PositiveThe BafflerFlannery finds traditional notions of sexual exploitation so infantilizing and recherché that she reduces second-wave feminism to just Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dworkin ... Flannery’s account of her time at American Apparel makes it difficult to assess whether her life was any better than that of the Lowell mill girls.
Deb Olin Unferth
RaveThe Boston GlobeInstead of a ham-fisted effort to confront the reader with the evils of the world, the author has put forth an incredibly nimble and frequently amusing book worthy of its deathly serious subject, one that invites the reader to think rather than merely witness ... Like the greatest social novels...Barn 8 focuses on the individual lives of its many characters ... Chapters about the chicken heist are action-packed and propulsive. Unferth has a highly individual way of spinning a ripping yarn, one that uses ethology, paleontology, European history, and contemporary agricultural methods. Further, she imbues her characters with funny and wise observations ... Barn 8...pings around different times, places, and species while asking profound questions that it even sometimes answers ... While Janey and her compelling personal journey invite the reader in, even the most minor characters feel terribly alive.
RaveThe Boston GlobeMany of the stories in Voices in the Night are set in these Millhauserian towns; characters must process their encounters with the uncanny without breaking their rose-colored glasses ... In this collection as in others, Millhauser’s feats are just as outsize as Paul Bunyan’s; Voices in the Night is as intriguing as a naked mermaid, as disturbingly intoxicating as the fumes from charcoal briquettes.
RaveThe Boston Globe...his writing is imbued with such preternatural insight and charm that it borders on the uncanny ... He is able to assess whatever he chooses in a clear-eyed, interesting way, making incisive critiques and asserting generalities that never sound grandiose or unfounded like lesser critics (i.e. the rest of us) often do ... He addresses his singularity most thoroughly in \'Tristes Tropiques,\' the 84-page marvel that opens the book. The essay, a gorgeous and devastating elegy for the demise of his closest and longest friendship, also serves as a meditation on death, family, race, queerness, the mediasphere, and art ... But in a brilliant book of lovely writing, Als’s essay on Flannery O’Connor sticks out as the loveliest and most brilliant.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn her depictions of mangled dead animals in elaborate bondage scenes, Arnett’s considerable gifts as a comic writer glow ... the novel’s forward motion is manically driven, somewhat woozy, and heavily burdened by the past. Super erotic and bittersweet vignettes about Jessa’s love affair with Brynn flood the narrative ... The fecundity and rot of the Florida setting permeate throughout ... the reader is [n]ever entirely free of the sticky heat.
RaveBooklist\"Had this uniquely gifted and nuanced chronicler of offensive odors stuck with describing the fragrance of ancient dried blood, antediluvian dust, and unspeakable effluents, Krasnostein’s debut would be memorable enough, but her subject’s life story is more remarkable and often just as harrowing as the scent of the derelict apartments she excavates for a living ... Through countless encounters with the fetid, the neglected, and the downright tragic, Parkhurst has found meaning and peace, and Krasnostein a singular subject whom she approaches with well-deserved awe.\
PanThe Boston Globe\"[Hark\'s] lack of focus (pun intended) proves troubling to the reader — how can she engage with a text whose central figure has such little substance? ... Ultimately, this is a book about the dangerous rise of sincerity. Or of earnestness. Or the limitations of Gen-X cynicism. Or the merits of Gen-X cynicism. Or the futility of man’s search for meaning. Or something. The biggest problem with Hark’ is not that it lacks the antic energy of Lipsyte’s past efforts, but that Lipsyte, in broadening his scope to include matters both societal and domestic, often loses the thread. Even his riffs are rambling. Where is the reader left in all this? Exactly.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeBritish academic and human rights activist Preti Taneja has packed her debut novel with so much insight and feeling for contemporary India that her sentences seem to spill out as if from an overstuffed bag. It’s a marvel that she was able to pack in so much (plot, atmosphere, social observation, you name it) while sustaining such propulsive energy over the course of nearly 500 pages, and yet she manages to the last. The overall effect is dizzying, dazzling, and ultimately convincing and immersive ... Taneja captures her sprawling subject in language befitting such epic sweep. She stuffs her prose with metaphor and simile, which can be a bit much at times, but more often than not serves to ground this novel of big ideas in the physical world ... Taneja proves that nothing more than feelings—particularly when wielded by demented oligarchs and their misguided children—have the power to bring the world crashing down.
RaveBooklist Online\"Now that Posey has found herself in \'Perimenopausal Time,\' she has deigned to bless us with her infinite wisdom and enough personal anecdotes to satiate even her most rabid fans. Glory be: she has a narrative voice! And it’s just as funny and insouciant as you might hope!\
RaveThe Boston Globe\"In this superlative collection — seriously, there’s not a dud in the bunch — Florida is a \'damp, dense tangle. An Eden of dangerous things.\' It also becomes a stand-in for everything from the class divide to an uncaring universe to environmental collapse to personal entropy to the glory of the natural world ... In lieu of an omniscient commentariat, Groff proffers events so terrifying as to be almost supernatural. Waters churn. Houses collapse. Antediluvian horrors prowl the dark. Such threats require her characters to confront the truth of their existence ... With this book, Groff has joined the annals of great 21st century Florida fiction: Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, James Hannaham’s God Says No, and John Brandon’s Citrus County. Having followed an astonishing, astonishingly accessible novel with such an outstanding, accessible collection, Groff is surely poised to topple the tiny monkeys in charge of deciding that the perceived realm of the feminine isn’t sufficiently deep.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeHad it not gone out of business the Betsy Ross Diner, the real-life greasy spoon where Xhenet Aliu sets much of her debut novel, might have been one of these folksy locales sought by national news reporters trawling for 'real Americans' in the wake of Trump’s victory ... Each chapter switches between their perspectives to tell stories of tragic loss, strained family ties, migration across great distances, and dreams deferred. The end result is an exceptional debut novel, one that plumbs the notion of the American Dream while escaping the clichés that pursuit almost always brings with it.
Edward St. Aubyn
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThis is the nastiest sort of satire, one close enough to real-world people and things to singe. Its silly plot, which at times seems almost like an afterthought, makes Lost for Words less a novel than a jeremiad and savage field report … Among the novel’s greatest assets is its anthropological bent. St. Aubyn’s characters each embody a broad — at times, too broad — literary type. There’s the Oxford don, whose quest to reward real literature is thwarted at every turn by ego and ignorance; a wealthy self-published writer with a frighteningly overinflated sense of talent; a mystery writer who hates reading anything unpleasant or hard … Amid the chuckles, sad truths about critical favor emerge. Elysian Prize winners conform to their judges’ Orientalist sensibilities, align with their misguided notions of authenticity, or flatter their cursory knowledge of literary history.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn lieu of names or length, Tuck offers instead another minimalist masterpiece, a tight knot of a novel filled with intertextual puzzles, pathos, and happy rewards ... Instead of people, art is what really makes Second Wife tick. A sly, early reference to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca’’ clues the reader into the fact that Second Wife has a modicum of self-awareness ... It is through intertextual reveries that Tuck is able to pack so much heft into such a small package. Most notably, Tuck mines the stories of great men, including Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, Czech president Vaclav Havel, and others, who married younger women the second time around. Little did we know that this could be such a fruitful area of contemplation. Nor could anyone have predicted that the novel’s publication should coincide with the indelible image of our first lady, the president’s third wife, striding across the tarmac to board a plane to Houston, in five-inch stiletto heels.
RaveThe Boston GlobeAlthough Culliton has set her cranky and humorous debut novel in the borough of her birth, she avoids the pratfalls of her peers ... Culliton aims to expose the lie of polite society, Brooklyn-based or otherwise, its barely suppressed derangements and contradictions. Locked within each character: an ugly secret self she tries feverishly to suppress, one fomented by her poisonous surroundings...Culliton delights in ripping masks clean off ... Although Nathan’s character could fall easily into parody or cliché, his profound confusion and deep denial help lend pathos to the story. 'Perhaps it’s now time to discuss Marion,' he muses, days after her disappearance. 'Maybe this will sort itself out.' Spoiler: It does in a fashion, in a way that won’t allow Nathan, nor we readers, to soon forget it.
RaveBooklistGood old social novels are hard to come by these days, great ones harder still. Leave it to Dee to fill the void with a book that’s not only great but so frighteningly timely that the reader will be forced to wonder how he managed to compose it before the last election cycle ... With a feather-light touch, Dee shows the effects of these calamities on their thoroughly unremarkable lives in what seems like real time. They drink; they gossip; they alienate one another; they suffer, then drink some more. Even their most picayune antics render our current predicament, writ small—which is, perhaps, the best way to digest this mess.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn his third book, This Is How You Lose Her, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Diaz endeavors to define the costs and limits of the lifestyle implicit in this Dominican slang for a player. Five of its nine stories concern smart, devoted women who fall in love with sucios who cheat on them with startling vim and alacrity ... The women, meanwhile, are furious and humiliated. They are caliginous figures, flitting though the stories as Yunior’s limited attention span allows, reduced to an ethnicity, an attractive posterior, a vindictive act ... This Is How You Lose Her adds a new texture to the Diaz microverse: bitterness ...he appears torn between remaining true to the experiences and voices of his characters while straining to communicate just how clever and bold he can be to readers of literary fiction ... Now Diaz has finally mastered ambivalence, and he is a better — the best — writer for it.
RaveThe Boston GlobeLina, the twisted product of this uncanny world, is Ferrante’s most terrifying creation — no small feat...Elena is both frightened and enthralled by her. Their early friendship is defined by acts of ever-escalating daring and sabotage … A scene in which Elena notices Lina’s changing body for the first time must stand among the most emotionally accurate ever written about puberty … Ferrante has long explored the effects of patriarchy on smart Italian women, but here she takes on what it does to an entire neighborhood. My Brilliant Friend has so many characters that it comes with a cast list, but most are so indelible it proves unnecessary.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveThe Boston GlobeChimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a scintillating, funny, and heartfelt novel, not least because of Ifemelu, a Nigerian transplant whose 13-year tenure as a resident of the United States has come to an end. She is a complex and unforgettable character … The journeys of these characters, their brush-ups with race, class, politics, literature, family on three continents result in a cerebral and utterly transfixing epic … Among its many strengths, Americanah is superlative at making clear just how isolating it can be to live far away from home.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...a wonderful novel ... Zink’s loving satirization of the Left might be badly received in today’s prickly political climate. But make no mistake: Nicotine isn’t some Lionel Shriver-style rant against diversity or a Jonathan Franzen-ish screed against technology ... A death-centered novel such as this can’t help but feel serious, even if it sometimes feels deliberately inconsequential. Whatever its intent, the tension between noise and meaning makes for an incredibly lively read.
RaveThe Boston GlobeWayne has created a uniquely terrifying and compelling protagonist for such a funny book ... the best second-person novel I’ve read since Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land ... Loner is a great, lethal little book that, if justice prevails, will find its way outside of Harvard Square.
RaveThe Boston GlobeCline’s novel is an astonishing work of imagination — remarkably atmospheric, preternaturally intelligent, and brutally feminist ... As skillfully as Gerhard Richter, Cline painstakingly destroys the separation between art and faithful representation to create something new, wonderful, and disorienting ... Rather than rely on desiccated, lazy signifiers of spooky, nefarious hippiedom, Cline turns instead to her titular girls ... The Girls which follows one Evie Boyd of Petaluma, Calif., dares to give the Manson girls agency as well as a context more meaningful than yet another Doors organ solo bleating over a plume of patchouli smoke.
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe story of a waitress plucked from obscurity and launched into stardom is an old, clichéd tale, yet Danler’s novel is anything but. Instead, Sweetbitter is small but impressively polished, the rare much-hyped book that lives up to its billing: endearing yet unsentimental, smart and fun, a bildungsroman mercifully free of cliché.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeAt times, the reader wishes the old lady would stop foreshadowing so darn much, but this is a minor quibble with an otherwise taut, well-written, and completely engrossing novel ... How will Eileen get out of X-ville? Can she leave unscathed? Why does she keep talking about her father’s gun? Though readers will thoroughly delight in the way the answers unfold, they will be left with one lingering question: What will Ottessa Moshfegh do next?
RaveThe Boston GlobeGet In Trouble shares many elements with its predecessors, like magic, splendid sentences, and stories that are actually perfect, tiny, self-contained universes. But in her current collection, ever-present, pitch-dark undercurrents swirl yet closer to the surface. The darkness imbues the stories with a sense of urgency and importance, helping them to transcend those that came before ... Two stories in particular showcase the awesome breadth of Link’s range ['The New Boyfriend' & 'The Lesson'] ... Like everything included in Get in Trouble, these stories make you laugh while staring into the void. By the end, they’ll be with you sleeping and waking. They’ll be inside you, too.
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
PanThe Boston GlobeA wholly ungenerous reading of The Nest might see it as a myopic plea for a moral universe in which the greatest rewards come to the creative, attractive, and well heeled — and to good-hearted workers who know their place. A more generous one might peg The Nest as a flawed ode to the virtues of middle-class family values, a view perhaps most accessible to those who see themselves in it.
RaveThe Boston GlobeSet in Northern California, the novel is a winning satire of contemporary mores, the sort typically found in the rarefied worlds of the coastal elite. McKenzie has written a funny, deeply critical book with the heart of a cynic and the texture of a soufflé. If The Portable Veblen has a flaw, it is that its caricatures are so on the nose as to make the reader hope to flee the human race.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeHas late capitalism turned us all into peripatetic, vaguely dissatisfied opinion-makers, taking our personal strife out upon hapless, low-wage employees? Is the book critic, with her limited column space and diminishing sphere of influence, any different from some goofball grousing, at great length, about a razor on Amazon.com? Perhaps so. More certain, however, is Moody’s triumph in writing a little book that raises such big questions.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn the hands of a lesser writer, this book would be, in British parlance, a total wank. But Smith is a generous, charming, and brilliant guide. In her loneliness, her cherished possessions take on talismanic significance and an occasion to wax philosophical.