machi finds himself ensnared ... Ferrari’s plotting is ingenious, not only in the way it unveils the kaleidoscopic, potentially viral network of Mr. Machi’s connections, but also in how it shatters the illusion of his mastery to reveal \'the great beast of paranoia\' within ... Even as we shudder at the violence, we cannot help but appreciate the ironies ... hardly a work of literary gamesmanship. Instead, it offers contrapuntal pleasures ... What happens when your world blows up, when everything you thought you could count on is revealed to be a reverie? It’s a question a lot of us are asking in the surreal, occluded moment we have come to occupy.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesNew Waves manages to be both knowing and cutting, a satire of internet culture that is also a moving portrait of a lost human being ... The strength of the novel is that he has something more expansive in his sights [than allegory] ... New Waves is also fallible in places; it can push too many hot buttons (a subplot on HR and workplace harassment feels especially tacked on), and Nguyen doesn’t know how to wrap it up. But that too is consistent with the ethos of the internet.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which argues, in the starkest terms imaginable, that we as a culture have reached a tipping point ... Klein is not naïve about the issues ... At the same time, there is, in places, a disconnect between her idealism and her realism, what she thinks ought to happen and what she recognizes likely will ... More effective are her portrayals of grass-roots resistance ... As heartening as this is, however, it’s just a drop in the bucket, in a world where preservation has always taken a back seat to greed ... In [a] sense,[Klein] is arguing for a new way of thinking, of interacting with the planet, one that has a lot to do with those in power but also trickles down to all of us.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesThough sparked by an act of violence, Deacon King Kong often spirals into comic riffs and set pieces that suggest there is both more and less at stake ... Sportscoat may appear cartoonish, a drunk in thrall to Hot Sausage’s homemade rotgut...but he gradually assumes the moral center of the narrative. And Elefante may be a hoodlum but he has scruples, refusing to sell drugs in his community. Like the rest of us, what he really wants to do is fall in love and settle down. It’s hardly surprising that Deacon King Kong should finish upbeat; what other ending could it have? Rather than Chekhov’s gun, in which a weapon introduced in Act 1 must be used by Act 3, McBride’s gunshot propels the action toward conciliation of a kind. In that regard, the novel is asking an important question: What if, instead of disorder, conflict might instead lead to harmony?
Rave4ColumnsThis is writing...where, as in a dreamscape, the line between experience and imagination is irrevocably blurred ... a remarkable collection, composed of narratives so relentlessly self-eviscerating that to read them feels like peeling off your skin. That’s because Kavan is not especially compelled by the banalities of conventional fiction. Many of her stories are only incrementally plotted, unfolding for the most part in a kind of never-ending present tense ... What Kavan is evoking is a complicity, a terrain in which her characters—often nameless, caught up in existential crisis, existential desolation—express, in precise and specific detail, the parameters of their distress ... their desolation is as concrete as it gets. This may be the most striking aspect of Kavan’s fiction, the precision with which she recreates despair. The key is her language, which is utterly without illusion ... Here we see the conundrum of Kavan’s fiction: living is unbearable, but so too is its alternative. The only consolation must come from the inside—the dreamlife, as it were. And yet, what happens when the dreamlife is defined by nightmare, as it is in Kavan’s work? ... What she, like Kafka, is describing is the experience of having nowhere to turn.
PositiveThe New RepublicWasson, I think, overstates the effect of the Manson murders, if not on Polanski (for whom such a gloss may be unavoidable), then on the larger Hollywood community. In The Big Goodbye, the killings take on the weight of another creation myth, a driving motivation for Polanski, pushing him ever more deeply into his art ... It’s not hard to recognize the attraction of that narrative, but it also gives the book a kind of built-in closure more ready-made than reality, most likely, would have been. Chinatown, after all—like any creative project—developed incrementally. Some of the most interesting material in Wasson’s book highlights what didn’t work ... Wasson is excellent on the nuances of Hollywood, which is hardly unexpected: He has the access and has written deftly about the industry in previous books. At the same time, he is far too forgiving of Polanski, holding the story of his statutory rape case for the final pages, where it unfolds as afterthought. Still, the problem with Hollywood, as West also noted, is that it is a universe unto itself.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... there are the poems, half a dozen of them, in which Hass audaciously takes us through a cycle of dying ... I say \'audaciously\' because the sequence comes at the start of the collection and also because of the ruthless clarity of the poet’s eye.
Rodrigo Márquez Tizano, Trans. by Thomas Bunstead
RaveLos Angeles TimesRodrigo Márquez Tizano’s debut novel...is a kaleidoscopic take on love and loss and longing, written in a voice that is sharp and cynical yet somehow without despair. ... a vivid piece of social satire, distraction rewired through the lens of oppression as a mechanism of control. That we recognize ourselves in it is entirely the point ... one of the pleasures of Jakarta is the way it continually upends our expectations
Kamel Daoud, trans. by John Cullen
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesAmong the book’s conceits is that The Stranger wasn’t written by Camus but by Meursault himself, a turn on the ending of that novel, in which the narrator is sentenced to die. By positioning its precursor as part of the real world, not fiction so much as testimony, Daoud moves his work into the realm of the familiar, allowing him to speak less of existential than practical, even political, concerns ... This is important, for the true subject of The Meursault Investigation is the condition of contemporary Algeria, a secular Arab state with a large Islamic culture, existing in uneasy balance in the aftermath of a shattering civil war ... It’s an inspired twist, entirely obvious in hindsight (how, after all, could one have missed it?) but also revelatory in its way. Daoud is saying that Camus’ entire posture grows out of privilege ... Were The Meursault Investigation to conclude there, it would stand as a vivid critique. The true measure of the novel, however, is that Daoud realizes critique is not enough. Critique, in this case, is just a mechanism to divide us. Critique is not as strong as complement, the investigation of everything we share.
Patrick Modiano, trans. by Euan Cameron
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThe overlap, the back-and-forth, may seem repetitious, but it isn’t. Rather, it makes reading any single Modiano book like encountering one installment in an ongoing, multivolume work. This press of memory becomes more resonant the more one reads ... As to whom he is addressing, it could be anyone: his readers, the other characters in the novel, himself. And yet, that makes his work only more compelling, like an ouroboros of the inner life. This, Modiano insists, is where we are, born out of history into a state of unknowing, in which memory and forgetting blur into a fantasy that can never be fulfilled.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...[an] elegant, intelligent and very beautiful book, which occupies a space between research and reflection, investigating our attitudes toward immunity and inoculation through a personal and cultural lens ... Make no mistake: Biss’ child is not unvaccinated. She is a vigorous advocate for inoculation; throughout the book, she reveals the rhetoric of the anti-vaccination movement for the sophistry it is. At the same time, she understands the fear at its heart ... What Biss is getting at is distrust of the other, an epidemic that cuts both ways. We live in a culture that prides itself on being rational, when in fact we are as governed by superstitions, suppositions, as we ever were ... On Immunity seeks to function as a cultural inoculation; hence the subtitle of the book. It is elliptical, elusive, neither collection nor narrative exactly but more a set of questions about how we frame our interactions with the world.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesVivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the Cityis a book of ghosts ... This is not to say [it] is nostalgic. As she has throughout her career, Gornick stands against nostalgia, which does not mean she stands against history. For her, however, history is a source of context, a way of tracing what has changed and what remains ... [an] elusive and stirring memoir — a companion piece of sorts to the magnificent Fierce Attachments ... [The] question of time, of course, is essential to the memoir, which as a form unfolds in the amorphous middle ground between musing and memory. For Gornick, such a middle ground is always front and center because she remains vividly aware of her own thinking as crucible. The Odd Woman and the City is full of what she knows, what she ponders and most of all what she has read ... if longing is, in some sense, what motivates The Odd Woman and the City, the book builds to its own measure of acceptance, as well. Gornick can be wickedly pointed...but she is also clear-eyed, reflective ... It all adds up to nothing, and yet that nothing is the only thing we have.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesKnausgaard returns to childhood, offering what is in some ways a traditional bildungsroman about his grammar school years on the Norwegian island of Tromoya ... The power of My Struggle lies in this tension, between who Knausgaard is and who he has ever been. As such, Boyhood is important, because it fills in key aspects of his history. It is, however, less reflective than Books 1 and 2, which makes it less effective on its own terms.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThere’s no mistaking the voice, with its mix of assurance and conditionality ... there’s something looser about [Smith\'s] stories, more offhand ... this work comes off as incidental in the best sense — not marginal but open, as if it didn’t have to bear the weight of the novel or the essay but could operate instead out of a more spontaneous give and take. Such a quality of serendipity, of a writer making it up as she goes along, sits at the center of Grand Union, which is perhaps most vivid in its sense of play ... Such public, or political, concerns echo throughout Grand Union, which does not shy away from stories with a point ... As in her novels and essays, Smith writes about characters on terms that blend the personal with the impositions of a broader world ... Smith deftly interposes contemporary touches ... Throughout the collection, we see Smith stretching, trying one thing before turning to another ... Here we see Smith is at her finest, when she reveals what we recognize but do not say. The strength of Grand Union is the way such a sensibility informs these incidental pieces. This is the frisson that drives her writing, the balance between humor and self-laceration that cannot help but extend to us as well.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThere is a sense of the futility of writing and also of its necessity ... And yet, for Als, the critic’s posture is not a way of stepping back from life; it is a matter of engaging with the world. Most of the pieces in White Girls use their subjects as a starting point, but the genius has to do with where Als goes from there ... The focus is privilege, who has it and who will never have it, and what those without it are supposed to do ... The point of this magnificent collection is that all our endeavors are contrivance and yet utterly essential just the same.
PositiveThe New RepublicYes, Levy’s novel unfolds in a specific time and place with clear historical parameters. But she also undercuts the idea of plot (or at least its inevitability) by rendering Saul as self-absorbed and newly brittle, as if he had emerged from his accident in an alternate frame of mind ... What Levy is suggesting is that time is a construct, that it takes a disruption—an accident or a revolution—to stir us to consciousness ... The Man Who Saw Everything, then, offers a narrative of awakening, in which Saul, in his way, is reborn as an innocent, a naïf tracing and retracing his steps, his memories, through an elusive world ... less a journey of discovery, a bildungsroman, than its opposite: a saga of unraveling. And that, in turn, gives the book an understated power, as we confront a writer working against expectation to subvert the conventions of the novel, to rethink the form on her own terms ... It’s the questions, not the answers, that bring us most acutely to life.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewWhat Lerner is projecting is a kind of doubling: between genres, yes, but more essentially between what we might call the inner and the outer life. The Topeka School is deeply autobiographical but also deeply imagined, a construction that reveals its frames and crossbeams, its slats and braces and joins. It is a book of tellings and retellings, in which perspectives enlarge or contradict one another, highlighting patterns that, by turns, illuminate and efface memory.
Positive4ColumnsHere we see the territory [Jamison\'s] writing inhabits: self-questioning while at the same time empathetic, dubious and credible at once. In such a landscape, resolution is, at best, construction or compromise ... What Jamison is after is a kind of radical honesty: the ongoing inquiry of a mind at work. That this is not a new issue, but infuses all her writing, is the whole idea—even when she is her own subject, as in the last group of essays in the collection, which deal with family and marriage and parenthood ... Projection, longing, and (yes) empathy: as Jamison recognizes, every narrative remains conditional, leaving us between proximity and distance, in relation with one another and yet at the same time alone.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesYear of the Monkey may come billed as a memoir, but really it is less in the vein of Smith’s National Book Award-winning Just Kids than of her poetry, or impressionistic works such as M Train and Woolgathering. ... Smith is showing us her inner life, the interplay she shares with that silk of souls. It is as if everything she has heard or read, everything she has been, continues to co-exist inside her. We recognize this to be accurate because something similar is true of us ... The real reckoning Year of the Monkey makes, however, is with mortality — or, perhaps more accurately, with time. Taking as its frame the Chinese Year of the Monkey, the book begins in January 2016 and ends after the inauguration of Donald Trump. That’s a different sort of reckoning, and it has its place here, although Smith is careful not to let it overwhelm. Or maybe it’s just that she sees it as one more reason to hold onto what matters, for as long, and as fully, as she can.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times...it’s impossible to read “Life” without experiencing a peculiar kind of double vision, between the stories we have read and what Richards means to tell us — between, in the most essential sense, the myth and the man ... Richards’ solution is to give us a book that reads, in many places, like an extended interview transcript, full of digressions and blind alleys, repetitions and riffs ... We get the sense that he’s being candid, saying what he feels because he has no reason to hide. Nowhere is that more compelling than when Richards writes about music, which he does with insight and grace. Here we have the brilliant stuff, worth the price of admission ... Forget the war stories, the biographical details; if that’s what interests you, you’re better off with Stanley Booth’s book. But if it’s some connection with the music that you’re after, you might want to start right here.
PositiveBarnes & NobleFor Watson, [writing] has everything to do, again, with the fluidity of language, which is — or must be, if it is to remain flexible and relevant — constantly evolving. It is addressing this that Semicolon comes to life. The history is interesting, if arcane in places, tracing disputes between linguists, the rise of sentence diagramming, even a series of legal challenges ... Watson, however, finds her sharpest voice in literary analysis ... What makes this all so vivid is her willingness to engage ... , if Semicolon has anything to tell us, it is that language is about more than information; it is about touch and receptivity. \'The semicolon\', Watson wants us to remember, \'is that tantalizing veil shimmering between the two halves of the sentence, showing us just enough to let us dream.\'
PositiveLos Angeles TimesAug 9—Fog ... [is] deeply personal while at the same time keeping us at arm’s length...circular but also move[s] through time ... Aug 9—Fog operates as a...reflective surface—by turns, long distance and internalized. Its blurriness is less that of a single self than between two selves; the original (and, to us, anonymous) diarist and Scanlan as she rewrites a set of pathways through this other life ... \'Sun shining then rainy but clearing,\' Scanlan ends her version of the diary. And in those six unpunctuated words, the entire history of human perseverance is revealed.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... magnificently uncategorizable ... deeply personal while at the same time keeping us at arm’s length; [is is] circular but also move through time ... calls itself an essay. But if that’s true enough — in the sense that the essay is meant to be capacious, to wander, to interrogate its content and its form — the designation ultimately reinforces the insufficiency of such tags to encapsulate the movement of an engaged body and mind ... effaces lines of genre as a strategy to efface, or disrupt, lines of self and gender.
MixedForwardFred recollect[s] the events of his childhood with no real indication of what has happened in the decades since. It’s unclear whether such a strategy is meant to engage us as collaborators, completing the gaps in the story — which represents a blurring of a different sort. The more we see Hoffman in Lenny, or Rubin in the character of Sy Neuman, the more we read with a double vision, layering the actual person over the fictional one. Whatever the intention, the effect is to leave us in an uncertain middle territory in which neither the history nor the fiction is sufficiently enlarged. The same is true of the book’s close focus, the way Fred barely comments on his story, even as it is clear that he is telling it from the perspective of a present moment in which he seems to want nothing so much as to set aside his past ... All this raises a set of necessary questions: Why is Fred telling us about it now? Even more: Where is he as he unburdens himself? Also: Who is asking him to discuss his father’s life? On a certain level, these inquiries sit at the center of any first-person fictional narration; believing the voice is the first in a series of necessary suspensions of disbelief. At the same time, the fact that we never get the answers reduces the scope, the perspective, of the novel, making it feel a little bit claustrophobic, a little bit small ... Without that broader sense of context, of Fred’s motivation, what it means to him, Revolutionaries never quite transcends itself.
MixedLos Angeles TimesAffecting, if uneven ... [Oseland] doesn’t impose [his] knowledge on his younger self. The effect is like a compression of narrative vision, a collapsing of the distance between then and nowThe issue is that, for all the value of proximity, Jimmy Neurosis lacks a certain contemplative voice — the sense of reflection on which a memoir relies. It’s not a deal-breaker because much of what Oseland reveals is moving, but the book could have benefited from a little more.
MixedLos Angeles TimesMorrison\'s 10th novel...is a thin book with some beautiful writing that ultimately comes off as insubstantial and contrived ... the most striking thing about the novel may be how little it succeeds in drawing us in ... when escape finally comes, it is so easy, effortless almost, that we wonder how it could have ever been in doubt. This lack of narrative tension recurs throughout Home ... There\'s a certain Old Testament-style simplicity to such a story, with its archetypal concerns ... but here they don\'t challenge ... On the most basic level...this is a Toni Morrison novel, although that sounds snarkier than I intend. Still, it may be the most I can say for Home, which reads like a pastiche, a writer returning to the well once too often, operating less from narrative urgency than a kind of muscle memory.
Yuko Tsushima Trans. by Geraldine Harcourt
RaveThe Barnes and Noble Review... billed as a novel, but that’s not exactly what it is. Rather, the book is a collection of linked short stories — or more accurately, a sequence of riffs, impressions ... Let me just say it plainly: I love this as a strategy. Among the issues with the traditional novel is (what let’s call) its novelness. By that, I mean the way plot can often feel like a chute in a slaughterhouse, herding us toward what is made to seem an inevitable denouement ... What makes this all so vivid is both the clarity of the language and the piercing acuity of Tsushima’s eye ... For Tsushima, the point (or one of them) is that life unfolds across the surfaces, that there is only so much we can know about each other or ourselves. That’s a tricky move when writing in first person, but the skill with which she pulls it off is one of the magnificences of the book ... quietly brilliant.
Positive4ColumnsFor Means, stories are not so much answers as they are extended investigations in which we try to make sense of what we want to know, even though our efforts must remain, essentially, incomplete ... What he is getting at is the conditionality of narrative, which in the end can’t help but fail to save us, even as it remains the only tool we’ve got. This is the paradox—bleak, but also with its own edge of connection—that animates the stories in Instructions for a Funeral. The tales they tell are incremental, doubling back on themselves ... This is what makes Instructions for a Funeral so vivid: Means’s deep recognition that all of us are facing a common set of concerns ... We all exist at a distance from one another, and even memory is unreliable and will desert us, which means that our connections will be tenuous, impossible to hold. How to write about such dislocation? How to exist within it? The conundrum is one to which he returns throughout the book.
Khaled Khalifa Trans. by Leri Price
RaveLos Angeles Times\"... astonishing ...The journey recalls Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, the long last ride of Addie Bundren; like Faulkner too, Khalifa employs a shifting array of voices and reflections, moving from perspective to perspective, present to past and back again. The effect is a persistent deepening, as stories are introduced and then revisited, details added through the play of memory ... The power of the novel... is that it unfolds within a human context, which pushes against and resists the prevailing social one. What other option do we have?\
PositiveLos Angeles TimesDillon’s book is itself a kind of conglomerate, which is to say it is an essay by another name. Opening with a lengthy (as in, two-page) sequential sentence, it wears its influences on its sleeve. This is among Essayism’s abiding pleasures, the author’s engagement as a reader ... I don’t share his fascination with Barthes, or for that matter any of the theorists, but I am deeply committed to the self-exposure he uncovers in the work.
Rave4Columns\"Like much of Eisenberg’s work, the six stories in Your Duck Is My Duck take place in a landscape where communication is difficult and connection, even language, can be vague and imprecise. At the same time, her writing burns with urgency ... Were Eisenberg less precise about her imprecision, the whole illusion could fall apart. But the beauty—and yes, the power—of her fiction is how she evokes the general state of decay and dislocation in the most specific terms.\
PositiveThe Washington PostAnderson has just attended a Century Chest celebration at the First Lutheran Church, at which a time capsule, sealed 100 years before, has been unveiled. Anderson is skeptical. \'Time capsules are ... almost always empty, damaged, full of junk—further depressing evidence (as if we needed any) of the absolute tyranny of time.\' The passage evokes its author deftly: the inside outsider, captivated but unconvinced, part of the collective while also essentially apart ... for much of Boom Town the tragedy [of the federal building bombing] is as absent as the negative space where the Murrah building used to stand ... Anderson, however, knows what he is doing, which is less to create a history of Oklahoma City than to map it out as psychic space ... The story has to exist in the interstices, to be intuited as much as told ... What Anderson is tracing is the creation of a narrative, the story the city tells about itself.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times\"At times, these [writer bio] sections can read a bit like thesis outtakes. But the paradox is that they work because they give a sense, perhaps as viscerally as the personal material, of the writer using everything she has to flounder toward some sort of meaning — not resolution, never resolution, but at least a form of reckoning ... that\'s where The Recovering leaves us, with the sense of a writer intent on holding nothing back. It\'s not that one approach is more effective than the other, just that they are different — in The Empathy Exams, we appreciate the care of her language, her construction, whereas here we are aware, most fundamentally, of her urgency. This, of course, is as it should be, for Jamison is writing to survive.\
PositiveB&N ReviewWhat Ausubel is evoking is love, which animates Awayland like the beating of a secret heart. Her characters can’t get along without it, although it is a source of turmoil and upheaval in their lives ... We create distinctions, Ausubel insists, that are nothing if not arbitrary, then cling to them as if they define something essential about who we are ... This, in the end, is all we can hope for, that our loved ones do not suffer, whatever else may happen to them. As for the rest, it’s inexplicable, a source of wonder and terror, the mystery at the center of the world. Such a mystery inflects the stories in Awayland, weighting them like wishes cast against the void.
RaveThe B&N ReviewSmith is critiquing everything we don’t want to talk about: complicity and naïveté, what we take for granted and how we are positioned, our good feelings about ourselves. It’s a territory to which she returns throughout Feel Free ... What makes Feel Free so resonant is this refusal to let anyone, herself included, off the hook. At the same time, she is compassionate and understanding of our failings — although understanding alone, Smith knows, is not enough. More to the point, her purpose is inquiry, the essayist’s natural state of asking as opposed to answering: precarious uncertainty again ... Her concerns move inexorably from the cultural to the existential — or maybe the two are increasingly the same.
Annie Ernaux, Trans. by Alison L. Strayer
RaveThe Los Angeles Times\"For Ernaux, photographs are central to the construction of her narrative — as much for their illusions as for what they reveal. She builds The Years around such images, as well as meals: commemorations and communal gatherings, the structures by which we arrange our lives. It’s a brilliant strategy, not least because it encodes the notion of the collective, of the shared experience, into the marrow of the book. This is essential, because The Years is not Ernaux’s story, or not her story alone. Rather, it uses the circumstances of her life as a template to uncover larger commonalities and concerns … This is work that wants to address reality as it is. That such a gesture is impossible, that we are always under the influence of our minds, our beliefs and our perceptions, is part of the point.\
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewWhat has drawn me most to Diski is her disregard of genre lines … Gathering a dozen stories, some of which first appeared in New Statesman and the London Review of Books, it seems to be a book of updated myths or legends before revealing its true, and more subversive, intent … The women Diski evokes in these pages are adrift but not, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they are in a process of becoming.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesGive Nathan Englander credit for chutzpah. The title of his new book of short fiction, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, draws on two iconic antecedents: the young diarist killed at Bergen-Belsen and the Raymond Carver story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.’ Each, in its way, informs the collection; each, in its way, helps to set the terms. And what are those terms? The tension between the religious and the secular, between the American setting of much of this work and the more elusive textures of Jewish life … The triumph of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is Englander's ability to balance one against the other, to find, even as he's calling it unfindable, the deeper story, the more nuanced narrative … The best stories here function as fables of their own.
Rave4ColumnsPerhaps the most useful way to think about theMystery.doc is as an experiential novel, one we live with (or through), rather than read. A pastiche, a collection of moments that both connect and don’t, it blurs the line between text and image, fact and fiction; it is not postmodern but post-postmodern, or maybe none of the above. At the same time, it is surprisingly accessible for such a long book: not a critique of meaning so much as an evocation of meaning’s aftermath—an expression, in other words, of the chaotic culture in which we live ... All of this, of course, is meant to signify upheaval, of both the personal and the cultural variety. The mystery, it should come as no surprise, is the mystery: the stomach-dropping question of why we are alive. We often dismiss that issue as sophomoric, but that’s part of the point of a book such as this, which takes it on faith that literature, that art, should address the largest questions, even (or especially) when we know they can’t be answered in any satisfying terms ... but for all the novel’s self-awareness, its questioning of form and content, theMystery.doc has larger concerns. Here we are, back to post-postmodern, since McIntosh is not trying to be ironic but rather seeks a disarming vulnerability. It may seem strange to call a 1,660-page novel intimate, and yet this is what McIntosh is after, to mine the depths of a particular set of points of view. If narrative is all we have, our source of meaning, what happens when it is not enough?
G. Willow Wilson
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesAlif the Unseen...aspires to operate on many levels, both visible and invisible, at the same time. It is a layered work, in which Alif, on the run from state security for digital insurrection, ends up in possession of a legendary book … Whether you're willing to believe that will determine much of what you think about Alif the Unseen. It is a novel in which the supernatural merges with the natural, in which myths and legends — genies, magic, the idea of an unseen world not exactly beneath the surface but at cross angles to this one — are taken at face value, woven into a larger adventure in which unwittingly, even at times unwillingly, Alif must take on the security apparatus of the state … As compelling as this is, Alif the Unseen has its problems, mostly involving the mechanisms of its own storytelling, which at times become melodramatic and contrived.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewWhat makes M Train so vivid is its quality of serendipity, of unfolding in the present; reading it feels like accompanying Smith on a journey, both exterior and interior, physical and emotional, in which neither she nor we are sure where we’ll end up. The first part of Devotion has a similar quality, beginning with a description of a film about the 1941 forced deportation of Estonians by the Soviets, then offering a few lines, a few brief sequences, in response ... this is what is so astonishing about her career and what motivates Devotion — the way that, as she has gotten older, Smith’s vision has expanded, framing her self-awareness not as self-absorption but rather a deep dive into everything, the exhilaration and the terror and the transcendence that we all share ... That is the point of Devotion, and its message also: art making as inspirational act. Such inspiration is less a search for a starting point than a mechanism for connection, a desire to communicate. 'Why do we write?' Smith asks, and the answer comes encoded in the question, as of course it must. 'A chorus erupts . . . Because we cannot simply live.'
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesHis new book, Full Dark, No Stars, is the latest instance. As its title suggests, the work is bleak, with an Old Testament-like sense of affliction and retribution, an assurance that every sin must be repaid ... This theme of intimacy gone wrong runs throughout the collection ... For all King's interest in the supernatural, he is at his most acute when he deals with human evil, the depravity of which we are capable and the lengths to which we will go to convince ourselves that we are good ... Such a double vision marks many of King's novels, from The Shining to Desperation to Bag of Bones.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThis is an interesting but problematic passage, suggesting the potential of The Buried Giant and also the failings it cannot, finally, overcome ...there's the tone of exposition, of a story explicated rather than told. Certainly, The Buried Giant requires explanation, its world so different from the one we occupy. At the same time, this leaves the narrative at a peculiar distance, one Ishiguro never overcomes ... On the one hand, he remains, as he has often been, compelled by questions of love, commitment, deception — a deception that is not always external but also grows within ...involves people with no real sense of their own past wandering through a landscape with no real sense of its own past, with consequences that don't seem dire or dangerous enough, which means that nothing, really, is at stake ...is not to say that the book lacks anything to merit our attention.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe novel begins with a pair of threats: two plumes of smoke, the first a sign of newcomers and the second of a fire at the master's hay loft. Both are harbingers of trouble, particularly once the new arrivals are blamed for the conflagration at the stable and given a week in public pillory … As with Crace's other novels, Harvest is deftly written, in language — formal, slightly archaic even — that reflects the setting it describes. It's also tightly plotted; less than a week passes from the moment smoke is sighted until the book's fateful outcome, and yet once underway, we have the sense that everything is inevitable. From the newcomers to Edmund Jordan, Master Kent's cousin by marriage who has come to lay claim to the manor and its lands, the village is under siege, but nowhere more, Crace wants us to understand, than from itself.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times...a necessary — if at times clunky and unconvincing — retrospective ... perhaps the most useful way to read What Happened is as one last instance of Clinton doing what she calls her civic duty. That the book is marked by her flaws (namedropping, contrived inspirational anecdotes, a refusal, or at least an inability, to reckon with her own failings as a candidate) as much as by her strengths (an expert’s understanding of policy and process, as well as an unexpectedly authentic sense of empathy) is only as it should be. This is her story, after all, and the most useful measure of it is to say the portrait that emerges is very much in line with the person, public or otherwise, we’ve known all along ... She should have been president, and she knows it; regret and loss is palpable throughout the book. And yet it’s also the case that she remains unable to reckon with just what happened in the 2016 election, looking for explanations, for reasons, while at the same time never quite uncovering her own complicity ... Read What Happened, then, not as score settling or revisionist history. Read it, rather, as what is it: self-serving in places but relatively honest, if not a knockout blow then something of a necessary punch.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesNathan Englander is a fabulist: That’s the first thing to keep in mind. Even when he’s trafficking in the naturalistic he aspires to the lesson of the parable ... One of the exhilarating aspects of Dinner at the Center of the Earth is its expansive sense of space and time ... The decision to base a character on such a specific historical personality is a challenging one, particularly for those who remember Sharon as '[a] murderer, … a butcher,' the architect of massacres in Qibya and Beirut. Englander, however, sidesteps history — or blurs its boundaries — by never referring to the character as anything but the General, rendering him instead as an archetype. The same is true of Prisoner Z, who also goes unnamed throughout the novel, as well as a double agent known mostly as the Waitress, although she is more fully identified toward the end of the book. The effect is to heighten events, to transcend history in favor of a more allegorical realm ... If this feels a little forced in places, well, that too is in the nature of the fable, which is a story in the service of a moral, after all. This has been Englander’s intent from the beginning, and with this novel he articulates and expands on such a sensibility, framing history as both an act and a failure of the imagination, which is to say, in inherently, and inescapably, human terms.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesRuth Ozeki opens her third novel, A Tale for the Time Being, with a small deception — or, more accurately, a sleight of hand. Forgoing context or explanation, she plunges us into the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl named Nao ...such an exquisite novel: funny, tragic, hard-edged and ethereal at once ...constructed around a pair of interlocking narratives — Nao's diary, which is really more of an extended suicide note, and the story of Ruth, a novelist who lives on Vancouver Island and one day finds washed up on the beach a package containing the diary and other artifacts ... Both Nao and Ruth are faced with complex puzzles: for the former, the question of her own existence, and for the latter, a memoir of her late mother's descent into Alzheimer's... Both are trapped by old ways of thinking, old ways of seeing, by the weight of their respective pasts.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesGreat House is an exercise in kaleidoscopic storytelling, a novel that seeks to weave four groups of characters into a larger meditation on memory and loss … There's a lot to be said for using a piece of furniture to evoke the inner life of not just characters but also families — not least because it allows the novel to exist, a bit, outside of time. ‘Unlike people,’ Krauss writes, ‘… the inanimate doesn't simply disappear,’ and as Great House progresses, she establishes the desk as a trace or imago, an echo of the past that reverberates into the present day .. The ease with which it moves among them only undermines its metaphoric power, reminding us that, whatever it may stir in us, the inanimate remains inanimate, which means, on the most fundamental level, that it can never be enough.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesHaruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage begins with a simple premise: A Tokyo railroad engineer, the Tsukuru Tazaki of the novel's title, unable to get over the summer of his sophomore year in college, when for no reason he can determine he was cut off by his close-knit group of high school friends ...a rawness, a vulnerability, to these characters, a sense that the surface of the world is thin, and the border between inner and outer life, between existence as we know it and something far more elusive, is easily effaced ...a novel less of wandering than of integration, although what this means is difficult to pin down. Does Tsukuru come to any kind of closure? The answer is: Yes and no. The past, even revisited, can never be reclaimed.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesSmith is after something bigger in this novel — the illusory nature of appearance itself. This emerges in the character of Georgia, often called George, the girl who looks like a boy, but even more in regard to Del Cossa, who we learn is a woman masquerading as a man. That this is not historical truth is irrelevant; How to Be Both is a novel, after all. Even more, Smith wants us to consider: How much do we know about anyone in either the present or the past? … In part, the point is gender, sexuality: Who are we, the image the world perceives or the essence we know ourselves to be? But even more, it's an existential issue, the realization that once enough time passes we all become figures of fiction, birth and death days long forgotten beneath the press of years.
Haruki Murakami, trans. Jay Rubin & Philip Gabriel
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesMurakami evokes a fully articulated vision of a not-quite-nightmare world, in which reality goes its own way and we have no choice but to adapt … Aomame and Tengo function equally as characters and as embodiments of the novel's larger themes, its essences — although it is to Murakami's credit that, whatever else they are, we never lose sight of these characters as flesh-and-blood beings … The truest pleasures of the book may be the most writerly, primarily its epic sense of structure (which functions as something of a fun-house mirror, endlessly reflective) and its many references to history and literature … 1Q84 is a big, sprawling novel, a shaggy dog story to be sure, but it achieves what is perhaps the primary function of literature: to reimagine, to reframe, the world.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThat's classic Saunders, with its use of the vernacular, the specific language of a character, to get at material that is both elusive and profound … What Saunders is evoking is compassion, which is, it turns out, the defining sensibility of the book... these are conflicted people, in over their heads and struggling to stay afloat. They want to do the right thing, but they don't always, or even often, know what that is … Saunders deftly traces the back and forth, the debate to get involved or not to get involved, which every one of us has experienced. Talk about compassion: We are weak, flawed and frightened and petty, and yet every day, we have the opportunity to be strong.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times… exuberant, lush with language, concerned with the relationship of people to their city, with framing not just the lives of characters but also an entire social milieu … NW suggests that she has found a way to balance these considerations — the experiential and the literary or, more accurately, the outer and the inner life. It is a terrific novel: deeply ambitious, an attempt to use literature as a kind of excavation, while at the same time remaining intensely readable, intensely human, a portrait of the way we live … The power of the novel is that she continually digs beneath these surfaces, exposing not hypocrisy so much as the emptiness that all her characters feel.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesFranzen pulls it off — as he pulls off nearly everything in this rich and nuanced novel — because for all that it appears to be their book, Freedom is more than just the story of the Berglunds' fall. Instead, they are the tip of the iceberg, a filter through which to explore the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives … Freedom is a response to the brutal decade that has followed [9/11], in which the illusion of a post-ideological world in which the vagaries of history have been rendered moot by market forces was revealed as the most self-serving sort of lie.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesFortunately, the past resets each time he visits it, which means Jake can make things right simply by taking another journey in time. And yet, if this allows Jake a shot at redemption, it also undermines the tension of the book...King makes everything conditional, to the point where nothing really matters all that much … Part of the problem is the conceit of the story, which requires Jake to spend years in the past to effect the change he has in mind...This is one reason the novel is so long (too long by half, I'd suggest), but even more, it's why it doesn't hang together in a cohesive way
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesA family saga spanning generations that, in its own way, encapsulates the history of the state itself...the book stretches to the present, tracing fault lines and conflicts that never fully get resolved … Meyer has something a little different in mind, which is not to mourn, nor even necessarily to record, the passing of one set of myths into another, so much as to illustrate how, even as their relationship to it develops, the McCulloughs remain defined by their geography … As The Son progresses, we find ourselves drawn most powerfully to that frontier, despite (or because of) the fact that it no longer exists.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesThe conceit of Room, after all, is to unfold slowly, piece by piece. This is one reason to have a child narrate the novel: to connect us with a mind of which we are not completely certain, so that we need to decode the voice and the story it tells … Clearly, Donoghue means to dramatize the back story of every fairy tale: the cautionary saga, the darkness at the center of the world. But if Room vividly evokes these dangers, it is, in the end, too limited in its point of view.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesSet in the rural West, Train Dreams is a portrait of containment, of compression and restraint … Grainer lives, works and suffers tragedy; he loses his wife and baby daughter and must find a way to go on. He watches the world grow up around him, yet manages to keep his distance and continue living as he knows … Born in one century, living mostly in another, he becomes a three-dimensional metaphor for the industrialization of the country, the slow passage from rural to commercial, the commodification of our collective soul … Johnson gets at the key issue of his writing: the fluid divide between spirit and substance, his sense that the metaphysical is always with us, even if we can't decipher what it means.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesTree of Smoke is a massive patchwork of people and stories that overlap and drift apart. Here, Johnson means to marry his sensibility to a more concrete political vision, using the war, and our chimerical objectives, as a way to address the unknowability of experience in the largest sense … What Johnson's getting at is a metaphysics of the battlefield, a psychic reckoning with Vietnam. Surprisingly, however, this is where Tree of Smoke breaks down … For Johnson, Vietnam may best be read as an elaborate metaphor, less geopolitical than geo-spiritual, a zone in which we lost not just our innocence but our souls. That's a classic Johnson setup, but as Tree of Smoke progresses, it gets too diffuse, too sprawling, until we ourselves grow disconnected, detached, lost.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesA white-hot ember of a book that takes place in Manhattan and Italy in the late 1970s, a time when each was awash in turmoil. This both is and isn't the point of the novel … The Flamethrowers begins with a remarkable set piece in which the character rides a motorcycle west from New York to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, where she wipes out while trying to challenge a land speed record. For Reno, though, speed is just a catalyst; her real purpose is to photograph the traces left by her bike upon the earth … The implication is that art is, or should be, a provocation, that even the most abstract expression exists in (sometimes) violent reaction to the world … The idea is to think of the novel as a reflection of both character and culture, as well as the uneasy ways they intersect.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesAt the heart of the novel is a sense not just of loss but also of futility, as if God had asserted himself or herself only to leave everyone more confused. What does it mean that the Rapture has no meaning, that there is no logic as to who was chosen and who was not? … The point is that we can't rely on outside structures for meaning, religious or otherwise. This is why Perrotta invokes not just the Rapture but also its date — Oct. 14, with its echo of Sept. 11 — as a metaphor … We understand that they are rootless, that the Rapture, such as it is, has undermined some notion of how the universe is supposed to work...He catalogs the despair, the desperation, without fully inhabiting it, until Kevin and then Nora make their hearts known.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesObreht can write. She can put a sentence together, inhabit characters with lives far different than hers; she can trace the horrors of a war she\'s never seen … And yet as The Tiger\'s Wife progresses, its sense of balance begins to be a problem, pushing us out of the narrative, or narratives, at the very point we want to be drawn in. Partly, this has to do with momentum, which is difficult to sustain in a novel with three main threads that overlap at regular intervals … This is the conundrum of the novel, any novel: between telling and withholding, between sharing and keeping back. Fiction is as much an art of omission as it is one of commission, and in The Tiger\'s Wife, Obreht commits too much ... Writing, again, beautiful writing, but in the end, The Tiger\'s Wife might have benefited from a little less art and a little more life.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewIndeed. Love and Trouble is a book of sadness: 'a mid-life reckoning,' or so its subtitle insists. Its power, though, resides in Dederer’s refusal to sugarcoat, to tie up the loose ends, to pretend there’s a world in which our trouble passes, in which we may, finally, be reconciled ... Much of Love and Trouble balances these midlife complications with the ghost or glimmer of its author’s younger self. 'That horrible girl,' as Dederer calls her, emerges in short selections from her diaries, but more than that, she is a kind of animating force ... The result is not merely a self-portrait, but in many ways a depiction of a modern marriage, in which love and lust, frustration and exhaustion, overlap in an ongoing dance of veils.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble Review300 Arguments offers a kind of shadow vision of the artist, projected out from the interior ... we are in the territory of the imagination, as Manguso plays with or against expectations, invoking fantasy, conjecture, as if it were the stuff of fact ... It’s intimacy, not truth, that is the issue; in the space created by a writer like Manguso, it’s less important what we know than what we feel.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...magnificent ... a central motif is the circularity of time. Khalifa encodes such a sensibility into his work by shifting back and forth across the decades, slipping from character to character with a fluid, even dreamlike grace ... All of this comes to us by way of a narrative that loops and circles, doubling and tripling back on itself...The novel, though, is never uncentered or disconnected, thanks to the relationship between its characters and Aleppo, which Khalifa brings to life in its own right ... In the struggle to survive, such things get put aside or hidden, a set of vulnerabilities too dangerous to reveal. Khalifa calls it the parallel life, 'a truth circulated in secret,' in which 'everything in our memory had to be erased and its burdens thrown away.' And yet, how do we live without memory? How do we remain who we are? If No Knives in the Kitchens of This City has anything to tell us, it’s that these are the questions to which we must pay attention — both for Aleppo and ourselves.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesLincoln in the Bardo is remarkable; let’s get that out of the way first ... Saunders develops his narrative in pieces, building it through the accretion of dozens of voices, all talking in tandem or on top of one another, to create a kaleidoscopic point of view ... what else is Lincoln in the Bardo but a book of memory, the way memory lingers and shapes us, both as individuals and in a more collective sense? That is the source of Lincoln’s grieving, that he can’t escape, or reconcile, his memories, that he has come, alone, to this graveyard to sit with his dead son in a futile attempt to bring him back ... a book of singular grace and beauty, an inquiry into all the most important things: life and death, family and loss and loving, duty and perseverance in the face of excruciating circumstance.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"This is not a roman à clef. Rather, Auster is after a multitiered examination of the implications of fate ... what’s most striking about the novel is the way its different narratives reflect, rather than diverge from, one another, what they share rather than what sets them apart ... 4321 is a long book, and it can meander through the details and detritus of a life — or quartet of lives. Still, what’s compelling always is its sense that the most important time exists within us, the time of memory and imagination, out of which identity is forged.\
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble Review...the key to The Correspondence is, yes, the correspondence, the offhand revelation, the tricky intimacy that the form demands ... bluster? Perhaps. But Daniels is also articulating a strategy for survival: How to get knocked down and stand back up. That this is the central focus of the collection should hardly come as a surprise ... This slow stripping-away of all but the most necessary elements is a strategy that, at one point or another, every piece in The Correspondence shares ... Does it matter, faced with so much intimacy, whether this is fact or fiction? How do we tell the two apart? It brings to mind a different sort of correspondence, the one between experience and story, in which it is not fact but sensibility that becomes the essential building block of what we like to call the truth.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesQuoted extensively — so much so that in places, Talese’s writing comes off as little more than set-up for what Foos calls The Voyeur’s Diary — these read, for the most part, like perversion more than research, which is how he characterized his activities ... Journalists traffic with unsavory sources all the time, and Talese, for his part, never endorses his subject’s behavior, even when (as he must) he goes along for the ride ... That the book is flawed too should go without saying, although this is about more than its accuracy. Rather, Talese’s key error, I think, is his over-reliance on Foos and his diary as a central source — so much so that Foos was paid for the use of his material ... That in the end, Talese appears not to have parsed the details closely enough may have less to do with his failings, or those of journalism, than with his desire to believe.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesGod Help the Child is a curiously static work. The central character, a young woman named Bride, is little more than a cipher, and her relationship with Booker, who loves her then leaves her before loving her again, unfolds with little urgency or fire ... God Help the Child rarely stirs into articulated life. Instead, it reads like a set of talking points, archetypes and illustrations, with little of the messy complexities of experience.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewThere’s a deep loneliness at the center of Lydia Millet’s tenth novel, Sweet Lamb of Heaven — and not just because its narrator, a mother named Anna, is on the run. No, this is existential, even cosmic loneliness...In Sweet Lamb of Heaven — as in the stunning trilogy of novels (How the Dead Dream, Ghost Lights, Magnificence) she published between 2008 and 2012 — her metaphysics are hard-edged, rooted in the physical, the practical: a way to investigate our connections to one another and to the generations that precede us, as well as to the natural world.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesSuperheroes, deep space travelers, a character known only as the Demon Lover: These are some of the figures who populate the nine stories in Get in Trouble, which traces an existence as developed as the one outside our walls. That's a big part of the book's delicious sense of the unexpected, its integration of the ordinary and bizarre ... This is the central tension of Get in Trouble, between the artificial and the actual, between what we think we want and who we really are. The stories here are effective because we believe them — not just their situations but also their hearts ... With Get in Trouble, she has created a series of fully articulated pocket universes, animated by a three-dimensional sense of character, of life.
PanThe Washington PostEveryone Brave Is Forgiven is a narrative of redemption. All the same, it leaves the novel with significant problems because it flattens out the conflicts, rendering them more as device or backdrop than transformative experience ... War, like any great upheaval, alters us — or it ought to — turning our hearts and psyches unexpectedly. In Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, however, such a turning never happens, since the characters come to us fully formed.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesKing's constant authorial presence can't help but pull us out, disrupting the pattern of the dream. Each time he inserts himself, we are reminded of the construction of the fiction, with the author front and center when it ought to be the other way around...It's unfortunate, for there are a lot of good stories in this collection: moving, disturbing and in between.
Umberto Eco, Trans. by Richard Dixon
PanThe Los Angeles TimesAnd yet for all that, Numero Zero feels oddly empty as a novel, undeveloped, not quite fully thought out. On the one hand, it's a short book, barely 160 pages, and it has something of a sketched-out quality, like a treatment more than a fully rendered narrative.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThis sense of time, or music, cycling back upon itself gives the memoir its most sustaining resonance...In that regard, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink is less a memoir as we've come to expect it than a kind of creative autobiography, a portrait of the artist from the inside out.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesIt is not a perfect book, meandering in places, overly romantic at times about the purifying power of art. But why not? Smith has always represented aspiration as much as achievement, the idea that art ennobles us by bringing us in contact with something, some thread of thought or feeling, larger than ourselves.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesHere, we see the sneaky genius of The Other Paris, which, like Low Life, conceals the complexity of its structure, masquerading as a popular history or a set of popular histories, until it reveals that it has been about the circling all along.
Garth Risk Hallberg
MixedThe Los Angeles Times“There is a lot of terrific writing in City on Fire, a lot of vivid action, of ideas. But in the end, it doesn't, can't, quite support our faith or its author's intention, can't quite carry the weight of all its words.”
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThroughout the novel, he seeks to play against our expectations, to take the moral lessons inherent in his chosen form and rewire them, give them additional dimension and heft.