MixedFull StopThe odd thing is how little Acts of Infidelity acknowledges the events of Willful Disregard ... It’s unclear if this is the portrayal of a character who has completely suppressed the memory of her previous novel-length relationship, or if it’s an effort by the author to make the book stand on its own without requiring the reader to have encountered Willful Disregard. In either case, this willful disregard of Ester’s past leaves a gaping hole in a novel centered on the failure of the main character to understand a situation of the exact same sort as the one she had dealt with in the previous novel. Her refusal to acknowledge that is much less problematic than the novel’s refusal ... But there’s another question: if the two books are so similar, why did I love Willful Disregard so much and find Acts of Infidelity exasperating? Part of it is predictability ... the writing here is sharp as knives and in several ways improves on the previous entry ... deserves more than the repeat performance of Acts, especially given the heights of Andersson’s skill as a writer.
PositiveThe RumpusReading through the book puts you on the edge of your seat, constantly expecting a breakthrough. The complete explanation for what’s going on, always seems like it’ll be on the next page. But Zúñiga is a master of showing that the full story is never the full story, and it’s never going to satisfy or justify ... the precision of word choice required to make the narration work is really tight. But McDowell has proven to be an expert ... The individual plotlines bleed over one another, which works really well thematically. It does make the book hard to reengage with once set down, though. I found myself having to rewind and reread the previous few pages to figure out what exactly was going on. The good news is that this is a very short book (~110 pages with a lot of white space), so picking it back up shouldn’t be much of an issue. At the end of the book, I was satisfied. I felt like I understood the character who had been a mystery at the beginning. But in a way, this book also feels like the first half of something bigger. The narrative offers revelations but leaves things frustratingly unchanged. Maybe wanting more is a sign of something lacking, or maybe it’s a sign that Camanchaca is a good story. Regardless, this is a masterfully crafted short novel.
Yoko Tawada, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
MixedThe Rumpus\"Brilliant little lines illuminate how a literary bear’s mind might work ... The ways in which the bears communicate with humans is inconsistent throughout the novel, and while the details of such an arrangement are obviously not the point of the text, this lack of specificity is occasionally frustrating. Tawada makes connections between the place of polar bears in this world and the place of the oppressed minority in the real world, but those connections don’t feel fully realized ... Tawada’s prose moves ponderously, punctuated by the occasional blunt opinion ... But, very smartly, Tawada breaks away from the mind of a bear for the middle of the book, using a human circus worker to tell most of Tosca’s story. Her perspective helps paint a complete picture ... Its power comes through in tiny moments of crystalline observation.\
RaveThe Rumpus...the only moments where I was frustrated by the focus on blackouts were early in the book. Hepola rushes through her childhood to get to the drinking years, not pausing long to reflect on the events along the way. Later, when she brings her dazzlingly brilliant introspection to bear on her adult years, it made me wish that she had given as much attention to the parts of her life less connected to her alcoholism ... I wanted more because when she does take time to fully investigate an aspect of her life, it’s exquisite and raw and intensely funny, teetering on the verge of heartbreaking ... Blackout is an enthralling interrogation of a life. Even the most banal moments are beautiful, elevated, and resonate across the human experience.
Marie NDiaye, Trans. by Jordan Stump
RaveThe RumpusThis story requires a high level and intensity of emotional truth, and NDiaye’s prose in Ladivine, translated masterfully by Jordan Stump, completely delivers. It’s full of quiet depictions of quiet scenes with long, dreamy sentences that flow pristinely, punctuated and punctured by devastating bursts of interiority ... Ladivine is hard to get a handle on. Just when you think you understand a character, you’re ripped from their perspective and put inside the head of another. This format matches the book’s content, in which the interiority of the characters poisons their lives and the lives of those around them. The narrative follows this contagious mental disease. It’s full of abrupt surprises that make complete sense afterward, not unlike a dream, in which the line between internal and external is blurred, where cause and effect are confused, and whatever happens fits seamlessly even if it’s unclear why.
RaveThe RumpusBy simultaneously staying out of her perspective (for the most part) and triangulating the events of the story through the lens of three separate people, the book’s tension becomes powerfully tantalizing. Additionally, the reader’s sympathy and understanding are built up, challenged, and sometimes smashed ... Han Kang has created a multi-leveled, well-crafted story that does what all great stories do: immediately connects the unique situation within these pages to the often painful experience of living.