PositiveNew York Review of BooksEssays Two is a companion to Essays One, an earlier volume of critical pieces about reading, writing, and art. Like many of the narrators of her short stories, Davis is a taxonomist and enumerator ... As a translator, Davis is known for fidelity, clarity, and, in the case of Proust, decluttering ... Davis occasionally casts a cool eye on the kind of translator’s liberties and blunders she wants to avoid ... Her goal of staying as close as possible to the vocabulary of the original novels leads her far down the path of etymology, both in English and in French ... Davis doesn’t often release her reader into laughter ... Davis’s case is narrowly bounded, local, and specific: here is one bad new word that shouldn’t displace a good one ... She can only offer a suggestive example, hope to nudge the development of the language in directions that are useful rather than destructive, and be prepared to fail.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksHowland’s story is not so much the description of her inner experience as it is a kind of group portrait of the ward ... personalities and many others whirl by somewhat quickly, observed by a wry narrator who’s attentive to manner and mood, but doesn’t get to know her fellow patients deeply and dares not take too many liberties imagining their inner lives ... Howland is committed to a kind of first-person plural perspective, stressing the we of the ward rather than her personal experience, as if trying to translate the effective therapeutic process into an aesthetic principle. After the first few chapters, she stops reflecting on her pre-institutional life, no longer dipping back into her past to flesh out the story of her recovery. Nor does she tell us much about her ongoing relationships with people in or out of the hospital ... There is a kind of self-effacing blankness at the center of the book.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksFerrante captures, from Giovanna’s wounded perspective, the grotesquerie of stepfamilies and the implied interchangeability of daughters and spouses and houses ... feels like a novel about Ferrante’s novels, a mixture of familiar elements in new and unexpected arrangements that invites a self-referential reading. Not unlike an offspring, actually, which is appropriate for a novel that is essentially about being second generation. Giovanna is free, as her father never was, to make use of poor Naples as it suits her, and to leave the rest behind.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksHis characteristic form is a kind of essay in which biography, memoir, and literary criticism flow into one another as if it were perfectly natural that they should ... In all of his essays, the life gets as much scrutiny as the work, with an eye to one particular question: How do artists come alive to their ambitions and then proceed to realize them? How does the work get made? ... Whatever their generation, these characters taken together seem to speak to our contemporary predicament: how embarrassing to admit that one has not been able to find a mate in a supposedly egalitarian, sexually liberated, post-Stonewall era so abundant in sexual and romantic possibilities ... Als will seem to be breaking some essential rule of first-person essay-writing in disastrous fashion and then turn the passage inside-out, revealing it to have a different rhetorical function than you originally thought.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksLerner...is not just interested in creating the illusion but in drawing our attention to the process of creating literary illusion, which he does especially beautifully through the character of Adam’s mother ... Adam and Darren are the only Topeka boys to speak. The ordinary, not-strange, much-worried-about Midwestern boys, the kind that make up most of Adam’s crew and Jonathan’s clientele, stay silent: it’s striking that we don’t hear them, or even see them up close very much. ... In our current state of skepticism, it may be that any kind of omniscience feels like condescension, and for Adam—or Lerner—to inhabit the minds of ordinary young townsfolk would have been to dabble in Kansas kitsch. But to leave the Topekans out of The Topeka School means that the city, as a distinctive place rather than a multivalent symbol or private proving ground, effectively drops out of the book, and the better part of the social drops out of the social novel.
RaveThe New York Review of Books... short and funny and absorbing, an effortless-seeming downhill ride that picks up astonishing narrative speed as it goes. What’s remarkable is that Offill achieves this effect using what you might call an experimental or avant-garde style of narration, one that we associate with difficulty and disorientation rather than speed and easy pleasure ... straightforwardly a work of realism, with characters and plot. She not only assembles her passages into a surprisingly fluid narrative, but uses her interpolated material to make the story move faster than conventional narration. She proceeds by analogy.
RaveThe New York Review of Books... an epistolary novel set in a supposedly postliterate age ... As a love story it is, in a way, modest in scope, but Shteyngart takes it seriously. Their romance, abortive as it is, is not an object of satire but a refuge from the trivial and ridiculous culture that surrounds them. For Shteyngart, it is an antipode to satire itself, a locus of the authentic. Their story is bittersweet but not unsettling—the bubblegum hyperbole of \'super sad\' perfectly conveys the tone of the romance, for neither Lenny nor Eunice ever seems in any danger of being corrupted by the cynicisms of their world ... Shteyngart has always had a keen satirical eye for the way in which political shake-ups leave rich elites untouched and ordinary people, in one way or another, fucked ... The gravity of the last portion of the book is not evenly effective—it sometimes seems overwrought—but it allows Shteyngart to find a subtler, more bitter kind of humor than he has used before ... In its serene exposure of our decadence, it only makes us feel uncomfortable, and offers no escape.
PositiveBook PostI suppose some people would say that Welcome Home is slight—a brief, brisk, unfinished memoir formed around descriptions of all the houses and apartments in which Berlin has lived. But it’s full of little emotional bombshells, so severely understated that Berlin’s humor seems even edgier here than in her stories ... Characters crept in, obviously, along with some pretty great dialogue. If major turns of events are startlingly, delightfully understated, it may well be a reflection of Berlin’s ambivalence about populating this memoir to begin with ... The memoir ends with a list of notes on all her subsequent dwellings, as evocative and mordant as the memoir itself.
PositiveNew York Times Book Review\"In her rousing look at the political uses of this supposedly unfeminine emotion, Traister... cites the 18th-century slave Elizabeth Freeman, whose suit for freedom in the Massachusetts courts... led to that state’s outlawing of slavery... [and inspired] a larger labor movement; Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Frances Willard and Carrie Nation; Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Florynce Kennedy, Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dworkin, as well as many less famous women who were part of the abolition, suffrage, temperance, labor, civil rights and feminist movements ... The movement Traister spends most of the book analyzing is the one currently unfolding, the wave of female-led, progressive activism that began with Black Lives Matter, swelled after Trump’s election and produced a major shift in the cultural consensus on sexual harassment through #MeToo.\
PositiveNew York Times Book Review\"Despite its title, Chemaly’s book is not so much about anger as about all the disparities that might — and should — make women angry: disproportionate poverty, wage gaps, discrimination, harassment, condescension and perhaps above all the high rates of violence against women (domestic, sexual and otherwise) with which we have yet to fully reckon ... Written with energy and conviction, these celebrations of the galvanic possibilities of anger make for galvanizing reading.\
RaveBook Post... has a pulpy title but a plot worthy of classical drama—though if it were a play we wouldn’t have the pleasure of Korede’s deadpan narration ... Even while the pages practically turn themselves, My Sister, the Serial Killer poses remarkably subtle psychological questions about Korede ... leaves readers with a final, unsettling puzzle: does our knowledge of injustice make this fictional male bloodletting more enjoyable? Does it make absolute wrongs seem a tiny bit relative? Do we too feel that wanton murder is not quite as bad when Ayoola is doing it?
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewHeti is at her best — her sharpest and funniest — when she writes about why having a child doesn’t appeal to her, cutting against saccharine commonplaces about the importance of child-rearing ... At the end of the novel, in a witty reversal of the expected cliché, she describes having managed to get to the end of her childbearing years without a baby as \'a miracle\' ... Are miracle and faith being slyly travestied, or is this just another example of the going secular self-help usage? It’s hard to tell ... Though our narrator moves in the artistic and academic circles of Toronto, she writes as though she seems unaware of any cultural debates, current or historical, about the ethics of procreation and child-rearing. Given that she spends a lot of time reading, on the one hand, and musing about reproduction, on the other, her lack of engagement with other minds on this much-discussed subject makes her deliberations feel airless and mulishly self-involved ... As one reads on in Motherhood, it becomes increasingly conspicuous that in the world of this novel, there is only one example of a writer — the narrator herself.
RaveThe New Yorker\"The novel is mesmerizing; it marks a sharp break from the conventional style of Cusk’s previous work…Outline feels different, its world porous and continuous with ours, though not for the reasons we might expect … Faye, for her part, says hardly anything. Almost all of her narration consists of paraphrasing what other people have said to her. We come to feel an intimacy with her that has nothing to do with disclosure; though we know conspicuously little about her, we share with her the experience of listening to others, and, as we do so, it becomes clear that a certain kind of conversation is missing from Faye’s days and nights … Cusk’s insight in Outline is that, instead of trying to show two sides of a marriage, she might do the opposite: focus on the inevitable, treacherous one-sidedness of any single account.\
RaveSlate... she[Boo] listens closely and intelligently. But the most unusual is that she teases them — or lets them tease themselves. You can feel the richness of her affection in her ironic appreciation of their oddities ... Boo, who never uses the word I and usually sticks closely to her subjects’ points of view, limits her own interpretations to a short author’s note at the end of the book ... As Boo follows them around, we see how much they are able to make of their limited and sometimes downright lousy options — and we also see the kind of daily binds that make it so difficult, when you start at the bottom, to get economic purchase ... Boo has never put forward policy suggestions or articulated political ideals, but in her American reporting she has considered the effects of specific policy initiatives on the lives of the people she writes about.
Elena Ferrante, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"...for admirers of Ferrante’s work who are not particularly interested in a biographical reading of her fiction, Frantumaglia offers something else: a chance to consider her strange, spectral presence in the world of letters ... Her discussion of her books and her artistic influences makes for some of the most absorbing parts of Frantumaglia.\