PositiveThe Seattle TimesShapiro is hardly the first to encounter the hidden time bomb that DNA testing can ignite, but that’s a larger story. Instead of taking up the wide-reaching subject whole cloth, Inheritance zooms in on the blind spots that result when reproductive technology outpaces an understanding of its consequences. In viewing this important and timely topic through a highly personal lens, Inheritance succeeds admirably.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesEven the longest stories go light on plot and read more like meditations that flow downstream, carrying with them the remembrance of things past, the mysterious alchemy of relationships and the elusive nature of love ... Subject wise, the writer likes to poke at the spousal bond to see if it’s holding. Often, it does not ... Trueblood addresses motherhood less often, but when she does, the heartache of loss seems a frequent match ... Terrarium is a compendium of thoughtful and often insightful pieces that deal with the most incomprehensible parts of our being.
PositiveThe Seattle Times\"Unsheltered is an ambitious addition to Kingsolver’s work and a pointed call for the liberal values she holds dear. More polemic than poetry, it will appeal to her loyal followers but probably not to those she hopes to convert.\
MixedThe Seattle Times...try as I might, I couldn’t catch the wave in Moshfegh’s story of a woman who is either so emotionally stunted or drugged up that she has lost all capacity to empathize. The novel feels neither funny nor wise ... As this novel shows, she is a master of detail, and also a keen observer of the social norms her main character goes to extremes to avoid ... However, none of this feels very new.
RaveThe Seattle TimesAbel smartly juxtaposes this fateful summer of structured activities and unstructured hormones with regular flashbacks that reveal the rickety frame on which Camp Llamalo came to be. In the process she satirizes her characters’ idealism and the compromises they make. She also pokes fun at their obtuseness regarding the land and culture they’ve invaded ... The Optimistic Decade is an exceptional coming-of-age novel, in which Abel proves herself a witty social observer who understands not only the thrum and throes of adolescence, but also the power and beauty of youthful energy and dreams.
Anca L. Szilágyi
PositiveThe Seattle TimesLiterary classics such as The Kiss of the Spider Woman and the ironically titled Imagining Argentina — because, even given the facts, you can’t — have tried to depict this gruesome period. Now Anca L. Szilágyi’s intense debut novel, Daughters of the Air, locates a deeply personal story against the surreal backdrop of those times ... Daughters of the Air is the work of a promising writer, and I’d only quibble with the final paragraphs, in which Daniel’s fate is made known. For me, being left to wonder and imagine as Szilágyi’s characters did would have been more haunting and powerful.
RaveThe Seattle TimesMatterhorn, which takes its title from the site of a fierce battle that comes at the climax of the book, is written from the same ground's-eye perspective on Vietnam already provided by movies like Oliver Stone's Platoon and Michael Herr's book of front-line reporting, Dispatches. But it doesn't simply duplicate them. With unrivaled precision, Marlantes, a decorated combat veteran, has spun the fog and filth of war into an engrossing work of fiction … This is not an easy book to read. Jungle rot turns hands and feet into a welter of open sores. Food is scarce or consists of canned goods so tasteless that the troops sprinkle them with Tang or lemonade powder … Matterhorn is clearly the project of a lifetime for Marlantes, and it deserves a place on the shelf of enduring volumes about the Vietnam War.
MixedThe Seattle TimesStrout is a fracking expert: She excels at penetrating the granite surface of New England reserve to expose its beating heart. The problem with the latest novel is that she waters down her impact by probing new territory — both the tentative Muslim immigrant presence in the Burgesses’ hometown and the shallow professional class that populates Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn … Neither of these side trips feels compelling. Rather, the strange bond between the Burgess boys is the emotional guts of the book. Stuck in a relationship that seems doomed to end where it started, they face a new family trauma and redefine the old.
RaveThe Seattle TimesHis best-known work, The Remains of the Day, is propelled by the voice and vantage of an English butler whose attention to detail blurs his grasp of the bigger picture ... The same blinkered perspective is used to different ends in Ishiguro's latest effort, a short-story collection grouped together under the moody title Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall ... In each story, Ishiguro tells the tale of a young or middle-aged man with an ear for melody but not much else ... More important is that each of them seems rootless and clueless in a world that rewards savvy, linked-in operators ... This tension between commercial and critical success keeps popping up in these stories, suggesting how finely tuned Ishiguro might be to the struggle.
MixedThe Seattle TimesMelamed, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, has drawn on her professional background to depict the interior lives of girls and women caught in such a brutal, cloistered world. She offers strong and at times poetic images of the natural environment in which her story takes place — terrain that sounds a lot like the islands in Puget Sound. She is less successful at conjuring the man-made surroundings (homes and church) or, more importantly, the process by which the force field of maternal love, as instinctive as the male sex drive, has been stomped out. Such powerful emotions don’t evaporate overnight.
RaveThe Seattle TimesHer sixth and latest novel, A House Among the Trees, starts with a death and then branches out to other kinds of absence — the loss of innocence, identity and control, among them ... is not a gloomy book, as an observant reader might guess from the shades of meaning that can be teased from the title ... The story unfolds from multiple points of view, revealing an artist who, while cynical about his fans and the industry he served, was also a creative force to reckon with. Glass, an astute observer of relationships and master of dialogue, knits the story together by inventing the effervescent projects that sprung from Lear’s mind...is a comedy, not a tragedy, as the remaining members of the Lear entourage take stock and move forward with their lives. The book echoes Shakespeare, another rather astute observer of souls: All’s well that ends well — or, at least, well enough.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesYou root for the girl to break her incestuous bonds with a family that is sick at many levels. But her entrapment seems more honest, psychologically speaking, because leaving the place you started is always easier than shedding its emotional pull. The cut-to-the-bone intensity of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing will be too raw for some, too confusing for others. It is certainly no ordinary work of fiction. But it is an accomplished one, worthy of the attention it has received, with a consistent voice and logic beneath its crazy-quilt surface.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesThese stories read more like thought experiments for the earlier book than the novel they purport to be, but they have some charm ... In sum, the compelling characters found in these pages are the ones we can identify with, persevering despite past and present obstacles that are fixed like wings to their backs. At her best, Strout shows us the yearning and dignity that coexist with such obstacles. Hope endures. Anything is possible.
MixedThe Seattle TimesUnfortunately, this prospect explains more about Rowe’s frame of mind, an eagerness that pushes her to the front of the story, than the pathology that lurked around Francois ... Needless to say, no matter what her remembered deeds or their cause, they are mere peccadillos in contrast to that of a serial killer. The Spider and the Fly never adequately addresses this awkward juxtaposition or really explains 'the meaning of murder.' But Rowe’s up-close portrait of Francois offers a fascinating meditation on the psychopathic mind.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesIs there such a thing as a thriller wannabe? If so, Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves might qualify. Its ominous, evocative tone leads you to the altar of murder and mayhem before abruptly changing course. Death and disruption are on the itinerary, but not predictably, which is both a strength and weakness for this intriguing debut novel ... She writes with immediacy and precision, evoking the trails and waterways of the North Woods as if she has counted every leaf. Likewise, her characters come at you with full-frontal awareness.
April Ayers Lawson
PositiveThe Seattle TimesSo what is the take-away, if anything, from these stories? For this reader, at least, one conclusion is that adolescence truly is another country, full of compulsive and little understood feelings, and worthy of adult sympathy. As for the stories about grown-ups, it’s a mixed bag ... In total, this collection conjures the dark, repressed mood of D.H. Lawrence more than it does such sexually liberated classics as the zestful Fear of Flying or the raunchy Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe this is the pendulum swinging back, or maybe it’s just an intriguing start for a promising writer.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesWisely, Patchett avoids condemning any of her characters. Rather, she identifies with how all parties, including the adults that are collateral damage in the Bert/Beverly union, soldier on amid turmoil and heartbreak. Spinning ordinary lives into literary gold requires a mature and confident writer. With Commonwealth, Patchett proves she’s up to the task.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesHooper, with the brash manner and single-minded zeal of a Teddy Roosevelt, is just one among many characters portrayed in Denis Boyles’ fact-packed Everything Explained That Is Explainable: On the Creation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Celebrated Eleventh Edition, 1910-11 ...the Eleventh is considered its most significant, providing a neatly categorized testament to the way things were after a century of head-spinning discoveries and before the devastation of World War I ... Boyles’ decision to build his book on the personalities involved, along with the numerous black-and-white illustrations, results in a better picture of the times and cultural milieu from which the Eleventh emerged than of the Eleventh itself ...feels, well, encyclopedic — weighty, but worthwhile.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesWith Dickensian sprawl, Barkskins covers the disparate lives of the families spawned by the two penniless immigrants, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, to describe how our vast forests were decimated in a gradual march westward ... Barkskins — a title that refers to all who have some communion with trees — leaves no board unturned as it covers the industry that brought us plywood, cheap paper and prefab housing. This puts pressure on the dialogue, which sometimes sounds less like people in conversation than narrators on the History Channel. But this occasional flatness is a peccadillo that’s swept aside by Proulx’s stunning stylistic gifts. She is a writer’s writer, and one whose deep interest in history provides the long view of how our environmental recklessness has brought us to a point of reckoning.
RaveThe Seattle Times...it’s a pleasure to sit down with [Morrison's] latest, God Help the Child, which is both timely and timeless. God Help the Child is no less than a short, tough allegory about the condition of being black in this country today. The novel has a poetic resonance with her first, The Bluest Eye.
RaveThe Seattle TimesEgan, with the Irish gift for storytelling, creates a vivid, well-researched account from the prodigious and poetic record Meagher left.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesThe book’s title obliquely addresses how much a person’s sense of identity can derive from the mother-child bond, but it is about more than that: It also shows how the way we come to terms with this critical relationship as adults offers insight into our own natures and sympathies.