PositiveThe Guardian (UK)The family portraits, rich in stabbing detail, deepen our understanding of Lowell’s childhood and his attempts at recovery in the \'balanced aquarium\' of the hospital. His reminiscences fill out figures known to readers of his work ... Writing was a life raft. Through it he found a way to lower his poems’ temperature and fix, in lasting images, what his biographer Ian Hamilton called \'the moderate emotions\', fashioning memory into art.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe surface of Eley Williams’s writing, as readers of her short story collection Attrib. will already be aware, is one of lexical delight. The animating principle is the skittish, bumble-beeing motion of her navigation across sentences and phrases, which cross-pollinate one another sonically. Sentences are often musically connected, built on harmony or the felicity of anagram; her development is the stand-up’s callback as much as any linear drive. There’s a generosity to the writing’s willingness to pretend it’s the reader who is being clever by remembering something that has been placed firmly in their hand the whole time ... This un-aloneness is also crucial to Williams’s style, always to a lesser or greater extent about, and in itself an act of, love. There is warmth and brio directed toward the words — they are accomplices and fellow travelers — but as much as language is the stage on which Williams performs her balletic maneuvers, it has an answering pressure of its own ... There is a perfectly well-constructed plot here, but it almost feels beneath a book of this charm, energy, and syncopation to dwell too ploddingly on it. For all its brilliant set pieces and neat engineering, it is the means rather than the source of the joy to be found. One comes to Williams for sentences that ricochet and dazzle ... The novel could be twice as long again, operating as it does as an exercise in voice; it isn’t damning, I hope, nor faint praise to say this is a book that is more or less all aside, and all the better for it ... That said, it is a further example of Williams’s ability to interweave, to nod backward and forward, that she can also maintain a through-line, giving her characters — and, as importantly, their vocabulary — a sense of motion, a rounding-off of event ... The connections between the two narratives operate on both the grand and small scale, and they are never less than perfectly calibrated ... For a novel as finely tuned as this, to leave one with a sense of the intoxicating hopefulness of chance is its greatest achievement in a competitive field.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksSullivan’s voice has a suppleness that canters within the formal constraints she imposes on it ... she can be mischievous in her rhyming ... At times it feels like it’s overreaching, taking in philosophical discussions of nothingness and Shelley’s ars poetica; but...it is always pulled back by Sullivan’s astonishing capacity for the seen, the telling analogy, or visual set-piece ... Sullivan’s choice of register is one of her main assets ... chatty and offhanded, while evoking both spring’s excess and a certain insubstantiality. She’s an exquisite image-maker and analogist ... Sullivan never forgets to bring her celestial concerns down to the human scale.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksWhere the early poems channeled, at least in part, \'the voice howling in you,\' from this point on there is a more explicit sense of the poem as linguistic performance and conversation, heeding Wallace Stevens’s statement that \'poetry is the subject of the poem\' ... Alot happened, not least in Joseph’s adopted New York, in the years preceding Into It (2005), and one of the results is that the earlier, never entirely vanquished anger of the first books became even more evident. Where an expressive rage was once aimed from up close at the factory owners and thieves, those who would exploit labor and attack the Joseph patriarch, here the avenging, biblical anger is an instrument in the great conflict against larger, less concrete, but no less dominating foes—\'technocapital\' and \'pseudoerudition\' among them ... At their best, these later poems are able to combine the full weight of what is felt (the anger of Joseph’s earliest voice) with a rare virtuosity of public speech. He builds a language that aspires to take in the complexity of the world, through both conscious explanation and self-suppressing, reverent looking.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of Books... a tome, largely to its detriment. We are told the story of David and Bathsheba in several ways, told it to near-exhaustion: we see it in its context, we see it through tapestries, actors, imagination — with little alteration or contradiction. The first two-thirds of the book is — after a fashion — backstory ... It’s not that the parallels between David’s world and Wyatt’s fail to cohere, but the imbalance and flatness of the David section serves ultimately as occlusion rather than expansion ... Another frustration for the reader comes from the fact that, on the whole, the events that punctuate both the David and Wyatt narratives mostly occur elsewhere and are mentioned in passing or retrospect...This method can lead to awkwardness in the narrative, as well as to reiteration ... This grumbling is largely to do with the fact that there is much to admire here, beneath all the brocades, especially in the founding ideas from which Cook is somewhat corseted by her own narrative maneuverings. The precariousness of being prey to larger, unreasoning forces, to the dangers of being singled out as exceptional in an environment in which conformity is a matter of survival, is compellingly handled, while the mostly implicit question as to why anyone would want a king at all acts as a subversive, sorrowful shadow narrative.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)There has been a relative proliferation of memoirs of this type in recent times...all speaking to a resurgent desire for unmediated peril in an increasingly automated, isolating world ... At root, this is a story of trying to earn redemption for a scarring childhood incident, in which a younger, less surly Coffin took a dive during a fun run, and of seeking revenge against a sentimental masculinity thrust upon him by his father during his adolescence ... Coffin, we sense, would have been insufferable during this period, learning banjo in anger and making deskbound old schoolfriends spar with him over the holidays when all they want to do is watch television. Fortunately, his narrative benefits from the gift of hindsight, and he makes reasonable efforts to temper the worst excesses of his studied machismo ... It is made clear in his mostly spare but tidy prose that for Coffin, unlike his fellow brawlers, this life is choice rather than necessity ... If the strained-for Arthurian symbolism and proliferation of butch touchstones are grating, there is at least an occasional breakthrough to something unguarded, not least in a brilliant portrait of a female fighter who, through her ability to tap into gentleness and joy rather than running on the self-conscious posing Coffin opted for, is a far more complete boxer. Only hinted at, for the most part, the stories of women in this book, the female fighters and Coffin’s mother especially, are what rescue it from being a recruitment drive for garage fight clubs.