RaveThe Wall Street Journal... shivers of movement...become convulsions ... What Mr. Tóibín’s exquisitely sensitive novel gets right, in a way that biography rarely does, is its acknowledgment of unknowability ... it is this private self, along with the equally inscrutable personalities that made up his household and his circle, that shivers with movement in Mr. Tóibín’s flight of fancy, which has one of the most sublime endings I’ve come across in a novel in a long time. Is The Magician Thomas Mann? No. But it’s perfectly successful in showing that, most of the time, neither was the man himself.
Janice P. Nimura
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Nimura places the stubborn, brilliant Blackwell sisters in an America that seems both utterly foreign and jarringly familiar, and she does so at a moment when we’re forced to confront the limitations of the medical orthodoxies and public-health initiatives of our time ... Ms. Nimura’s chronicle of the loneliness of the Blackwells’ path, made harder by their habitual unwillingness to compromise or accommodate, is enormously affecting. As in this author’s previous book, she is wonderfully attentive to nuances and contradictions, noting Elizabeth’s internalized misogyny as she deplored the silliness of women and aligned herself with men ... Small, memorable details pop up throughout the book...Yet it’s the largeness of this story that most impresses. It ranges through European capitals and many American cities during a time when travel was arduous and slow. Along the way, encounters with a surprising number of notable figures emerge ... Ms. Nimura’s portrait of the Blackwells’ America blazes with hallucinatory energy. It’s a rough-hewn, gaudy, carnival-barking America, with only the thinnest veneer of gentility overlaying cruelty and a simmering violence ... fits as a vivid echo of our own America, suspended as we are in another feverish moment of both crisis and opportunity.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... a brief but bountiful mashup of criticism, literary biography, craft essay and personal history. As always, the author’s voice blends authority with considerable warmth and charm, luring readers into his complex intellectual enthusiasms ... If Three Rings were only a survey of circular narratives, it would be interesting enough, as Mr. Mendelsohn has honed a prose style that is nuanced yet clear, without a hint of pedantry, and one is always glad to learn what he has to teach. But he’s after something more ambitious here than a literary jeu d’esprit. Adding memoir and biography, he reminds himself and his readers that books are vulnerable objects. They are all too easily banned, burned, buried among collapsing civilizations, and forgotten. Even if books engender other books, there are no guarantees for their own survival ... Mr. Mendelsohn tempers monumentality with injections of autobiography. In a meditation on Calypso’s cave, for instance, he wonders whether his lifelong fear of enclosed spaces might be a symptom of inherited trauma. These snippets of memoir might appear to be digressions. But, like the Odyssey, they come around ... a short but profoundly moving work, clings with the same tenacity to a belief in the regenerative power of literature. Companionably and creatively, it reaches back through eras of wars and plagues and cataclysms to offer readers a reassuringly long view of the vigor of the Odyssey, the book that launched a thousand books.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Moser recounts Sontag’s youth and early adulthood with energy and compassion ... Mr. Moser also presents evidence for some revelations that seem less shocking than he may have supposed ... [Moser] takes pains to expose the self-absorption at the heart of Sontag’s creations ... Mr. Moser shows commendable tenacity in synthesizing his subject’s hectic life and complex work. But Sontag was a lot, and any quest to be definitive about her risks being too much. There is welcome relief when he turns his attention, briefly but passionately, to any other subject ... In the end, Mr. Moser’s perceptive and exhaustive chronicle is a lesson in how swiftly even the grandest personality can exit from the scene.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe energy in her fiction comes...from a ferocious sense of engagement ... a stubborn avidity crowds out despair. Most often that avidity expresses itself in the language of precise observation ... No less vigorous are Howland’s descriptions of her hometown ... Urban tensions and the \'icy vengeful exterminating cold\' of the long winters roil through these stories, but there are also moments of grace ... As the Chicago writer Isaac Rosenfeld once wrote, such humor \'loves the world from which it seeks to be delivered.\' That’s as good a formulation as one can imagine for the literary sensibility of Bette Howland, whose sentences continue to beat with a stylish percussion and a glowing heart.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Readers who can’t get enough of [the 20th century Paris] milieu will be more than gratified by Whitney Scharer’s first novel, The Age of Light ... Scharer interleaves her tale with all-too-brief snippets of Miller’s later life, which was every bit as momentous as her time with Man Ray ... [Some reders] will salute Scharer for emphasizing the romantic aspects of her historical romance, wading into the sexual politics of the era and thus exposing our own.\
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMs. Anolik retailed all these details with aplomb in her original Vanity Fair profile, showing an aptitude for witty compression. But the expansion of her article into book length shows some strain ... While her emotionalism is often touching, there are too many moments when Ms. Anolik’s ardor for her subject overwhelms and distracts from the narrative.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Brennan-Jobs’s memoir is a corrective to the hollowness of those presumptions. It’s gratifying to see her assert her authority as the owner of her narrative. Writing with enlightened panache and dry humor, she’s as keen a witness to the ambience of the Bay Area in the 1980s and 1990s...as she is to the behavior of the adults around her ... For all the emotional injury Ms. Brennan-Jobs describes in her book, there are no villains. She portrays her father as a damaged person who in turn inflicted suffering on others ... Never having felt safe in any of her father’s houses, Ms. Brennan-Jobs has built her own house in memoir form, a repository of her love and anger and mourning.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMs. Smyth’s exposition is varyingly successful. She is less than engaging when, in a reach for inclusivity, she presents evidence in the form of long lists of women employees’ names ... Her arguments are far more persuasive when they emerge through portraits of individual women ... Engrossing as these mini-biographies are, elsewhere Ms. Smyth’s eagerness to prove her empowerment thesis leads to distracting hyperbole ... There are some odd elisions as well. Ms. Smyth barely mentions the significant influence of émigré women ... The strongest argument in Nobody’s Girl Friday is perhaps the most important: that achievement in Hollywood depends on networks and alliances, often created by chance.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesReduced to its broad outlines, Labor Day can't help sounding a little ridiculous: a goofy mash-up of Mary Poppins, The Bridges of Madison County and Cape Fear, minus the fear. But there is a lot more to it than that. Like all the fiction Joyce Maynard has written, her new novel may lack many of the literary qualities thought necessary to create a convincing illusion, yet it will not be dismissed. It insists on having its say … Backed up by [Maynard’s] autobiographical information, Labor Day begins to make much more sense. It too is haunted by impossible fantasies of a happy home. And it too features a scarred adult who looks back on the ruin of his childhood in an attempt to make some sense of it. Its best moments come straight from real life.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewInstead of a novel of ideas, Parrot and Olivier in America is a big, trippy, often strangely beautiful novel of observations, with proper focus on the interplay between the two self-absorbed personalities doing the observing … It’s a fish-out-of-water and a buddy story, with un poco Quixote, a dash of Jeeves and Wooster, and a soupçon, naturally, of Tocqueville, some of whose biographical dates and details here are faithful. (Parrot, though, is entirely Carey’s invention.) … It’s in this fluidity that Carey’s novel reaches for something a bit deeper than mere entertainment. While Olivier and Parrot are both prisoners of their stations and their pasts, and agree about virtually nothing, they do manage to loosen into sympathy for each other.
MixedThe Washington PostKiran Desai's second novel tackles the lingering effects of colonialism on two kinds of South Asian people: those who attempt to leave India and those who remain … Desai's grim imaginings are plainly designed to disturb and challenge complacent readers and to instill a sense of dislocation similar to that of her protagonists. But the force of her enterprise is diluted when her restlessness as a storyteller spills into impatience. Just as the reader begins to engage with a character, the narrative jumps to another time and place, another set of dire circumstances, making it difficult to develop any sort of uninterrupted sympathy … Desai makes clear her intention to expand her reach from the narrow boundaries of her first novel to the global arena where big-name novelists like Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith already confidently perform. In many ways, she has succeeded. The writing has a melancholy beauty here, especially in its sensuous evocations of the natural world.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorMorrison deliberately offers only the lovely bones of the story, where some might wish for a fairy-tale landscape more extravagantly decorated with raiment, jewels, and woodland creatures. This is not to suggest that the book is monotonous ... God Help the Child is clearly and forcefully the effort of a writer impatient to cast off every superfluity to expose the rage and sadness at its heart.
Garth Risk Hallberg
PositiveBarnes and Noble Review“[Hallberg] needs that length to mimic the lavishness of his milieu, and to capture the ways in which each of his characters exists 'at the convergence of a thousand thousand stories.' Lucky for Hallberg that we’re living in an age that’s receptive to maximalist fiction…”