RaveFiction Writers ReviewReading these stories creates...excitement: what wonder will be in the next drawer, the next story? Part of this pleasure comes not only from the careful curation of the objects themselves, but also how they are arranged. The author stitches us back and forth in time, across the book as well as within each story, back and forth, the way memory works. And while some characters do recur, this is not a traditional linked collection of stories. Still, the characters share a sense of strangeness, of not fitting in, not quite belonging to a place or to a family—whether family of origin or a family acquired by the choice and accident of marriage. And this adds a thematic thread that binds the work together ... Beginnings inexorably proceed to endings, and endings render the fleeting moments, fragile souvenir memories, precious .... An almost perfect conclusion to an almost perfect collection of stories.
Dorthe Nors, Trans. by Misha Hoekstra
RaveThe Fiction Writers ReviewDorthe Nors’s new collection of stories, previously published in her native Denmark and the UK, appears in the United States in the midst of the pandemic winter. To some, the stories may seem perfect for the moment; others may find the collection too dark a reflection of current isolation, rupture, and loneliness. Reader, beware ... The pressing conflict in these stories is internal, intrapersonal. Streaming parallel narratives of thought, recollection, and observation reveal snatches of the present and partial, allusive glimpses of determinative past events and interactions ... Nors is an innovator ... Reading these stories at times feels almost like complicit voyeurism—witnessing pain through a one-way mirror in the laboratory of Nors’s world.
RaveNew York Journal of Books[A] powerful story of love and loss and endurance ... Doris’s voice is almost silenced for many pages. When she does speak, the powerful, authentic rendering of depression is almost painful to read ... Hall’s simple, profound tale and clear prose is particularly reminiscent of the quietly rendered life cycles and enduring relationships (and the plain, beautiful writing) in another book, also set on a Maine farm: E. B. White’s children’s classic Charlotte’s Web ... transcendent.
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksReading Jack at this turbulent moment in national and world events, particularly this juncture in the continuing struggle for racial equity and justice, is like taking a deep drink of cool water ... The reader ... may — whether familiar with the series or meeting Jack for the first time — want to return to Gilead, Home, and Lila rather than say goodbye.
RaveFiction Writers ReviewIn Beheld, [Nesbit] is...highlighting differences within seeming homogeneity ... Beheld dissects the back story of the murder: personal histories, secrets and motivations, cultural expectations, rivalries, and taboos. The heat and focus of the story is on the consequences—especially the emotional ones—for the narrators and the community ... The known events are dramatized here; the individuals’ observations and interactions imagined in this well researched—character driven—historical novel. Authentic details contribute to motivation and tension rather than simply helping set the scene ... Nesbit’s empathy is as evident and important here as her commitment to accuracy. She conveys the ever-present threat of loss in seventeenth-century Plymouth ... Reading historical fiction with a balanced combination of accuracy and emotion can approach reading a letter or a diary from the time. Such fiction can also offer intentional, carefully crafted drama and, in Nesbit’s case, beautiful prose.
RaveFiction Writers ReviewAnd there is a lot of pain in these pages: intentional and unintentional cruelty, abuse, and misogyny. But Enright provides a rare and valuable counterweight: Norah is long-married—not easily, but abidingly—to a good man ... Likewise, the author’s ability to feature a quiet, satisfactory marriage, making it interesting, is Enright’s—it is famously difficult to write engaging fiction about good people, and yet she accomplishes the challenge with grace ... the deliberate, child’s eye beginning allows Enright to illuminate for us the way a real relationship can exist with artifice, as two simultaneous realities, rather than one negating or superseding the other ... Enright works magic here, making visible in Actress the primal origin stories embedded in and surrounding our own.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe Night Watchman is indeed historical, thoroughly researched, rich with cultural and topical detail. However, what engages the reader most deeply are Erdrich’s characters: people, ghosts, even animals ... The author’s narrative voice has been compared to Steinbeck. Taking into account her entire body of work, the comparison seems apt. Here, The Grapes of Wrath comes particularly to mind as The Night Watchman is a resonant saga of Thomas’ family and friends, representatives of the marginalized, vulnerable community ... The characters, both major and minor, all matter ... Great care is exactly what Erdrich shows for everybody in the novel. Each character — sympathetic and unsympathetic alike — is rendered in the round with attention and respect ... Both the story of the tribe and the story of the individual family plumb grim history and circumstances, but the novel is neither grim nor a lament. Rather, it is a tale of resistance, courage, and love prevailing against the odds ... Some readers may question such optimism and hope and doubt the tentative, nuanced resolutions achieved by the tribe and Thomas’ family. But any reader in this present, dark winter of 2020 open to reminders of what a few good people can do will find The Night Watchman bracing and timely.
PositiveThe Fiction Writer\'s Review... happily, for the most part, Strout breaks away from the customary sequel tropes, surprising us with the choices Olive makes, the consequences for her, their reverberations in her family, and the separate but parallel developments in the lives of her neighbors in Crosby, Maine. Olive, Again is in some ways—but not all—a surprising sort of sequel, just as Olive Kitteridge is a continually surprising person: blunt and gruff, but increasingly capable of both insight and empathy ... Strout manages to mostly pull back from the dangers of diminishment and too-easy sentiment that hover in the wings ... tells a collective story of personal connections and reconnections, against high odds. Olive’s movement, and that of the other characters, is toward acceptance of imperfection, toward understanding and sometimes forgiving large and small betrayals and cruelties.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksFortunately for the protagonists and the reader, Patchett permits Danny and Maeve to ultimately escape resentment and hatred. Although both siblings are distinctive, believable, and engaging, Maeve is irresistible, one of the fiercest and funniest \'orphan girl\' heroines since Pippy Longstocking ... This is a serious and poignant story, but also a delightfully funny one, as we’ve come to expect from the author.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe dramatic story is irresistible and un-put-downable, even for a white-knuckle reader. I read fast and continuously, eager to get the horror of what seemed to be coming over with. Relieved to finish, I didn’t re-read as I often do when reviewing a book. I couldn’t bear to.
PositiveFiction Writers Review\"The author, a lawyer and former diplomat, is clearly familiar with the thrill of the chase for the right piece of paper, the right research document, the challenges of circumventing red-tape. Genuine suspense is generated often, and unusually, in these papers by the seemingly mundane tasks of evading bureaucracy, and skimming through classified papers ... Readers interested in [themes like guilt, sacrifice, loyalty, betrayal and redemption], historical fiction set during this era, and interesting women as protagonists, will want to add this book to the shelf.\
PositiveFiction Writers ReviewBarbash has an energetic, engaging style. Almost immediately, the reader signs on for the ride: a coming-of-age journey, a magical mystery tour, vintage 1980 ... What’s also capturing the reader’s imagination is Barbash’s decision to re-create time and place with vivid detail and lavish use of references to specific current events of this era ... Using the familiar trope of damaged, brilliant father and parentified child, following the classic structure of a coming-of age-story, the author presents an authentic, difficult, believable father and son—passionately trying to work things out ... the loving misadventure of Anton and Buddy’s effortful and complex filial relationship is memorable.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of Books\"Rooney’s writes in spare and forceful present tense ... This structure — digital time rather than analog — reflects the way the characters live, and the effect as the reader turns the pages is almost like following the quickly shifting scenes of a movie or telenovela. However, Normal People depicts the journey to adulthood not just with its highs and lows, but also with plentiful periods of repetitious tedium. The atmosphere of waiting for something to happen, to grow up, to change, is rendered so vividly that the reader (like a youthful character) may become impatient. The prose is brisk, but the novel feels longer than it is.\
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksMost of his characters inhabit burnt-out Rust Belt cities, tapped-out farms, and northeastern urban slums. Their worldviews and experiences verge on post-apocalyptic, but these stories are far more frightening and grim than run-of-the-mill horror because the author delivers what good fiction can: amplified truth—in this case, vividly imagined and rendered worst-case scenarios that reflect our current world in a very dark mirror. These can be read as true horror stories, as cautionary tales, or as imagined front-line reporting ... Brutally honest, Felver explores the effects of emotional and financial scarcity on families. Many of the parents and children on these pages subsist in economic and social circumstances ripe for breeding violence and hatred; many are perpetrators or victims of abuse—and sometimes both at once ... All of Felver’s stories are searing ... The Dogs of Detroit is not an easy or light read, but it is prescient and timely given our current political and societal moment of divisiveness, hate-mongering, fear, and anger.
D. Wystan Owen
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksOwen’s evocative stories are about love, loss, intentional and unintentional betrayals. The scale of the drama is small and personal, but the stakes and impact are profound. Every tale is told from the vantage point of narrators who (even if native) do not quite fit in, are not quite at home in the community. The author demonstrates a remarkable capacity to enter the emotional experience of characters who range from young children to the elderly. He gently uncovers and plumbs the hopes and fears, memories, and griefs of all his characters ... These are stories of yearning for closeness, of remembering, imagining, and almost connecting but not quite ... The reader will find no tidy resolutions nor simple happy endings...but the provisional, marginal moments of tenderness and intimacy that provide a measure of comfort to Owen’s characters, will also satisfy those fortunate enough to discover Other People’s Love Affairs. The collection’s prevailing tone may be that of quiet melancholy, but it is suffused with joy.
RaveFiction Writers ReviewHappily, The Atomic City Girls is also a good read. Beard manages to imbue this well-researched novel with warmth and charm. The book also feels personal rather than academic or dry, maybe owing partly to the fact that the author’s aunt work at Oak Park.
RaveFiction Writers ReviewNathan Englander’s new novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth, inspired by the Israeli Palestinian conflict, explores questions of personal, political, and moral identity ... This intricately plotted but character-driven novel tells the story and back-story of a young American Jew who is a secret prisoner in solitary confinement in Israel ... And this book is itself in disguise, allegory camouflaged as page-turner, parable gone under-cover as spy story. It’s a thriller and a morality play, tracing the boundary and the overlap between good and evil, morality and immorality ... In Dinner at the Center of the Earth he tells a compellingly readable story about good and evil, and our human capacity for both. Readers will be reminded of Kafka, Sartre, Dante, as well as Jacob and Esau.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksClemmons clearly is writing of what she knows firsthand, from the inside — a confluence of personal, sociological, historical, and medical experience. She tells protagonist Thandi’s story from both the perspective of a marginalized outsider and an insider … This spare, concentrated book is, like its protagonist, difficult, brave, and honest. The author, in her acknowledgement, accurately terms this ‘a weird little book.’ Yes, What We Lose is unusual. A novel, but really a hybrid genre: a fictionalized memoir; a heartfelt, heart-rending rant; an abstract of a longer thesis. Here, indeed, the personal is also very much political and sociological. And sprinkled throughout the pages are footnoted quotations from diverse sources: Nelson Mandela, Adrienne Rich, and others — like excerpts from a personal anthology.
RaveFiction Writers ReviewEach story, told in intimate third person voice, stands on its own. Read together, the stories form a constellation—like looking through the refracting lens of a kaleidoscope, which breaks the image of the real world into a fractal-like rose window, an intricate design of connected, repeating fragments ... Strout confides in us, provides readers the illusion of an almost omniscient bird’s eye view of the linked lives of Amagash, but even we, her privileged readers, cannot see or know everything. On these pages, as in life, we’re in for some great surprises.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe author plays out the suspense skillfully, arousing the reader’s suspicions with hints that are remarkable but better understood in retrospect. This complex, multi-leveled narrative is powered by distinctive individuals who represent broad thematic issues — sexism in the world of the creative arts, fascism and anti-Semitism in Spain in the thirties, racism in London in the sixties — without becoming one-dimensional stereotypes.