RaveThe Wall Street JournalThis book is essentially an account of Ms. Biss’s contradictions, her ambivalence as a relatively well-off consumer in a rich and richly unequal country. But instead of being humorless and apologetic, Having and Being Had is incisive, impressive and often poetic ... The marvel of this book, and of Ms. Biss’s prose in general, is the spare and engaging way she interrogates such complex and abstract concepts. With references to Adam Smith and Dire Straits, Karl Marx and Scooby-Doo, she turns what is essentially a chronicle of white guilt and anxious privilege into a thoughtful and nuanced meditation on the compromises inherent in having a comfortable life.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... dreamy and astute, with characters that are fleshy, distinctive and compassionately drawn. Their main concerns also happen to be timeless ... Forgoing some subtlety, she seems to be warning of the perils of complacency. Yet the agelessness of her dark themes should also offer some hope ... Ms. Smith makes little secret of her politics ... For a writer as clever as Ms. Smith, however, Robert’s aspirational, adolescent awe of Boris Johnson’s \'brilliant application of lies\' feels a bit heavy-handed ... Ms. Smith has crafted something that speaks to this moment, but the impression it leaves will similarly unsettle and last.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... a surprisingly straightforward yarn about a ragtag team of musicians who form a band that is more than the sum of its parts. Because it’s by Mr. Mitchell, the story includes a dollop of the supernatural—and because it’s Mr. Mitchell, he largely pulls this off. But this engrossing novel is really about the thrill of making art at an especially thrilling time, when all the rules for what life should look like and what music should sound like were suddenly up for grabs ... socioeconomic diversity may be improbable in a band, but it is useful for a novelist, particularly one with as keen an ear for the hyperlocal rhythms of speech as Mr. Mitchell ... shifts in perspective, and the sharpness of each patois, do not reach the heights of Mr. Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas ... In this compassionate book about alchemy of spinning art from life and the euphoria of artistic harmony, Mr. Mitchell is clearly rooting for this band ... the cameos are plentiful—and occasionally cringeworthy ... Mr. Mitchell’s recent work as a screenwriter seems to have filtered into this cinematic book. Despite his talent for transcribing the authentic stutters and stammers of spoken speech, the dialogue here often feels sharp, clean and almost implausibly articulate ... instead of an overarching coherence, what comes through is the author’s sincere affection for the people who populate his fiction, and his humble regard for the role chance plays in life.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMillet’s novels wear their darkness lightly. She is just so funny, her observations are so sharp, and her details so absurd, that one can almost forget the fundamental seriousness of her themes. Her stories often consider our solipsism and short-sightedness, the deviousness of politicians and the destruction of our planet. But please don’t be daunted by this grim list. Ms. Millet does not sermonize. Even at its gloomiest, her fiction is a pleasure ... It is a good thing Ms. Millet is so prolific, as her amusing portraits of human error seem terribly attuned to this disconcerting moment ... This book’s timeliness is almost eerie ... Part allegory, part adventure story, this fast-paced book manages to find the humor in an apocalypse. The chuckles are frequent but subtle ... This is not an optimistic book, but it is not without hope. Ms. Millet sees some potential in the clear-eyed urgency of young people, who are right to question the self-serving pragmatism of their elders. She also finds something meaningful in the impulse to make things, and the role art can play in capturing and clarifying the splendor and drama of this world. With this slim yet potent book, she shows it is even possible to coax pleasure and beauty from the uncomfortable work of highlighting unfortunate truths.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWe have the makings here of a tasty whodunit. But it is best to toss conventional expectations aside. Ottessa Moshfegh is far too interesting a writer to be concerned with the problem-solving at the heart of most mysteries. She prefers questions to answers, and dwelling on what’s mysterious. The concerns that animate Death in Her Hands will be familiar to readers of her other books ... What, for example, does it mean to exist in a body? How should one sensibly spend a day? Just how insidious is it to be loved poorly? And what does madness look like when so much of the world seems insane? ... The novel has elements of genuine suspense, but the real thrill is in occupying Vesta’s buzzing head, which skitters from \'solving\' this murder, in her own unorthodox way, to pondering her years under her husband’s thumb ... Ms. Moshfegh has a talent for first-person narratives that feel fresh, strange, unreliable and amusing. Her women (they are mostly women) may indulge in some manic solipsism and have noxious ideas about the world and the people they are forced to share it with, but they are never boring. A fascinating anger courses through these heroines, bred of a complicated resentment for the roles they feel they must play, as wives and daughters, beauties and spinsters ... They often feel trapped, but know they are not blameless, which curdles their angst with self-loathing.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalAnyone familiar with Ms. Roiphe’s work will be unsurprised by her desire to wrest a story of strength from an experience that others might describe with words like \'trauma\' or \'victim\' ... With her new book, Ms. Roiphe takes another tack in telling her own stories, and the effect is quietly revelatory. About her affair with the rabbi, for example, she is more candid about its \'not okayness.\' She recognizes that her efforts to \'control and tame\' this narrative by making it a tale of empowerment were not exactly lies, per se, but wishes ... This, clearly, is a different sort of book for Ms. Roiphe, who typically writes and picks fights with an unapologetic swagger. Here she shows the tender underbelly of her thoughts about sex, power and womanhood, and reveals her doubts, shifts and contradictions ... There is glamour in these stories, and plenty of wine and champagne (Ms. Roiphe runs with a fairly posh crowd), but there are also quite a few frank admissions of loneliness, neediness and fragility ... The effect is powerful, perhaps because her admitted contradictions feel more authentic, and more persuasive, than her polemics. Although Ms. Roiphe seems to be exposing her vulnerabilities here, she is actually, once again, demonstrating her unique brand of fearlessness.
PanThe Wall Street Journal\"Mr. Knox has written an ambitious book: part social commentary, part literary criticism, part legal history and populated with colorful (albeit shaggy) biographies of players big and small in the world of wooing over the past 300 years. Yet his fixation on the supposed binaries of seduction—the seducer as hero or villain, the conflict between passion and reason, women as agents or victims—is perplexing. Rather than reflecting any one template, his stories simply show how complicated courtship always was, in no small part because men and women bear the consequences of pleasure unequally ... for all the facts crammed into this impressively unsexy book, it is not always clear what Mr. Knox is trying to say, except perhaps that sex is tricky, the evolving rights of women make it trickier still, and efforts to regulate moral behavior often have unintended consequences ... It takes some lack of self-awareness for a male author to be wistful for a romantic era when women lacked the rights or resources to have real sexual choices, and stories of seduction were almost exclusively heterosexual. Mr. Knox never acknowledges the persistence of sexual double standards, whereby promiscuous men become lotharios while \'easy\' women are slut-shamed. Nor does he notice the tenacity of seemingly anachronistic rules of courtship, such as the fact that many men still prefer to pursue than be pursued. Seduction is a terribly thorny business, maybe never more so than right now. Perhaps it is only natural to pine for a simpler time (\'Make seduction great again!\'), at least for those who might benefit from turning back the clock.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThis book is mainly about Thomas’s crusade to save his people, but it is also—like many of Ms. Erdrich’s novels—about life on the reservation, in all of its struggle and magic ... Although Ms. Erdrich has long felt a duty to chronicle the Native American experience, she mostly avoids burdening her books with an obvious political agenda. Her tangled and unpredictable multigenerational sagas, with their recurring characters and territories, are largely about the messiness of survival. The Night Watchman, however, feels uncharacteristically and ploddingly schematic. The heroes and villains are so cleanly drawn that one can easily imagine the Frank Capra adaptation ... Ms. Erdrich’s noble desire to do justice to her grandfather’s memory seems to have compromised her talent for psychological complexity. Thomas is so good as to be almost boring ... Pixie feels similarly archetypal as the pretty yet plucky heroine with little need for—but a great deal of desire from—men. There is something a little annoying about all of her strength and courage, her good sense, cute figure and ability to do nearly everything well ... Ms. Erdrich has unfortunately curbed her considerable gifts as a writer in order to make this novel a vehicle for an inspirational message.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... while admirable and frequently beautiful, this cerebral and disorienting book handily illustrates why Mr. Buckley has long been marooned in the commercial no-man’s land of writer’s writers. Like most of Mr. Buckley’s novels, this one does not quite have a plot ... What we are reading, we soon learn, is a journal that David will keep over the course of the year. This ensures a narrative that is episodic, disjointed and littered with half-remembered moments from earlier that day or years before ... [it] is also sometimes bewildering... Although this book lacks much in the way of an arc or momentum, there is meaning in the juxtapositions ... Museums here offer an analogy of sorts for the mess of a remembered life.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalAs a member of this book’s target demographic, I found many of its grumbles reassuringly familiar ... Given my gratitude for when I was born, I’ll admit I found this book a little whiny. This is a terribly loaded term to describe some legitimate complaints made by women, but Ms. Calhoun invites it by overstating her case ... Ms. Calhoun is also not above cherry-picking statistics.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... [the protagonist\'s] wry, restlessly buzzing first-person voice engagingly echoes that of her predecessor. The book’s episodic narrative, with its grab bag of anecdotes, observations and obliquely relevant factoids, is similarly dry and austere. Yet somehow Weather still feels like a movingly original book ...By calling her book Weather, Ms. Offill efficiently conveys her simultaneous preoccupations with big and often dramatic ideas (death, climate change, the longevity of marital love) and small, everyday concerns (sad underwear, the delight of a newly sharpened pencil, the guilt of sitting on a crowded bus) ... what makes this book readable, and not merely bleakly nauseating, is Ms. Offill’s appreciation for the ways in which life still pushes on, in darkness, amid hopelessness. She is so good at chronicling the microdramas that animate our days ... Ms. Offill is also funny, in that deadpan way of hers ... Ms. Offill is, once again, insightful about the gifts of a lasting, loving partnership ... Ms. Offill evokes the tender beauty that can persist in a terribly anxious time.
PanThe Wall Street JournalLiterary sequels are tricky. When a book is beautiful enough to stoke demands for more, it probably means the author should leave well enough alone...Alas, such is the case with Find Me ... dispenses with many of the ingredients that made the earlier book so moving ... Whereas Elio and Oliver were all restraint and electrifying frisson, this pair is tediously headlong and verbal. In their manic coupling, it is hard to discern anything more than an older man’s fantasy ... Fans of the first book may be pleased to once again inhabit Elio’s sensitive, erudite thoughts, but any relief will surely dissipate in the face of all the panting dialogue ... Gone is the subtle, ruminative interiority of the first book. In its place Mr. Aciman has drawn some unsexy and unromantic couples who can’t stop talking about the awesomeness of their sex and love ... By the time readers get to an older and remorseful Oliver in the third section, few may care whether he and Elio get back together. This is a shame. The beauty of the first novel was the way it captured the surprisingly long shadow of young love. Find Me may be guided by nostalgia for this singular romance, but the book itself sadly illustrates the value of moving on.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... offers an intriguing angle on our flawed habits of mind ... this book is most entertaining when it allows readers to rubberneck at the collisions. The author’s anecdotes about the missteps of masterminds offer plenty of opportunities for schadenfreude—although the assumption that these problems only afflict other people is a perfect illustration of the blind spots intelligent people often have about themselves ... Mr. Robson offers some proven tricks for dodging these intellectual pratfalls. Many are familiar enough to be cliché... These ideas may sound like common sense, but Mr. Robson convincingly shows us that they are not quite common enough ... Clearly, we need to find new and better ways to teach critical thinking and measure good judgment. Reading David Robson’s book would be a good place to start.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWith the precision of a sniper, Nell Zink nails the disorientation of coming of age in the 1980s ... Ms. Zink is good at skewering the hubris of people who try to plan their lives ... This multi-generational novel has a grander sweep than the earlier books, but it is just as easy to devour. Ms. Zink writes with such momentum, and seems to be having so much fun, that she can make a story that traverses some of the darkest moments in recent history (9/11, both Iraq wars, the 2016 election) into an exhilarating and grimly amusing page turner ... the pleasure is in the details, which she delivers with a droll sociological flair ... Flora’s story feels a little less playfully incisive than the book’s heady first half. Partly this is because Flora herself is too serious and self-possessed to be a proper conduit for satire ... Alas, the current state of American politics may be too madcap and troubling to lend itself to farce ... Ms. Zink’s roving third-person allows her to keep her eyebrow cocked as she describes social moments and historical trends in brief, sure strokes...Yet this critical distance deprives readers of the intimacy of interiority. As a result, Ms. Zink’s characters are often interesting and cleverly drawn without being entirely comprehensible. Their choices are reliably entertaining but rarely moving ... Still, for a book that chronicles the way illusions are lost and lives are uncomfortably buffeted by circumstance, Doxology is surprisingly uplifting. Ms. Zink has too much compassion for her characters to make them truly suffer. Instead, she offers some invigorating examples of human resilience.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis is clearly the novel of a poet. Mr. Vuong has a talent for capturing slight details with unexpected words. The grandmother’s breath, for example, is a \'mix of Ricola cough drops and the meaty scent of sleep.\' The inside of Trevor’s cheek, \'where the flesh was softest, tasted like cinnamon gum and wet stones.\' He often uses animals to evoke our primal tendencies and the vulnerability of all life ... Yet Mr. Vuong’s lyricism often feels labored. His sentences are so bedecked with metaphors and analogies that there are moments when one might crave a little more restraint. His efforts to transform nearly every observation into something profound yields many overwritten lines ... This is a shame. The material is so good and original that more of it could speak for itself ... Still, one can understand why Mr. Vuong’s prose might feel so freighted with its own significance. The story he tells, of a gay Vietnamese refugee in a desolate, opioid-riddled American city who becomes not only the first literate member of his family but a writer himself, is his own story, and its kind is rarely told ... With this book, he is creating an account of lives that are at once overlooked and thoroughly American. These days, this feels like a political act.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... essentially two books—a thriller and a biography—that Ms. Cep stitches into an intriguing and occasionally gripping whole. The only problem is that the enigma of Harper Lee is far more fascinating than the criminal trial she ultimately abandoned ... for a true-crime tale, it is awkwardly devoid of suspense ... Ms. Cep pads this story with thoughtful digressions on Alabama’s politics and full profiles of Maxwell and Radney, but she strangely makes no mention of Lee until halfway through the book. When Harper Lee finally does arrive, it is a relief. Ms. Cep’s brisk and lively account of the woman’s life offers few surprises, but it is engrossing all the same.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalKnott artfully weaves together these \'shards and nuggets of evidence\' into a larger story about the lives and trials of mothers through the ages ... The book’s memoiristic structure organizes a narrative that otherwise careens through space and time ... full of details that are enlightening, humbling and occasionally amusing ... Ms. Knott proves a trustworthy guide through centuries of baby-making and baby-tending, yet the book’s most poetic moments come when she lets her gaze rest upon herself.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIn most cases, Mr. Farman’s travels and tales do little more than allow him to reiterate his same basic point: Time is meaningful, and how we feel about waiting is often cultural and circumstantial. He also raises questions he never quite answers about what our mounting impatience is doing to everything from our relationships to our reading habits ... perhaps it will persuade a few readers to turn off their phones, at least temporarily.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"[The book] may sound maudlin, but Ms. Li... is too good an artist to fall into sentimentality. With these exchanges, she captures the haunting nuances of grief, the unique aches of a mourning parent, and the ways the living struggle to hold on to the dead ... But the beauty of this book is that it does not dwell in a state of gloomy interiority. It is a dialogue in which Nikolai also has a voice, and he is relentless in ensuring his mother does not indulge in clichés ... Memoirs often demand something from their readers: absolution for flaws, sympathy for travails, admiration for triumphs. Novels tend to be more generous, but Where Reasons End is an especially rare work of alchemy. With this book, Ms. Li has converted the messy and devastating stuff of life into a remarkable work of art.\
MixedThe Wall Street JournalUnfortunately, there are times when our friends disappoint us. Those unfamiliar with Ms. Lamott’s work should probably start with something other than her latest collection of essay ... Part of the problem is that these essays often take a first-person-plural perspective, which flattens the drama of specificity with sweeping generalities ... More generally, the writing here is often lazy. At times Ms. Lamott stretches simple ideas across paragraphs padded with abstract language and few concrete examples ... She allows her affection for metaphors to woo her into piling on too many at once and committing the occasional howler ... No book of advice is wholly without merit, and Ms. Lamott certainly hits a few targets ... But while a well-meaning book about hope might make for an appealing stocking-stuffer, readers should expect more from Ms. Lamott.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMark Brumfeld is angry. At 31 he is jobless, jilted and deep in debt ... There, in the basement bedroom of his youth, he spawns the Boomer Boomers, a revolutionary group of unemployed millennials who accuse baby boomers of selfishly clinging to all the good jobs. \'They were meant to retire at the age of sixty-five,\' Mark declares in the first of many homemade videos to go viral. \'And they have not retired. They have not\' ... For a book animated by the gripes of young people, it is interesting that the most fully realized character here is Julia. Mark’s mother...Her story highlights some of the fatuousness of making broad generational generalizations, not least because most female boomers have had less agency than their daughters. She also poignantly illustrates the slow but steady creep of time, and the way \'old\' age often arrives as a surprise. Mr. Torday has written this book with verve, but it would have been nice if he had slowed down a bit. Mark and Cassie’s relationship feels rushed, and some of their choices seem more convenient than plausible. Still, Boomer1 is a sharp, bright and often amusing snapshot of this unwieldy economic moment.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal‘I’ll tell you something,\' Paul Broks’s wife, Kate, said to him on her deathbed, as an oxygen machine sighed in the background. \'You don’t know how precious life is. You think you do, but you don’t.\' Theirs was a loving marriage, and they strove to drink up as much life together as possible before she died of cancer in her late 50s. But for Mr. Broks, his wife’s pointed words left a mark. Did he, in fact, understand the value of life? What, he wondered, does it mean to live well? These are just some of the heady questions swirling around Mr. Broks\'s book about life, death and the profound mysteries of consciousness.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalNot everyone will experience the same midlife slump and late-life upswing, and actual levels of happiness vary from person to person and country to country: It is far better to live in Denmark than Russia, for example, where national well-being doesn’t curve back upward until after the average person is dead. Still, Mr. Rauch fills his book with reassuring research on why a midlife malaise is normal, as well as some sound lessons on how to cultivate happiness in general. With strong family relationships, a trust-filled community, and supportive friends, anyone should be able to ride out even their darkest years.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"In keeping with this book’s theme, Ms. Hampl’s prose can demand some patience. Instead of hewing to a clear narrative, she prefers to throw together notions about life, memory and writing, and to tug readers in unexpected directions ... Yet her blend of literary criticism and personal anecdote is occasionally not just meandering but confusing. Her lyrical repetitions and abstractions can be as poetic as prayer. But sometimes she chases beauty at the expense of clarity ... For all of its profound questions, this book is most moving when Ms. Hampl is describing her newfound disorientation as a widow.\
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe Friend, Ms. Nunez’s seventh novel, is a beautiful book ... Cleverly packaged as yet another book about the ennobling affection of a dog, this slim volume is crammed with a world of insight into death, grief, art and love.
Daniel H. Pink
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalA raft of studies in disciplines ranging from medicine to economics have yielded all sorts of data on the science of timing. Daniel Pink, an author who regularly applies behavioral science to the realm of work, has handily distilled the findings in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing ... For a slim book, When brims with a surprising amount of insight and practical advice. In amiable, TED-talk-ready prose, Mr. Pink offers scheduling tips for everything from workouts to weddings ... Studies of human communication across a range of outlets, from tweets to earnings calls, show that our daily moods fluctuate in predictable ways ... Mercifully, Mr. Pink delivers the bad news about our time-based weaknesses with some good news about how to compensate for them.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewLee keeps the drama taut till the end, and some characters will linger beyond the final page. High Dive may not quite transport readers to 1980s Britain, but it is a tender story about the hopes and flaws of ordinary people made extraordinary by events.