RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... isn’t just an amazing book for its genre; it’s an amazing book, full stop. I have no doubt that if she wanted to, V. E. Schwab could write a 784-page coming-of-age doorstop about a young man whose in-the-moment decision to steal a valuable painting shapes the rest of his life, or an epic yet intimate exploration of the intertwined dysfunctions of a troubled Midwestern clan, or a novel of irrepressible grief and longing narrated by more than 150 voices, most of them dead. But those books have already been written. How lucky we are that, instead, Schwab decided to write this one ... doesn’t just traffic in beautiful sentences, though it has those a-plenty ... You can relax into your enjoyment of the story and trust that she knows what she’s doing, because she does. Once it’s finally revealed why Henry remembers Addie when no one else does, the reason makes sense; Schwab is an author who understands the importance of both subverting and satisfying reader expectations ... If you already know Schwab for her previous work, reading this stand-alone will feel both familiar and new; if this is the first novel of hers you’ve read, no context is required. Schwab is an inclusive, ambitious, and exacting writer, and she doesn’t let either her characters or her readers off the hook. You’re in good hands.
MixedThe Chicago Review of BooksThere may be too much pandemic in Afterland for those seeking a few hours’ respite from the current reality, readers unsettled by our own lack of any certain after. Though the book doesn’t linger on the spread of HCV, a few precise touches here and there—the \'FEMA Mercy Pack,\' \'the footage of the new incinerators, the refrigerated containers with body bags stacked high\'—land hard. Yet the post-apocalyptic twist that sets Afterland’s chase in motion isn’t truly essential to the story; Cole and Miles could be on the run from anyone, toward anywhere ... Interviews explain that Beukes’s decision to stay away from the larger implications of the loss of most of the world’s men is intentional: \'I didn’t want to tell a story that was all about the world, or the characters changing it…. but rather about the ordinary people caught up in that world.\' On these criteria, the book succeeds. Even in their dramatically changed circumstances, Cole and Miles feel familiar, recognizable as ordinary people of our world ... The issue readers intrigued by the world-of-women premise may have with Afterland is that both of those threads are fairly straightforward. The wrongness of authorities attempting to hijack bodily autonomy is appalling no matter the gender of the individual or group experiencing the hijacking. And there is no indication a world run by women would be, especially after only three years without men, substantially different from ours. So the pandemic of Afterland, as much as it may have changed the fictional world on the whole, has not added much dimension to the slivers of that world we see on the page ... With such a tight focus on Cole, Miles and Billie, the reader’s enjoyment of Afterland will depend heavily on their feelings about these three characters ... I’d been hoping for a complexity in Billie I never found, and by midway through the book, her tendency to get innocent (and some not-so-innocent, it’s true) people killed in the interest of saving her own skin became not just unpleasant but repetitive ... Too timely for some readers, not timely enough for others, I imagine Afterland might have trouble finding its audience in the current environment. Which, prescient or not, is not a future that any writer would hope for. Like Cole and Miles, we’re forced to contend with an immediate present that is uncomfortable, unaccommodating and dangerous. Like them, we also need hope of a better future to carry us forward. Whether or not Beukes presents the wider world of Afterland, the wider world available to readers can’t be escaped; as relentless as the pace of this thriller might be, it can never truly take us away.
N. K. Jemisin
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe setting is both fully consistent with reality as we know it—for better or worse—and jam-packed with imaginative, fantastical elements ... Jemisin doesn’t coddle her readers, and the speed at which events unfold can be disorienting. Readers more familiar with New York City will have a leg up, but regardless, the density of Jemisin’s sentences sometimes requires you to go back and re-read in order to make sure you know what’s going on. The good news is, they’re great sentences, and a little extra time spent on this book is time well-spent ... From time to time, it does feel like the resonance between the avatar’s previous lives and the borough they represent is underlined once or twice too often, but then again, that may also depend on the reader ... the book’s heady blend of reality and fantasy makes it ideal for discussing real-world problems in the context of an imagined environment ... laced with Jemisin’s trademark rigor, a sharp eye on systems and values that doesn’t let anyone or anything off the hook. It isn’t a book to fall asleep to, but a book to wake up with, when your mind is fresh and ready and open.
PositiveChicago Review of Books\"In Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River, you won’t forget that you’re reading a story—its language and framework are almost constantly calling attention to the story’s story-ness—but you probably won’t mind, either. It’s a corker of a story, full of moody elegance, as a good Gothic should be ... The characters Setterfield devises for the novel are every bit as colorful and mysterious as you would hope them to be ... Whether you raptly follow this story all the way to its conclusion or drift away partway through will probably depend on two things: how urgently do you want to know who that little girl really is? And does the story-ness of it all increase your enjoyment of the book or interfere with it? ... If you like your stories intricately woven, dark but not grim, and shared with warmth and sparkle, you won’t regret putting yourself in this storyteller’s hands.\
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksTopicality aside, it’s simply a great book. Part of that greatness might also be its biggest weakness, depending on the reader. The novel is committed to a holistic sense of balance — to showing us the inner lives of a full ensemble of characters in colorful, compelling depth ... Whether you view these explorations of character as fascinating or distracting will largely determine how much you enjoy the book. They do slow down the story’s urgency ... But urgency is not really the point of a novel like this. Crisp language that observes and describes characters with empathy, wit, and insight—that’s where The Female Persuasion excels ... Wolitzer’s novel succeeds on every level by refusing the easy road for the complex one, giving us characters who clash, wound, disappoint, panic, recover, and thrive—life in all its messy modern glory.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksForce of Nature is only Harper’s second novel, but it clearly displays her background of more than a decade in journalism ... Harper shows the dexterity of a novelist who can be trusted to lead you to an unforeseen but satisfying conclusion. You won’t regret putting yourself in her hands.