PositiveOrionBetween bursts of dramatic scenes that read like Knausgaard on seek mode, Mathieu moves blithely between close third-person narrations of his protagonists...and broad sociological statements ... Mathieu is good at channeling the rage, misery, and hopelessness of Hacine ... There’s little hope in Mathieu’s grim tale of the end of youthful ecstasy, but he locates the bittersweet flavor that comes from accepting where one is from.
Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, Trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveOrion... arresting ... The book churns with intense sensory descriptions of the smells and sights that signal death and birth and endure through the decades. Del Amo’s fecund prose reads at times like Georges Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest on acid, an everyday pastoral despair turned into a nightmare of naturalism ... Del Amo’s treatment of all the family members is nonjudgmental, and many of them have opportunities for poetic observation on the land that has kept them together even as each successive generation wished they’d seen a way out ... Del Amo’s Puy-Larroque oppresses and destroys the family who inherited it, but it’s a thrilling jolt of life to a reader who encounters it from afar. The writing appears effortless yet impossible to emulate, as if Del Amo were tuned in to a secret channel connecting him to words straight from the earth ... Frank Wynne completed the formidable task of translating a litany of rich vocabulary into sentences that sing in a clear, infectious tone, compelling the reader to keep turning the pages in a novel that is light on plot but heavy of consequence.
Brian Allen Carr
RaveThe Star TribuneCarr brings a wide range of ideas into the project, from the legacy of white supremacy to the desolation of rural drug addicts, but they are distilled neatly and convincingly into a near-perfect anthem of disaffected youth in a small frozen town ... present day, gun-crazed, Trump-infected Indiana is wrenchingly alive on the page ... Opioid reminds me of a book I would have devoured in high school, read half a dozen times, and told all my friends about.
PositiveThe Star TribuneAs gun and police violence ravage so many U.S. cities, and gentrification pushes people out of their homes, veteran poet and scholar of African-American culture Ed Pavlić offers a debut novel that explores the displacing and dehumanizing effects of these forces. Chicago, specifically, which Pavlić renders in synesthetic rhythms, tones, tastes and colors to show how a person’s hometown codes their consciousness. At its best, “Another Kind of Madness” is a 500-page prose poem, and the heights it scales are worth the bumpy ride toward the boundaries of fiction ... the long African section of the book is not nearly as taut and controlled as the Chicago chapters, but it’s worth reading to discover why it’s so important for Shame and Ndiya to lose and then find each other.
PositiveThe Star TribuneRow’s humbleness makes the book possible, as he writes about a place of reconciliation we have yet to reach. Over the seven essays, he sustains an ache for it, partly through examples of white writers whose work dares to be honest about race, including Lorrie Moore, Allan Gurganus, Dorothy Allison and Jonathan Lethem ... The strongest pieces in the book identify the mechanics behind the work of white writers who seem to ignore race or subjugate black and brown characters ... While Row’s reading of these writers is both generous and unforgiving, he is tougher on the minimalists who defined writing programs in the late 20th century ... When white writers don’t see their own race, they perpetuate a perceived difference between their work and that of writers of color, in which the former is believed to have the freedom to create and imagine with no bounds, while the latter is constrained by identity. Row’s work is a step toward undermining this binary classification, and an opportunity to decode all that has come before.
Ma Jian, trans. by Flora Drew
PositiveOn the Seawall... opens with a foreword written in London in March 2018 that reverberates through the hollow space of Xi’s lies ... give[s] testament to the irrepressible gravitation of human consciousness toward inner and shared truth, whether it’s something we want to see or not.
PositiveOn the Seawall... spare but deeply felt ... interludes of empathy allow the reader to feel deeply for the fictional Santiago, the man at the center of the novel whose life is disintegrating unbeknownst to him while he writes hopeful letters home ... The denouement of this plot is anticlimactic compared to the book’s more interesting thematic elements ... give[s] testament to the irrepressible gravitation of human consciousness toward inner and shared truth, whether it’s something we want to see or not.
Deni Ellis Bechard
PositiveThe Star TribuneWhat would Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness have looked like if the nebulous figure of Kurtz was revealed as a work of the main character Marlow’s imagination? What would that say about white men’s continued obsession with adventure in war-torn parts of the postcolonial world, and their desire to discover themselves in unknown spaces? Béchard’s fifth book blends fiction, literary and cultural criticism, parody and memoir to address those questions ... The anxiety of becoming a cliché is put in perspective when he [the narrator] discovers the cartoonish, overwrought writings of...a self-described \'writer-adventurer\' named Alton Hooke ... The encounter with Hooke’s writing ... tests the reader at first, diverging from a compelling literary fantasia into a creaky dramatization of Béchard’s writing process. Gradually, however, the memoir-within-a-novel takes on momentum and clarifies why he makes Kurtzes out of almost everyone he meets. Just when the book threatens to disappoint, threatening the reader with portents of inconclusiveness and solipsism, its true purpose reveals itself, and it is as unsettling as it is thought-provoking.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune...a staggering achievement, ambitious yet compulsively readable, a novel that feels like the culmination of 30 years of work and self-exploration even as it repeatedly shows how a life will always be a work in progress ... This is partly accomplished through the use of second-person narration, which heightens the contrast with Nervous Conditions ... the potential for violence is always under the surface.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailWhat gives the books purpose and form is the series of letters to an unborn/newborn daughter that introduce each month of entries ... Still, never in Autumn nor Winter does Knausgaard address the question of whether having children has taken any time away from his work, nor whether his work (done in isolation, in a separate house on the property where he can safely look across the lawn at his family-filled home from a quiet distance) has impacted his ability to be a parent ... Much of Winter is darker and starker than Autumn, which is in keeping with the season’s themes. There are many descriptions of silence, ice and snow, and allusions to death, though in \'Christmas Presents\' and elsewhere, Knausgaard perforates the darkness with warm stories of playful parenting... Like the father in the film, he will open the world — primarily for himself, so that he can achieve as an artist, but also for his children.