RaveBook Post...sharply etched, funny and enjoyable ... Nearly everyone we meet in these pages is more complex—better—than the exterior they show the world ... The novel delights in catching people in the act of being their predictable tedious selves, but Leavitt delves beneath these surface social constructs.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... morally complex ... In the work of another writer, Agnes’s and Heidi’s inability to move past that single confrontation might strain our notions of verisimilitude. At times the reader may question the persistent force of Agnes’s guilt...Our skepticism may grow as Heidi/Quin, frustrated in her attempts to denounce and destroy Agnes on live TV, resorts to a campaign of harassment only somewhat less extreme than Glenn Close’s boiling the pet bunny in Fatal Attraction ... What’s striking is how little it matters, because Mary Gordon isn’t, strictly speaking, a naturalistic or realistic novelist, but rather a moralist, by which I don’t mean moralistic ... Agnes fits right in with the thinkers, ascetics, crusaders and seekers who have populated Gordon’s fiction and nonfiction — books about Joan of Arc, Thomas Merton and Jesus. Agnes and Heidi are soldiers in an ongoing struggle. The conscientious and the unscrupulous have always been at war, and there is no indication that the conflict is ending.
RaveThe Globe and Mail (CA)Most of the stories in Dear Life could be called love stories, which is only to say that love – romantic, familial, often \'inappropriate\' – is one of the engines that drive the plots. Though many of them take place in what her publishers call \'Alice Munro country\' – rural or small-town Ontario, places in which the community and the past weigh heavily on the individual and the present – each is very different from the others; to paraphrase Tolstoy, every unhappy love story is unhappy in its own way ... she has lived through a series of rather drastic cultural and historical shifts. And she has often written about the moments when these seismic social changes destabilize her characters\' most basic assumptions ... It is the highest compliment to say these autobiographical segments seem very much like Alice Munro stories: understated, intense, resonant, nuanced and profound.
RaveSlate...Veronica offers just enough details about the photo studio, the modeling agency, and the office as are required for a spare version of verisimilitude; precisely as much, and no more, reality as seems necessary before the book can dispense with the formalities and get on with its concerns ... What’s most unusual about Veronica is how much: The experience of reading it seems rather like biting into a nightmare-inducing, virally loaded madeleine ... It creates an atmosphere, provokes a response, and suffuses us with an emotion that we can easily, all too easily, summon up. It’s art that you can continue to see even with your eyes closed.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewNow her wonderfully weird and vivid memoir — generously illustrated with family snapshots, her own and other people’s photos, documents and letters — describes a life more dramatic than I had imagined. Perhaps that should be unsurprising, given how deeply her psyche and her oeuvre seem to have been marked by the South, its live oaks dripping Spanish moss, its terrible record on race and its multigenerational dynasties hiding gothic Faulknerian secrets ... Young photographers seeking tips on how to have a big career should look elsewhere, though it’s striking that this is missing from a book that contains so much highly personal information. Perhaps one subject that remains taboo is female ambition.
RaveThe New York Review of Books... it’s Barry’s voice that propels us through the work, through paragraphs punctuated by turns of phrase that deliver little jolts of pleasure. Like their author, his characters are aware of the implications and ironies of language ... Barry’s control of tone is so assured that he can turn a fragment of autobiography, confession, and apology into a terrifying threat ... No matter how funny and smart, abrasive and irreverent the dialogue is, we’re never allowed to forget that \'their talk is a shield against feeling\' ... Night Boat to Tangier is about the present and the past, about memory and loss, which is partly why it’s a sadder and more beautiful book [than Barry\'s City of Bohane] ... The unconventional paragraphing compels us to focus; there’s no room for the mind to wander in the midst of a long passage of prose ... formally daring and inventive ... I’ve missed Maurice and Charlie ever since I finished Barry’s novel ... Night Boat to Tangier—and much of Barry’s work—inspires us to rethink our ideas of character, of compassion and forgiveness. Without romanticizing crime, they humanize the criminal.
RaveHarpersChristos Ikonomou’s powerful short stories...have been published here in superb translations by Karen Emmerich ... Many of his characters have a very clear, tough-minded sense of what has gone wrong with their country, but because these characters are so well drawn and fully realized, their political analysis feels uniquely theirs, not that of the author speaking through them ... Ikonomou gives great dignity and intelligence to his characters, who are capable of quick humor, of complex philosophical inquiry, moral speculation, and metaphysical rumination. They want myths, and like us they want to be told stories ... Throughout, Ikonomou’s style veers between flights of incantatory lyricism and volleys of funny lines and tough street talk ... The rhapsodic lyricism and dry gallows humor, the speed and nimbleness of the tonal shifts, drew me in to these books. The sympathy of Ikonomou’s characterization—the humanity he captures on the page—made me keep reading.
Anne Boyd Rioux
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewNow Anne Boyd Rioux’s lively and informative Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy makes it clear why having these fictive young women implanted in my consciousness has been a good thing, helpful for every girl facing the challenges of growing up to be a woman. Rioux’s book features a useful, highly compressed biography of Alcott and an account of how her most famous novel was written ... A chapter on the adaptations of the novel—for radio, stage and screen—is a compendium of fun facts, much of it about casting ... Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy does what—ideally—books about books can do: I’ve taken Little Women down from the shelf and put it on top of the books I plan to read. I’m curious to check in on the March sisters, and—inspired by Anne Boyd Rioux—find out how they seem to me now.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books\"... [an] excellent new novel ... [A Terrible Country] inspires us to reflect on the indelible stamp that each historical era leaves on its survivors; the harrowing or amusing complexities of migration and repatriation; the challenge of understanding—and functioning in—a foreign culture; the dangers of assuming that one does understand that culture; and the relative merits of beneficent socialism, Communist dictatorship, and cowboy capitalism-gone-rogue. At the same time the novel’s narrative voice is so conversational, so laid-back and low-key, that it may take the reader a while to register the scope and ambition of Gessen’s project: how much he attempts and accomplishes ... Rescue comes via a less-than-persuasive plot turn, challenging us to believe that even the ferociously competitive academic job market is susceptible to near-miraculous intervention. But no matter. The book has already given us so much that we’re willing to go along with whatever it takes to dismantle the wall that Andrei’s career had hit ... In its breadth and depth, its sweep, its ability to move us and to philosophize without being boring, its capaciousness and even its embrace of the barely plausible and excessive, A Terrible Country is a smart, enjoyable, modern take on what we think of, admiringly, as \'the Russian novel\'—in this case, a Russian novel that only an American could have written.\
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewYaffe, a music critic and a professor at Syracuse University, has immense respect for his subject’s stamina and for the talent that Cohen recognized even in the speed with which she tuned her guitar ... I can’t think of another biography in which I felt so strongly that the writer was worried about preserving the good opinion of his subject. Perhaps as a consequence, Yaffe declines to question some problematic choices such as Mitchell’s appearance in blackface on the cover of her 1977 album, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter ... Uncritical admiration can make Reckless Daughter seem like a 400-page fan letter, though one certainly prefers Yaffe’s approach to that of biographers who despise their subjects. Championing Mitchell, right or wrong, and trying to stay on her good side is not exactly the same as taking her seriously as a composer and performer.
RaveThe New York Review of Books...another thread uniting Egan’s novels is the unusual compression and density of her writing. The brief mini-narratives she uses to illuminate a character are so fully developed that another author might see, in each one, enough for an entire novel ... Here, as in A Visit from the Goon Squad and Look at Me, Egan opts for a panoramic and multifaceted plot divided into subplots that dovetail at critical junctures. The architecture of the novel is built on dramatic set pieces and deceptively minor details that will turn out to be important ... On land and underwater, Anna is a rare fictional creation in that she is a woman driven by desires—lust, altruism, competition, the impulse to do what the men around her insist she can’t do—without invoking the writer’s judgment ... If Manhattan Beach has flaws, perhaps they can be traced to the acknowledgments section: several pages of thanks to those who helped with the research that went into the novel. The profusion of vintage brand names, radio programs, comic strips, songs, and slang phrases can seem more than strictly necessary to provide a sense of authenticity...such moments are few in this ambitious, compassionate, engrossing book. Finishing Manhattan Beach is like being expelled from a world that—despite the horrors of the war being fought in the background, despite the occasional gangster drugged and dumped into the sea—seems more charitable and reasonable and less chaotic than the one in which we live now.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewHow fitting, then, that the title of Jeannette Walls's chilling memoir, The Glass Castle, should evoke the architecture of fantasy and magic ... Reared by a mother who believed that kids should be left alone to reap the educational and immunological benefits of suffering, Jeannette Walls, her brother and two sisters rapidly discovered that their peripatetic, hardscrabble life... The memoir offers a catalog of nightmares that the Walls children were encouraged to see as comic or thrilling episodes in the family romance ... Walls has a telling memory for detail and an appealing, unadorned style ... The Glass Castle falls short of being art, but it's a very good memoir.
RaveThe ObserverThe accident catapults the narrator, Charlotte Swenson, through the windshield, breaking the bones in her face but –
after extensive plastic surgery – leaving her with no visible scars. What immediately catches one’s attention, as much as the novel’s arresting premise, is the manner in which it’s presented: The vocabulary, the crisp, graceful sentences, the intelligence of tone, all suggest that behind the narrative is a consciousness, and, behind the consciousness a writer who knows what she’s doing … The bleakness of the landscape she depicts seems scarily like our own: a culture that finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the fresh and the tired, between incisiveness and obfuscation, and which seems to prefer the simulacrum to the real thing. Happily, Look at Me is the real thing-brave, honest, unflinching.
PositiveThe New York Times...the one-time-only nature of death is anything but self-evident in Kate Atkinson’s new novel, Life After Life. Its heroine, Ursula Todd, keeps dying, then dying again ... A great deal of experience, and 20th-century history, transpires in the intervals separating Ursula’s sudden and often violent exits from the world of the living ... But each turn in her story is, like the end(s) of her life, subject to revision ...reading the book is a mildly vertiginous experience...suggests a cross between Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter and those interactive \'hypertext\' novels whose computer-savvy readers can determine the direction of the story ...it’s interesting to note how quickly Atkinson’s new rules replace the old ones, how assuredly she rewrites the contract ...Atkinson sharpens our awareness of the apparently limitless choices and decisions that a novelist must make on every page.
Jonathan Safran Foer
RaveThe New York TimesNot since Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange has the English language been simultaneously mauled and energized with such brilliance and such brio…Alex speaks English like someone who has taught himself by painstakingly translating a really abysmal novel with the help of a badly outdated dictionary … The humor ranges from jokes that are, alas, too dirty to be quoted here to the loftiest literary allusions; Foer has so much energy that he doesn't care if we get all the jokes … A partial list of the book's concerns includes: the importance of myths and names, the frailty of memory, the necessity of remembrance, the nature of love, the dangers of secrecy, the legacy of the Holocaust, the value of friendship, what it means to be loyal and good and to practice what Jonathan has taught Alex to call ‘common decencies’ … Everything Is Illuminated is endearing, accomplished – and (to quote Alex one last time) definitely premium.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksRoy has so much she wants to tell us that The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, in its nearly 450 pages, seems like several dense novels compressed into a single volume. Its sections are connected by recurring characters and plot threads that intersect at several points, and at the end. At times the reader must work to keep track of the multiple story lines and of minor figures whose significance we may dimly recall after having lost sight of them for a hundred pages ... Throughout the novel, one is heartened and impressed by Roy’s respect for the intelligence and attentiveness of her audience—for its willingness to follow the plot as it tracks back and forth in time, for her readers’ ability to recognize (or failing that, to look up) the historical figures and events to which she refers.
PanThe New York Review of BooksThroughout The Goldfinch are sections that seem like the sort of passages a novelist employs as placeholders, hastily sketched-in paragraphs to which the writer intends to go back: to sharpen the focus, to find a telling detail, to actually do the hard work of writing. If we readily grasp a scene that Tartt is setting, it’s often because her streetscapes and interiors are not merely familiar but generic...Tartt doesn’t bother to fend off clichés … Reading The Goldfinch, I found myself wondering, ‘Doesn’t anyone care how something is written anymore?’—a question I would have been less likely to ask were I reading a detective novel. But The Goldfinch is being talked about, and read, as a work of serious literary fiction.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewFortunately, The Golden Legend is far more than the sum of the horrors it contains. Aslam writes with great sensitivity and depth about the ways human beings behave under almost unimaginable pressure. He taps into a vein of something like magic realism to add a layer of symbolism to this otherwise realistic fiction ... Despite the misery and cruelty it depicts, The Golden Legend is a heartening book, largely because of Aslam’s faith in the integrity and courage of his main characters and, one supposes, of real people like them.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksWhatever initial resistance we may have to the notion of dying Grandpa, high on Dilaudid, looking back on his long and colorful career is rapidly overcome by Chabon’s obvious pleasure in storytelling, by his gift for writing dialogue with the snap of a screwball comedy, and by his skill at making disparate elements of plot and character come together to reveal a design that owes something to both the Victorian and the magical-realist novel ... Repeatedly, the novel teeters on the edge of mawkishness, a brink from which it is mostly, if not always, pulled back by a smart line or exchange ... Ultimately what matters for the reader is that the grandfather is a terrific character: difficult, complex, admirable—at once unique and typical of a generation ... Audacious and accomplished, Moonglow is a four-hundred-page love letter to that generation, and one is thankful to Chabon for having brought one of those characters so vividly back to life.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAbramovic’s engrossing new memoir makes us realize how partial our knowledge was ... Abramovic writes touchingly about romantic heartbreak, about the pain of separation from Ulay and her sense of betrayal when her husband, the Italian artist Paolo Canevari, left her ... Perhaps what’s most unexpected are the flashes of humor.
Alain De Botton
PositiveThe GuardianRabih and Kirsten are well-drawn, individualised characters, with distinct and separate backgrounds and personalities. But what’s interesting is De Botton’s decision to make their experience so thoroughly ordinary that their lives seem emblematic, their stories interchangeable with those of countless couples ... what propels us through the novel is not plot, but character, and De Botton’s meticulous examination of the emotions and behaviours that draw the couple together and nearly drive them apart ... Scattered throughout the narrative are italicised passages of essayistic contemplation on the nature of love, abstract reflections commenting on each new development, without mentioning the characters by name. These musings are clever, their tone a mixture of irony and sincerity. But they can border on sententiousness...If we eventually find ourselves skimming such sections, it’s less a critique of De Botton’s novel than a testament to his ability to so involve us in the fates of his endearing couple that we resent any interruptions, and hurry along to learn more about the love story that likely mirrors our own and that of so many others we know.
Robin Coste Lewis
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksPowerfully evocative ... Among the virtues of the collection is the intensity of Lewis’s faith in the power of language and image to tell us things that are true, but that are rarely said, about history, race, gender, power, the body, scholarship, and visual representation. In providing us with a revelatory gloss on centuries of art, Robin Coste Lewis has made us aware of the enormity of the change reflected and perhaps partly brought about by contemporary black women artists whose vision, originality, and humor offer a heartening corrective to the ghastly insult of the Sable Venus.
RaveThe Washington PostMarra is a gifted writer with the energy and the ambition to explore the lives of characters whose experiences and whose psyches might seem, until we read his work, so distant from our own. Reading his work is like watching the restoration — the reappearance, on the page — of those whom history has erased.