RaveChicago Review of BooksShepard’s writing is brainy, hyper-informed. The book’s acknowledgements boast a rough bibliography as long as a short story and offers thanks to a research assistant. But Shepard’s talent for science writing cuts the vast research down to size and draws the blood out of it ... These infusions of informational writing bring the scope and impact of the pandemic into focus ... He’s not just interested in the pathology and epidemiology of a pandemic, but in the way it frays the social order. Shepard deftly shifts tone as he approaches the pandemic’s effects from different angles, becoming more conversational to capture the depth of social chaos ... a touching humanist portrait of those coping with disaster; a biting critique of chronically failing governments and institutions; and a compelling, if horrifying,biological thought experiment. In any other year it would be a brilliant accomplishment on its own. This year in particular, it may serve as our most potent warning to date.
RaveOn the Seawall... the two beating hearts of the book. One is a deeply literary look at issues of class, migration, culture, and history. The other is a high-concept journey through science fiction, magical realism, fabulism, and urban fantasy. The stories range from a realist accounting of a school tennis rivalry to a tale of kite-flying alien refugees, with many bracing detours along the way ... The breadth of Peynado’s imagination is miraculous, and her ability to execute her premises perfectly in so many different genres is astounding. The past, the future, the real, and the mystical are all within her control. It’s become more common for story collections to interrogate questions of genre, but The Rock Eaters doesn’t interrogate that question—it discards it as irrelevant and shows us the power of a versatile author making meaning every way she can. What’s even more impressive than her range, in the end, is her ability to craft heartwrenching tales ... something to savor.
J. Robert Lennon
RaveOn the SeawallThe experience of reading J. Robert Lennon’s latest title is as akin to playing certain mystery video games as it is to reading a typical book ... The book’s mysteries emerge slowly, perhaps even preciously ... Lennon isn’t failing to realize a detailed world; he’s realizing a non-detailed world. The narration is precise but toneless, displaying the same detachment whether describing neighborhood aesthetics ... The advantage for the writer is the ability to tweak reality and introduce elements as they see fit, no verisimilitude check needed. The pleasure for the reader, when the former is done well, lies in the tension between the world as it is and the subdivision in which the reader or viewer is contained — in how the real world, which the artificial one conceals, sneaks through the membrane. After a quaint start, Lennon proves himself masterful at this ... While it’s not always clear which oddities have outside meaning and which are simply dreamlike logic, the mystery unfolds at a steady drip, and gives the reader some intriguing detours on the ride to the big reveal ... The more the novel goes on, the more its world resembles those in Murakami novels (though we’re spared any sexualized descriptions of women’s earlobes), with their interplay between the strange and the meaningful, the conscious and the subconscious. Lennon makes familiar things just strange enough to be unsettling ... Since we don’t have the picture on the box, seeing the picture revealed as Lennon fits more and more pieces into place makes for an effective mystery format ... But the most interesting thing about the form Lennon has chosen is the way it turns a book about a faceless, nameless character with no memories and few opinions into a portrait. The reader isn’t the only one discovering who this woman is. The narrator is on a journey to see herself, and the life The Subdivision conceals, properly for the first time. The narrator arrives as an empty outline. The journey to fill in that outline is a wild one, but one given meaning by the person we come to see inside it.
RaveThe Kenyon ReviewSerizawa assembles careful layers, a moral labyrinth that may have no exits ... The author does not offer condemnation, but Serzawa is unmistakably and keenly aware of every compromise and failing. It’s all inexcusable logic, but also a fact ... is called a collection of interconnected stories, but the stories reflect and transmute each other. The characters are bound together across more than a century by the family tree in the front of the book, and one character’s testimony often completes—or complicates—another’s. The book resists the label of novel, but even more so resists the label of collection. The stories don’t move forward a unified plot, but they do present a unified collage, a mosaic of a single anguished face ... If that makes the book sound dark, it is. Inheritors offers a heavy and often painful read. Serizawa captures the brutal physical details of war in sometimes excruciating detail ... The gruesome descriptions are rare, but there’s an equal toll to the type of witness Serizawa offers and asks the reader to bear ... The collection closes brilliantly with a pair of stories enlarging that focus, peering into a future in which the children or grandchildren of those characters, for whom the great wars of the past are a Wikipedia entry, try to determine whether the world will lurch into ecological ruin with an equal blindness ... reveals an author of fierce intellect looking at war legacies from this angle and that, working her way into their nuances. By deconstructing the toolkit of the novel, Serizawa dodges the inevitability of a war narrative to offer a wistful hope or a melodramatic tragedy. Instead, she creates a more powerful form in which she can align the pieces to magnify each other like the lenses of a telescope. This powerful, intelligent book stands in the company of William T. Vollman and W.G. Sebald and their investigations of life during wartime or in the long shadow after. But the tone, the structure, and the territory are all Serizawa’s, in a book that deserves to become a crucial pillar in the literature of war.