PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn effect, the novels are a prelude, the stories an aftermath, each gesturing urgently at the scale of the biographical explosion that must lie in between. It would seem almost a violation of the \'poetics of inconclusiveness\' to fill in that missing space. But this is precisely where the novella succeeds ... Our fascination comes mostly from spotting, amid the narrative shrapnel, flashes of future works and roads not taken ... The skywriting Messerschmitt from Distant Star, the escape scene from The Savage Detectives, a shelf’s worth of Nazi Literature in the Americas — all are present, but as what Elena Ferrante has called frantumaglia, the primordial jumble from which the artist slowly extracts and elaborates the work ... Between these two bookends — cool triumph, hot mess — sits an unrelated piece called French Comedy of Horrors. It’s the most recent thing in the book, and, as the title suggests, the funniest — less a novella than a shaggy anecdote ... Even more than the \'oasis of horror in a desert of boredom\' (the Baudelairean epigraph to 2666), this is what anchors the Bolañoverse: the loss of youth inscribing a larger loss of historical possibility, in an elegy for a future that never came to be. But at least inside the fiction, the possibility of change, of poetry, isn’t lost for good — just gone underground, like Bolaño himself.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewYou come for comedy, for sensibility, for style; and in this sense Bubblegum is prodigiously sustaining. Its diction has the casual artfulness of pre-distressed denim ... And Levin unspools seemingly every rhetorical trick in the trivium ... Levin can make the kitchen-sink ambition of (mostly white, mostly male) midcentury postmodernism feel positively new, bidding fair for the maximalist mantle of a Pynchon or a Stanley Elkin. But Levin’s consuming interest in everyday subjectivity equally pulls in the direction of minimalism ... And then there’s his inborn ear for every shade of human babble, here a transcendent four-hander, there a screwball travelogue, everywhere argot and idiolect and argument. When it’s humming, the pileup of plenitude and emptiness is as future-perfect as the Curio itself ... The downside of such rampant felicity is its aptitude to push up on anything that moves ... Conversations grow uniformly windy; for each charming gust of Chicago cross-talk, we get an exhaustingly exhaustive monologue on handkerchiefs ... At the end of paragraphs or pages, water and teller window aren’t so much seen anew as written into oblivion. Which is one way Bubblegum seems weirdly at war with the novelistic form itself. The other is in its flickeringly adolescent view of human nature ... a narrator of rich if ingrown innocence unnerved by the nasty brutality of less innocent others ... Levin’s brains may have earned him a cult like Belt’s, but here he swells to a democratic reach. Give him a try sometime. His gate’s wide open.
RaveThe MillionsNorman Rush writes as if none of these distinctions exist. He does all of the above not just well, but wonderfully ... Mortals doesn’t feel like a mere showcase for the various novelistic virtues. Rush is downright radical in his refusal to pass judgment on his characters or to let the reader settle into a comfortable ironic distance.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...exhilarating ... The Topeka School rocks an American amplitude, ranging freely from parenthood to childhood, from toxic masculinity to the niceties of cunnilingus ... the earlier novels’ questions about art and authenticity not only persist; they stretch to fill the horizon. The cumulative effect of The Topeka School\'s departures, then, is of arrival: at urgency, at scale. Adam’s faithlessness can no longer be written off as cosmopolitan neurosis. It is instead a symptom of a national crisis of belief ... Lerner’s own arsenal has always included a composer’s feel for orchestration, a ventriloquist’s vocal range and a fine ethnographic attunement. Never before, though, has the latter been so joyously indulged, or the bubblicious texture of late Clintonism been so lovingly evoked ... Lerner has unearthed here an ingenious metaphor for the effects of winner-take-all late capitalism — not just debate and hip-hop, but on race and sexuality and language itself. At times, the novel pushes these connections harder than they will bear, but a timely universality emerges from what otherwise might have been a nostalgic coming-of-age story ... The Topeka School\'s alternating narrators can bring us into wonderful intimacy with internal contradictions, where they exist, but the novel as a whole wants to transcend these limits of perspective ... I could say more — about trauma, sex, paradox, magic — but only at the cost of further reducing this irreducible novel, which seeks instead to spread its readers beyond their borders with its fertile intelligence and its even more abundant heart.
Sjón, Trans. by Victoria Cribb
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...this book is psychedelic, it’s potent and it wants to consume the whole world ... Sjon is a prodigal storyteller ... Sjon is a prodigious student of the techniques of earthbound fiction. He is a master of atmosphere, a fine observer of the cross-hatchings of human motivation and a vivid noticer of detail ... At their best, these anthological novels are like Cornell boxes, disparate gleanings held in tension by a single sensibility ... Sjon is a deeply personal writer, and the most powerful reading of CoDex 1962 is that it’s an attempt to wriggle out of the ultimate straitjacket: mortality itself.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"Autumn focuses on early middle age, and renders it as it is often experienced: shorn of the novelistic glamour of incident and even of character ... The arrangement of these chapters into months, September, October and November, might give Autumn a schematic, not to say mercenary aspect: For each weekday of the season, the writer will produce 1,000 words on some household preoccupation. But Knausgaard’s sensibility is so acute, almost anything can become a bridge toward the memorable perception or the deep if embarrassing truth ... Stringing together so many of these transformations creates certain risks for the larger book. As with haiku, or knock-knock jokes, repetition of a constrained form will expose the frailties of any single instance, and Knausgaard isn’t always revelatory ... Knausgaard’s abandonment of literary conceit is itself a literary conceit, albeit one of a higher order. A given sentence may or may not shine, but in its riverine accumulations, My Struggle is as purposefully shaped, as beautifully patterned and, yes, as artfully compressed as any novel in recent memory. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of Autumn ... the modest ambitions of Autumn — \'to show you our world as it is now: the door, the floor, the water tap\' — add up to a phenomenological rescue mission, one the writer undertakes on behalf of his daughter, but also of himself and his reader. Day by day, radiantly, the mission succeeds.\
David Foster Wallace
PositiveNew YorkThe Pale King is, for great swaths, an astonishment, unfinished not in the way of splintery furniture but in the way of Kafka’s Castle or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine … The book demands our attention precisely because while we’re reading it, David Foster Wallace is again the most alive prose writer of our time—and the one who speaks most directly to our condition … The Pale King isn’t telling us, I don’t think, to sing hosannas to the fluorescent-lit drudgery of our day-jobs. Rather, it’s showing us, phrase by phrase, an act of long, hard, loving attention.
RaveThe MillionsFranzen has a wonderful way of boiling down this kind of perspectival comedy even further, into a little bouillon cube of diction … The novel picks up and probes everything it comes into contact with, managing in the process to take apart a goodly portion of what currently constitutes American life … Freedom, in its intertwining personal and political aspects, is Freedom’s explicit concern. It should be noted, though, that the bird the novel keeps coming back to (and that graces its cover), is a blue one, allied not so much with freedom as with happiness.
RaveThe MillionsThis is a war novel in which the war never quite arrives. Instead, the tangled plot wraps itself around a handful of intelligence operatives, relief workers, and low-level grunts who hover around the peripheries of our decade-long quagmire in Vietnam … In lesser hands, any of these characters might have decayed into types, but Johnson invests each with a deep interiority, letting his or her mind wander at cross-purposes to the narrative … With its phony intelligence and its wartime hell built on the benevolent intentions of individuals like Skip, Tree of Smoke is an attempt to write about the present through the prism of the past.