MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewDecay and neglect are the constant themes, and the descriptions are gorgeous. Line by line, Seven Steeples is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read. But what’s strange is the utter lack of subtext. Usually, landscape indirectly illustrates the interior life of the characters and furthers the drama. But in Seven Steeples, there is absolutely no conflict between these two characters. By the end, Bell and Sigh have become one, \'a sole life,\' undifferentiated. And though we are told that \'Bell and Sigh had been thoroughly infected by each other’s way of speaking. … By their seventh year, they spoke in a dialect of their own unconscious creation,\' we never hear an exchange of dialogue between them ... Ultimately, the author seems to have fallen into a dangerous trap: being caught by an idea ... It’s just not true that two people can become one, and the novel feels limited by this conceit, which has the effect of shutting out the reader entirely. We know the minutiae of these lives in absolutely exquisite physical detail, but only in physical detail ... Baume’s descriptions of landscape are lovelier than I can express; you simply have to read them yourself. She is a poet who elevates the novel, on a linear level, to something higher. But I wish all these descriptions could have been anchored in drama and activated to mirror interior lives. Instead, they are beautiful, subtextless nothings. In that way, too, in lacking sustained drama, the author is a poet.
RaveThe Financial Times... some of the finest examples of L\'Heureux\'s great and enduring work, spanning many decades and always focused on how we fail in love ... L’Heureux reveals the relentlessness of what is lowest and most brutal in us ... L’Heureux skewers these shadows of himself in the most sustained and intelligent self-interrogation I’ve ever read. He told me once that all personal failings, finally, are about charity, about how we are uncharitable to one another. So simple-sounding an insight is beautiful only after you have read the great particularity and variety of exposures of an ungenerous and deluded self. It’s a life’s work in literature which tracks and makes beautiful and meaningful a life of doubt ... L’Heureux refused the merely grim and looked always for something else in his tragedies. This collection is luminous and breathtaking, varied and delightful and surprising, scattering perfectly shaped gems before us.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewDavies’s writing is so lovely throughout, her vision so interesting, that I wish I could only praise ... Extreme coincidence can work sometimes in Davies’s short stories, to highlight irony, but the mountain of impossible coincidence at the end of West is staggering ... The problem is that there’s no drama possible in West ... No character can push at another to reveal who they are. So the substitute is action ... West is too short and undeveloped to be a novel. And although it has the length, lovely compressed language and fast pacing of a novella, it lacks the form’s dramatic focus and intensity, the unity of dramatic action. Davies is an excellent writer whom you should read, but her strengths of surprise and coincidence don’t work in this longer narrative ... Because I’m a fan of Davies’s stories, I desperately wanted West to succeed, but it simply does not.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewMaksik is a good writer. His characters are credible, he excels at evoking the mood of a particular time and place, and there’s an impressive range of material across his three novels. So it’s a shame he has drunk the postmodernist Kool-Aid ... Joe’s shifting relationship with his father is generous and unexpected; Maksik has an expansive and affecting vision of human capacity. He also evokes time and place particularly well — early 1990s Washington here is as vivid as Santorini or Paris in his other books. If the postmodernism could be stripped away, the origins of Joe’s bipolar disorder examined more, the metaphors of bird and tar not relied on so heavily and the denouement cut down from 80 pages to 20, Shelter in Place could be a good novel instead of the merely interesting one it is now.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewJohn Jodzio’s entire collection is tremendously funny and well written, every story inventive and a pleasure to read. At each finish, though, there’s a noticeable emptiness. The endings are truncated and unsatisfying, and this is partly because the characters aren’t quite real. They’ve been sacrificed for oddity. In the same way George Saunders’s much praised Tenth of December is limited by being only about morons, Jodzio’s work is limited by being only about freaks involved in freakish events.