A former book editor and finalist for a National Magazine Award, Hamilton Cain is the author of a memoir, This Boy’s Faith: Notes from a Southern Baptist Upbringing (Crown, 2011). He reviews fiction and nonfiction for the O: theOprah Magazine, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Barnes & Noble Review, and Chapter 16, and is working on a new project about men and marriage in the age of #metoo. He lives with his wife and three sons in Brooklyn. @HamiltonCain
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s a challenging read and yet wonderfully suspenseful, like watching a circus performer juggle a dozen torches; will one slip his agile hands? Park seeks to encompass the vast Korean diaspora, but he’s also fleeing realism, a personal diaspora, away from conventional forms ... Same Bed Different Dreams struts confidently across registers — lyrical, deadpan, acerbic, comedic — while doling out clues. Characters rotate in and out, some glimpsed in passing, their motives opaque ... Sprawling, stunning.
RaveThe Washington PostCrystalline, searching ... McDermott spins gold from sensuous details ... She probes the intricacies of parenting, its tender pleasures and primal instincts ... Beautifully conceived and executed.
RaveThe Star TribuneA transfixing collage of gorgeous prose and manipulated illustrations, with themes of cultural erasure and the effervescence of lust and love ... Easily 2023\'s sexiest novel ... Astonishing ... It steers clear of contrivance, thanks to edgy illustrations, an origami structure, and the author\'s exquisite eye and ear. This is a novel of ideas, too, brimming with queer history, racial defiance and the injustices of the Freudian era ... Run, don\'t walk, to buy it.
MixedThe Star TribuneFirst, the good news: Mary Gabriel\'s doorstop, Madonna: A Rebel Life, is a meticulously researched, readable account of the most driven and (re)inventive pop star of our times ... Gabriel has done her homework, and then some ... So why is Madonna disappointing? In fairness to Gabriel, it\'s a tall order to reimagine this most famous and overexposed of celebrities. The prose is often pedestrian ... Gabriel indulges in melodrama, too ... Gabriel has written a hagiography rather than a biography, worshipful in its tone.
RaveThe Star TribuneHermes\' captivating new biography, fires on all cylinders: It\'s exhaustively researched and opinionated, with a swagger that evokes its volatile subject. For most of the book there\'s precious little of Reed\'s later domesticity ... Hermes writes with kinetic flair ... A scrupulous chronicle of a rock outlaw who sought an authentic self on stage.
Homer, trans. by Emily Wilson
RaveThe Boston GlobeStirring ... Whips and crackles beneath the familiar meter of loose iambic pentameter. Wilson tells it all in plain English, to elegant effect ... She deftly coaxes the original’s Dactylic hexameters into our own accentual tongue. We feel her joy, birthed by hard labor ... Wilson’s vibes with contemporary irony and idioms ... There’s a note of grace amid the grief, a hard-won wisdom — how modern is that? With both Homeric epics Wilson has pulled off a thrilling achievement.
RaveThe Star TribuneEloquent, discursive ... Schama wisely avoids reportage, which is still evolving, and leans, instead, into the past, crafting a play in three acts: smallpox, cholera and bubonic plague ... Casts familiar and lesser-known figures in a fresh light ... Sterling cultural history, but it also reminds us that political concerns mold our choices as future pandemics brew.
RaveThe Washington Post[A] deliciously brainy new thriller ... The mystery deepens ... In another writer’s hands this complicated plot might have flown apart, but Mia is an appealing guide through thickets of cognition. She’s cheeky, indefatigable and sensitive to how a bifurcated identity molds her. As she pieces together what happened on that park trail, the scaffolding of a thriller falls away, revealing happiness and sorrow, futility and hope, as more than a dance of neurons ... A page-turner.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[Murray\'s] prose pops from the page, precise and piquant, biting in its gallows humor. He\'s astonishingly versatile, tapping internet influences, stream-of-consciousness technique and social realism.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMarvelous, crisply written ... Peiffer shifts between profiles of each figure and the neighborhood’s rich past, tracking back to the colonial period ... Ms. Peiffer’s chapters on Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Indiana are her best.
RaveThe Nashville Scene\"Tom Lake is Patchett at her best ... Many (most?) novelists delve into familial frictions and twisted roads to maturity, but Patchett’s depictions of close relationships open up into sprawling murals, posing questions about the salience of art and intimacy in our troubled age. She counterposes Lara’s secret history with the stresses of quarantine ... Across her oeuvre Patchett has proven herself a generous, meticulous mentor, and Tom Lake is one of this year’s triumphs.\
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSumptuous, spirited ... There are scattered potholes in Russo’s plot, which he patches with back story ... Some chapters feel burdened with detail, and a few flashbacks are confusing, with scenes planted uneasily within scenes. And yet these characters’ interlocking fates move confidently toward resolution ... In Russo’s hands these intentions — and the expectations and forgiveness of others — are fine brushes and a palette. He paints a shining fresco of a working-class community, warts and all.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeSupple, superb ... Beattie evokes Charlottesville in granular detail ... There’s a blurry, off-center quality to her characters; they don’t always reveal what we need to know. And yet her elegance offsets these cosmetic flaws, unpacking subtle variance between onlookers and bystanders: the former is more complicit, gazing on an unjust world while failing to intervene ... A candid look outward and inward, reflecting masterfully on selfhood and community.
PositiveThe Star TribuneCaptivating, sardonic ... A dense read, heavy on irony and grim humor; Whitehead bricks his sentences thickly, much like Carney lining his safe with wads of cash. The novel can be read as a stand-alone but requires some familiarity with Harlem Shuffle. Whitehead\'s larger project propels us forward, probing the whipsaw of race and the ouroboros of virtue and vice.
RaveThe Washington PostHadley lingers close to hearth and home, her dramas tighter and on a smaller scale ... Elegant ... Particularly perceptive about sibling frictions ... Hadley denies ...men that inward life; they’re mostly vain and incompetent ... A revelation for aficionados of the form, as vibrant and knowing as the best of Hadley’s celebrated career.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewExuberant, bitingly satirical ... O’Donoghue has something more sophisticated in mind, hidden beneath the shagging and banter. The Rachel Incident recalls the fiction of both Sally Rooney and Anne Tyler as the author interrogates the dynamics of power, from academia to publishing houses to bedrooms ... Rachel is astute and funny as hell ... A gratifying, accomplished novel.
RaveThe Harvard ReviewWith her trademark wordplay and grammatical twists, Moore toggles between timestreams, divining the \'reality of the unseen\' ... Like Cormac McCarthy in his last novels, she’s reflecting on the futility of literature in the face of oblivion, the act of writing itself a kind of bardo.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"Ms. Hughes is a canny stylist: There’s another memoir lurking behind this one, caught in asides. The book is both a love letter to the magpie who changed her trajectory and a nod to the voyeurism of her readers, \'the peanut-crunching crowd,\' to quote a Plath poem. Ms. Hughes doles out her biography in tidbits, feeding us in much the same manner as she feeds George. She’s in command, and the familiar setting and characters—Court Green, Richard Murphy, Aunt Olwyn Hughes, the villainous \'my father\'—shock when they unexpectedly slip into the narrative ... She tells her story in poised yet anecdotal language; her charm reels us in. Memoir as a form of self-revelation comes beautifully to her. I suspect her audience will clamor for another soon.\
Luis Alberto Urrea
RaveThe Star TribuneGenial yet gimlet-eyed ... Kicks off as a boisterous romp, spiked with repartee and good cheer ... Like a tightrope artist, Urrea keeps narrative forces in balance, the slang of naïve America in tension with the atrocities of combat. He pivots off not just historical fiction but also genre romance, as sparks fly between Irene and dashing bomber pilot Hans. Urrea captures the period and its people ... A fleet-footed performance by a generous craftsman, underscoring the contributions made by the Greatest Generation\'s women.
Simon Sebag Montefiore
RaveThe Star TribuneAn encyclopedic, unwieldy and yet mesmerizing survey of humanity as told through millennia of rulers and their blood-drenched empires. It\'s a towering work of imagination, somehow successful as it teeters beneath the awesome weight of names, dates and interpretations ... The sections are composed of chapters and sub-headed paragraphs that come together, mosaic-like, to illuminate who we are and why we behave as we do ... Anecdotes guide us through the historical jungles as Montefiore approaches familiar figures and events from the past century. The scale of his project is more than ambitious; it frames the story of humanity as a ceaseless struggle between the powerful and powerless. He expands on the theme of the Romantic poet\'s sonnet, underscoring the tumult inherent as tribes battle for control ... The World may be a daunting doorstop, but it offers invaluable precedents as we navigate our own uncertain present.
RaveThe Star TribuneEnthralling, seamlessly crafted ... Grann evokes the moment in a flurry of kinetic clauses ... An accomplishment as vividly realized and ingeniously constructed as Grann\'s previous work.
RaveThe AtlanticThe retrospective reveals a consummate humorist and sharp-eyed chronicler of human flaws—those deeply embedded racial, religious, and socioeconomic prejudices Portis observed in the American South, a region that he saw as a microcosm for the country as a whole ... Like McCarthy, he’s attracted to vaudevillian absurdity, but he avoids McCarthy’s moody existentialism ... He satirizes his fellow southerners, incorporating their particular dialect (including its sometimes-racist elements) into his craft, all while treating these characters with grace and even tenderness ... These set pieces may read like hieroglyphs to non-southerners, but Collected Works is a Rosetta stone, deciphering a region and a history that spans from the colonial era through slavery, Jim Crow, and the present day. A writer who saw the humor in America’s tragic past, Portis reflects the peculiarities and bigotries of the South, many of which, he seems to argue, are simply exaggerated forms of those found in every corner of the country.
RaveChapter 16\"Verghese...is that rare novelist unencumbered by the petty cynicisms of our age. An accomplished wordsmith...he conveys ineffable wonder at the tapestry of all life ... one of our most sweeping and empathic novels about medicine: Verghese writes with authority and in obsessive detail about the gut-wrenching challenges physicians such as Digby face.\
RaveThe Washington PostA rich, rollicking novel about a dysfunctional Jewish clan from the Upper West Side and the 2003 West Bank tragedy that derailed them. He has long been drawn to the subject of identity in his work — his earlier fiction and essays interrogate race and ethnicity in often pious, almost hectoring terms — but here he gracefully balances multiple registers to craft a reader’s delight ... Follows the template of Jonathan Franzen’s social-novels-cum-family-sagas...sprinkled (it must be said) with Woody Allen’s twitchy comedy. Row’s up to splendid mischief ... The New Earth isn’t mere satire; Row retains a deep affection for his cast, arguably more than they deserve. He breathes wondrous life into them. Their neuroses — so many neuroses — click into place ... Row runs the risk of piling up too many teetering Big Themes, but the narrative’s assured flow mostly buoys him (and us). He boldly targets intractable issues.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAbsorbing, astute...nimbly translated ... Picasso the Foreigner skips around impatiently, but key sections gel beautifully, such as the author’s analysis of the charged symbiosis between Picasso and Georges Braque ... There’s gossip, too, about money woes, bad romances and intellectual feuds ... Ms. Cohen-Solal positions herself as an investigative journalist, pursuing leads neglected by other writers, but her through-line fades in and out, like a forest path. Her detours into contemporary protests and riffs on civil-rights thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois (who visited Paris) occasionally feel contrived, although they offer rich context ... And yet Ms. Cohen-Solal’s portrait reaches admirably beyond the heroic, flawed Übermensch of John Richardson’s multi-volume (and never-completed) biography ... Picasso the Foreigner largely succeeds by following a narrow trail through the artist’s monumental career.
RaveThe Star TribuneMesmerizing ... A master of the speculative mode, LaValle opens Lone Women with carnage ... Lone Women shifts from the grandiosity of LaValle\'s The Changeling...to a prose spare and vast, prairie-like, yet steeped in menace ... He brings the creepiness to a boil in a few beautifully crafted scenes ... LaValle expands his repertoire as an audacious, thrilling stylist.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star-TribuneIn his judicious, vibrant The Ghost at the Feast... Robert Kagan excavates the transformational early decades of the 20th century and the nation\'s rocky emergence onto the global stage ... A briskly written, engaging tutorial at a moment when foreign policy has again run aground in the shallow waters of our self-absorption.
RaveThe Star TribuneEleanor Catton\'s Birnam Wood is one of 2023\'s most sophisticated, stylish and searching literary works, a full-on triumph from a generational talent ... Employs the thriller form to magnificent effect ... Catton writes languid sentences that fold back on themselves amid a lift of conjunctions and prepositional phrases ... But in its scope and execution it moves beyond these novels just as smoothly as Lemoine\'s plane glides upward.
Cristina Rivera Garza
RaveThe Boston GlobePunctilious, fury-driven, incandescent ... Despite her furnace of rage, Rivera Garza maintains perfect composure throughout Liliana’s Invincible Summer ... Rivera Garza’s memoir is both master stroke and a critical inflection point in her country’s brutal, patriarchal politics. But grief lingers, hermetically sealed.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"I Have Some Questions for You, then, plants its flag squarely in literary terrain that stretches across Donna Tartt’s The Secret History to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep to Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise ... unabashedly Makkai’s #MeToo novel, brimming with mordant wit, alluding to high-profile predators and a controversial list of male media offenders ... Makkai’s strategy — pegging social justice onto the frame of a thriller — doesn’t always hold together; her detours into preachy op-ed-speak disrupt the tempo. I Have Some Questions for You slows, speeds up, slows again. But gradually the beauty of the novel’s structure reveals itself ... Makkai steers us from red herrings to courtrooms to proof hiding in plain sight. Her prose is lean yet lush, with short, incantatory chapters and sentences as taut as piano wire ... lacks the richer hues of this author’s earlier books, but it’s whip-smart, uncompromising and (mostly) a pleasure to read.\
RaveMinneapolis Star-TribuneCharles Freeman makes a spirited case for why we should peer backwards in his sumptuous work ... The Reopening of the Western Mind picks up velocity once Freeman pivots to the Italian Renaissance; and while this is well trampled ground, he lays out his arguments in dazzling detail ... Freeman connects all the dots in The Reopening of the Western Mind, opening many doors, many minds, in this meticulous, illuminating book.
Mariana Enriquez, trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveThe Washington PostA masterpiece of genre mash-up ... A literary achievement, gorgeous and exacting in its execution ... Translation, to invoke Grossman’s famous metaphor, isn’t merely copying one language over another, like tracing paper, but rather an act of creation unto itself. Our Share of Night teases out the nuances of Enriquez’s spirited, in-your-face style, political epic masquerading as satanic farce.
RaveMinneapolis Star-TribuneStellar ... luminous [and] assured ... Engel places her own faith in the story behind each story; what shimmers off the page is as vital as the pieces themselves. She gracefully weaves the quiet despair of individual lives with the fury of social upheaval. With its dreamy, ephemeral title, The Faraway World hints at what lies beyond our grasp; and yet it grounds our fates in our own hands.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewBracing, beguiling, uneven ... The dystopia is realistic and nuanced, grim but playful, setting Markley’s book apart from the tsunami of recent climate-change literature ... The Deluge is long on ambition. It’s also long, weighing in at nearly 900 pages — baggy, restless, immersive. Centrifugal forces threaten to tear it apart, but Markley soldiers on, in hyper-real mode ... The caricature wears thin and the jokes don’t always land ... This poses a problem in the second half, where Markley’s humor and flair flatten beneath the seriousness of his purpose. He targets the inertia of our political institutions while lampooning online culture ... As The Deluge drags on, it loses its impact. It may endure as a climate-fiction classic, but it’s less than the sum of its parts, undermined by its length and labyrinthine design. The string of apocalyptic events seems cartoonish rather than cautionary.
RaveThe Washington PostLyrical, piercing ... Lends a contemporary urgency to an exploration of same-sex intimacy and social opprobrium ... Crewe...knows this milieu like the back of his hand, conjuring it in all its immediacy and richness ... His characters shine ... A tension kindles between his precise, graceful sentences and his graphic scenes of sex, capricious as the music of an Aeolian harp ... A fine-cut gem, its sentences buffed to a gleam, but with troubling implications for our own reactionary era ... Crewe keeps one eye on the past and the other on the future; his book brims with élan and feeling, an ode to eros and a lost world, and a warning about the dangers ahead.
PositiveThe Star TribuneTonally complex — ominous, hilarious, sarcastic, sacred — countervailing weights to the intricacies of The Passenger, both enhancing and undermining what we think we know about the Westerns ... Despite the darkness ahead, The Passenger and Stella Mars crown a magnificent career that will guide us forward, for as long as the lights stay on.
Lynn Steger Strong
PositiveThe Washington PostStrong’s slender but affecting new novel, Flight, ventures into this familiar terrain with a deft touch and an intuitive grasp of her characters. There’s an easy rhythm here: She’s in no rush as she roves among her cast ... The author recounts each character’s connection to Helen, their rivalries for her attention, folding planes of backstory into beautiful origami ... Strong is an exacting observer of families and their idiosyncrasies ... She nails the ennui of middle age ... There’s a slightness to the plot — Flight occasionally feels padded out, with gratuitous, tacked-on scenes — but Strong milks the high moments, such as a quarrel that erupts during a game of cards ... Strong keeps Flight in motion with twists of language and revelation ... Strong delicately teases out her characters’ emotional stasis, the end of one major phase and the inchoate beginnings of another ... Flight slips free of its tight narrative frame: More than just a domestic tale, it is a larger portrait of hearts and minds at war with the tedium of everydayness and the rote routines of relationships.
RaveOprah DailyRestrained, absorbing ... Kennedy’s prose is taut but liminal, opening up space for Cushla’s transformation ... Trespasses has the compression of a short story but the gait of a longer narrative ... A sharp attention to detail imbues each chapter. She subtly shades in her supporting cast ... Kennedy avoids fussy plot twists and decorative language: By going small she goes large. Her intimate drama carries the burden of a larger history. Step by step, Trespasses moves toward inevitable tragedy, but the author surprises as fate closes around Cushla. Wise far beyond its first-book status.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalVivid, painstakingly researched ... The choreographer’s story spills beyond the contours of her life and into the modernist currents that Graham navigated brilliantly. Through his fiery, inexorable protagonist Mr. Baldwin seeks the headwaters of American dance ... Mr. Baldwin’s research is rigorous, his prose eloquent and muscular if a tad overwrought, mirroring Graham’s terpsichorean instincts. He weaves in innovations from other disciplines, detours that don’t feel like detours ... [A] scrupulous attention to form.
RaveThe Star Tribune... erudite, panoramic ... He riffs beautifully on caretakers like white-blood cells as well as haywire malignancies that defy treatment ... He lightens dense, arcane science with revelatory anecdotes sprinkled with memoir ... He pivots elegantly to therapies — SSRIs, electrodes — that have helped lift the fog of crippling moods ... Mukherjee is an elegant stylist, occasionally prone to a ripe line, but an assured and genial guide. He engages other authors who share his passion for the biosphere.
RaveOprah DailyHis sentences—lyrical, electrifying, indifferent to punctuation—are often imitated, never equaled. He’s the cool flame beneath the hot boil of our era. That flame burns bright and clear in two new works...The Passenger, wondrous in its architecture (and its strangeness), and a companion piece, Stella Maris, an edgy, minimalist novella ... McCarthy’s art is transcendent even as it takes no prisoners. His work will enthrall us into the future, even as it frightens, flummoxes, bewitches.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveOprah Daily[A] sense of dreamlike menace infuses the linked fictions in Samanta Schweblin’s Seven Empty Houses, beautifully translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell ... These stories pulse with blood and lust, ego and id, as Schweblin punches above her weight ... Schweblin tells all the story but tells it slant ... Schweblin is at the forefront of emerging Latin American writers, defiant and assured, swaggering among the jungles of sex, love, and politics ... Whe tinkers with the envelope of narrative: She’s a tad more restrained, though, focused on the liminal spaces between what we know and what we desire.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... brazenly piles on [Saunders\'] trademark techniques: fantastical carnivals, snappy marketing slogans, heart-weary characters, and an unerring ear for prose rhythms ... ess jaunty, more dispirited, as Saunders broods over these disunited states. While lurking along the margins of the public square, he yearns for something, anything, beyond the schisms of red and blue, but fears he’s peering into a dark void in which all colors fade to black ... an MRI of our body politic, with Saunders scrupulously analyzing the films, seeking an optimistic prognosis amid a crush of tumors. He’s hopeful because he’s Saunders. And yet the evidence points, grimly, in the opposite direction; we’ve lost the ability to empathize, if we ever had it.
RaveOprah DailySweeping, deeply reported ... Breathless builds suspense and drama throughout its early chapters, the false moves and authentic leaps as the global scientific community kicked into high gear. Quammen balances the gravitas of his topic with conversational wit, drilling deep into his characters ... Quammen can’t help getting technical...but he sprinkles in cheeky humor that leavens the mood ... Breathless...is an invaluable, vibrant contribution to that literature, arguably the single most comprehensive account of the disease and the clinicians who have labored long and hard to divine its mysteries.
RaveStar TribuneEnthralling...sinuous...a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma ... Details shatter like glass and then reassemble, but with key pieces of the puzzle in place ... What is real and what is not? Serpell blurs the delicate line between dreams and our waking lives ... She delivers on the daring promise of her prize-winning début, The Old Drift, while teasing out a jazzier, more intimate register, casting a spell that probes the fluid, disorienting flow of grief.
Andrew Sean Greer
RaveThe Star Tribune... technically accomplished, wildly entertaining ... Like its predecessor, the new novel is a feat of wit and brio, tougher than it looks ... From his New England perch, Freddy narrates hilarious, cinematic scenes that include affectionate if campy portraits of Arthur ... Greer\'s a master of the picaresque, deftly moving his protagonist from a seedy, David Lynch-esque desert bar through the flatlands of Texas to a Southern theater troupe ... Greer\'s wordplay is glorious: He drop-shots puns and ripostes, firing up his prose ... Greer is not only winking at the reader, he\'s winking at himself. Although an agile stylist, he\'s captivated by the cadences of his own voice, the web of Less\' relationships, and an unpersuasive reckoning ... The author\'s gifts are manifold, though, and Less Is Lost finds its path, holding tight to a Kerouac-like exuberance even as Less falls short of the enlightenment he seeks. And despite the novel\'s self-conscious moments, Greer bears down on his character\'s quest with a command of craft second to none. Will love conquer all? As Freddy notes, \'Well, reader, I will simply let you guess.\'
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... delicate, elliptical ... The novel could easily slip into the trap of first-world problems, as Shteyngart’s book does; but Lucy quickens with insight once she and William arrive at their destination, its postcard vistas and slack pace ... Strout writes in a conversational voice, evoking those early weeks and months of the pandemic with immediacy and candor. These halting rhythms resonate: Physically and emotionally Lucy is all over the map. Her feelings swing, pendulum-like, stirring up discord. When she upbraids William about a petty offense, he confesses that he had prostate cancer, sparking anguish and self-recrimination. Lucy begins to worry that she’s out of sync, a tension that Strout mines subtly. There’s no escape from the claustrophobia of Covid or family ... A lapsed connection kindles anew as she forges a fresh life for herself, rendered in Strout’s graceful, deceptively light prose. She joins the dance of family and friendship, adding a few subtle steps. Lucy’s done the hard work of transformation. May we do the same.
RaveOprah DailyThis remarkable work of reportage weaves together the strands of MAGA Nation ... holds up the traditional role of journalist as neutral observer and finds it wanting...In their pursuit of truth, intrepid reporters such as Mogelson light our path forward.
RaveOprah DailyRich, dense ... Lessons is an achievement of language but also of ambition.
PositiveOprah DailyGlittering, propulsive ... [A] tale of yearning and betrayal ... [An] alluring attention to textures—candlelit dinners, brocaded fabrics, the odors of sex—and, more critically, the theme of women’s lives circumscribed by paternalistic societies and merciless expectations ... O’Farrell’s technique beguiles, underscoring Lucrezia’s rising panic ... The Marriage Portrait, while fluently written and a page-turner, lacks the emotional staying power of Wolf Hall or Hamnet. Still, few writers play as confidently with the nuts and bolts of language.
RaveThe Star TribuneGurnah\'s bravura, beautifully calibrated novel Afterlives encompasses the meld of cultures and languages in eastern Africa and the punishing legacy of European colonialism ... With its narrative heft and economical skill, Afterlives arches over the reader like a cathedral\'s nave, spanning decades as it charts the strife of empires on a subjugated continent ... He narrates the history of the region, then under German rule, with a journalist\'s canny ability to zoom into the entwined stories of his lead character ... Gurnah writes battles and marches and interrogations with panache; cumulatively these scenes form the novel\'s most stirring set piece. Like Zimbabwe\'s Gappah, he braids Kiswahili into English; the tension both invigorates his language and heightens the struggles between indigenous African peoples and their foreign overlords ... While Afterlives unerringly chronicles the crimes of colonialism, Gurnah seasons his novel with a dry wit ... Until now, Gurnah\'s career has unfolded beneath our radar, but Afterlives is a superb achievement and a welcome, if overdue, introduction to American readers.
PositiveWall Street JournalKiki Man Ray eschews straightforward biography for an impressionistic portrait, a meditation on how artists fomented a movement while loving and despising each other...Despite the rare misstep—Mr. Braude calls Alfred Stieglitz \'Arthur\'—the book is its own enchantment...With the immediacy (if not the intimacy) of Patti Smith’s \'Just Kids,\' he transports us back to the City of Light just after World War I, reeling from the butchery of millions of young soldiers...At the dawn of the Jazz Age, it seemed everyone wanted to kick up their heels, drink champagne and sleep around...Mr. Braude lavishly evokes this milieu, mining Kiki and Man Ray’s memoirs and correspondence, and supplementing them with accounts from friends, colleagues and patrons...Kiki Man Ray features cameos a-plenty: Duchamp, Picabia, Peggy Guggenheim, Picasso, Erik Satie, Hemingway...In the background looms the commodification of the avant-garde, ushered in by the Age of the Machine; no sooner had Dadaism reached its zenith then it gave way to Surrealism, as wealthy collectors (many of them American) scrambled for the next Big Thing...Kiki was foremost a catalyst, the right person at the right place at the right time, a fulcrum for Man Ray and others, her influence shaping the oeuvres of writers, filmmakers and singers...She played a poor hand brilliantly, shuffling identities as a declaration of selfhood, insisting on a cabaret of one’s own...She bridges the divide between the 19th-century model—think Victorine Meurent, Manet’s muse and herself an accomplished painter—and the autonomous, libertine women of her own era, such as Josephine Baker and Louise Brooks, and those that came after World War II...Kiki Man Ray rescues its protagonist from the dustbin of history and advocates eloquently for the vitality and importance of the world she helped to forge.\
RaveOprahProvocative, mellifluous ... Hamid’s opening deliberately echoes the language of Kafka and Lewis, teeing up a spellbinding tale that peels back transformations both great and small ... Hamid’s technique is indelible, a buoyancy that belies the gravity of his themes. Most (not all) of his paragraphs are single beautiful sentences that purl and flow over punctuation scattered like pebbles, with repetitions and cadences that tow the reader forward, gently ... The Last White Man may lack the pixie dust of Exit West, but it’s another bracing achievement from a consummate master, its silken prose breathing fresh air into fusty debates about race and identity.
RaveThe Star TribuneLook, now: Buried amid this summer\'s beach reads, your Grishams and Hilderbrands, is a literary treasure ... keen-eyed, beguiling ... Wilkinson is a beautiful writer, a dry wit who seamlessly blends complex ideas with jazzy anecdotes and the history of math itself, conjuring pivotal figures from Euclid to Bertrand Russell ... There are wonderful riffs on perplexed scientists ... And Amie\'s affectionate, bemused mentorship enriches the book; we should all have such a brilliant niece on call ... He guides us through thickets of sine and cosine, digressions on Shakespeare and the concept of infinity. In the end he achieves his goal: His book demystifies math, illuminating the godlike, immutable properties of proofs and the ways numbers evolve, like animal species. For readers craving high style during the dog days, A Divine Language is simply divine.
PanWashington PostBland, static ... The Great Man Theory is a fraught project from the get-go: a middle-aged White male writer telling the tale of a middle-aged White male writer. To his credit the author bores into his character with gusto ... He embodies the flaws and ennui of his demographic, but Wayne doesn’t know what to do with him ... The Great Man Theory, then, is a character study. Wayne is at his best when he dials down the temperature, plumbing the nuances of the parent-child connection ... But these moments trickle away like sand through fingers. The problem is that Wayne can’t (or refuses to) shift his protagonist out of neutral: Paul’s stuck in a rut of self-regard, grinding his gears ... Wayne writes the occasional arresting phrase, but for the most part the novel wobbles forward on clunky, adverb-heavy sentences. The plot grows increasingly ornate, weighed down by Paul’s obsession with fame. We await a payoff that never lands.
RaveOprah Daily... opts for the wonders and epiphanies of smaller canvases, intimacies tucked away ... these deeply personal stories underscore her courage and mastery, exposing herself with little more than art and trust in her readers to buoy her ... Mantel’s language is rich, discursive, expressive. Here it’s elegant and elegiac, as befits the shorter form. Less is more. Learning to Talk, then, is another potent gift to readers, one that slips gracefully into the luminous oeuvre of a leading stylist and thinker.
RaveStar Tribune... sumptuous ... One doesn\'t pick up this book so much as fall into it ... [Yong] leans into the mysteries but follows a clear through line, amplifying the science ... From bat sonar to dog noses to piscine electric fields, Yong\'s reporting is layered, seasoned with vivid scenes from laboratories and in the field, interviews with researchers across a spectrum of disciplines ... swells into philosophy and politics, underscoring the urgency of climate change. Yong\'s book melds epic journeys with intimate reckonings, one of this year\'s finest journalistic achievements.
RaveThe Boston Globe... breezy, whip-smart ... a scintillating work of personal quest and cultural history ... an irresistible Day-Glo portrait of O’Hara and his circle, although the interviewees (and Calhoun) tend more toward gossip than analysis of his oeuvre ... She writes with bracing vulnerability and a dreamy sweetness about her adolescence, light of touch but long on skill, exonerating her mother and demanding \'amends\' exclusively from Schjeldahl...Her ambivalence fuels the narrative, but also raises disquieting questions about male achievement and how women should respond to it ... shares a propulsive energy with such vivid oral histories as Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil’s trippy Please Kill Me and Jean Stein’s stylish Edie. As Calhoun’s earlier books attest, she’s a hell of an observer, writing with flair and putting herself on a tightwire, a high-risk gamble that mostly results in high rewards.
Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett and David Boyd
RaveThe Washington Post... engrossing, fine-boned ... deftly translated ... Night, for this author, is an uncanny space where anything can happen, and narrator Fuyuko Irie’s preface unfurls as evocative fragments ... adroitly plays off collective dissonance and sorrow. And with this consummate novel, Kawakami’s star continues to rise, pulsing against a night that’s anything but holy.
RaveStar TribuneMany a writer claims mastery of technique, but few deliver at the auspicious level of Colin Barrett, whose roving perspectives, lopped-off endings and Kevin Barry-esque dialogue dazzle in his second collection ... Barrett harnesses his craft in service of his characters, mostly working- and middle-class folks from Ireland\'s County Mayo, their dreams played out, or at least caught in a ditch along some ribbon of highway ... He deftly conjures the ragged beaches and lonesome backroads along Ireland\'s northern coast ... Like other leading Irish stylists — Barry, Roddy Doyle, Edna O\'Brien and the late William Trevor among them — Barrett is a doyen of the sentence; each cracks and snaps like a bullwhip. We know these characters because we hear and see them in perfect clarity. They\'re not homesick so much as sick of home ... its wrenchingly beautiful scenes, its lush evocation of place, prayers for a people doing their best to just get by.
RaveOprah Daily[An] enthralling tour de force ... Each story talks to the others, and the conversation is both combative and revelatory ... As an American epic, Trust gives The Great Gatsby a run for its money ... Diaz’s debut, In the Distance, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Trust fulfills that book’s promise, and then some ... Wordplay is Trust’s currency ... In Diaz’s accomplished hands we circle ever closer to the black hole at the core of Trust ... Trust is a glorious novel about empires and erasures, husbands and wives, staggering fortunes and unspeakable misery ... He spins a larger parable, then, plumbing sex and power, causation and complicity. Mostly, though, Trust is a literary page-turner, with a wealth of puns and elegant prose, fun as hell to read.
RaveStar TribuneBrash, exuberant ... Sleepwalk draws on an array of genres and narratives, but it\'s also a visionary work, a preview of a nation just minutes away ... Sleepwalk is no act of dull somnambulism but rather a vigorous, polished performance by a writer in command of his gifts ... The novel\'s intricate structure and seductive voice lift off the page.
PositiveThe Star TribuneZimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo draws on Orwell in her ambitious, meandering Glory, which charts the downfall of a dictator, modeled on Zimbabwe\'s Robert Mugabe, whose brutal 30-year reign ended abruptly in a 2017 coup. Freedom from tyranny, she suggests, comes at a high cost ... Glory is both trenchant and wearying, broken up with subheads and bits of dialogue. There are moving scenes, as when she depicts the history of the Jidadans ... These moments are windows through which we glimpse the hidden agonies inflicted on Zimbabwe, but the book is simply longer than it needs to be ... Still, Bulawayo is an innovative stylist — she collapses genres, subverts expectations and cuts to the marrow of the continent\'s politics — and is a vital voice in an emerging generation of post-colonial African writers.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...exacting, beautifully textured ... If economic class is the third rail of American life, then Cole eases his hand out, gently, to touch it, his realism a meld of Richard Russo and Anne Tyler by way of Sally Rooney ... While Pop, Cort and Owen form a fraternity on the skids, it’s a thrill — a relief — to read a writer who approaches his male characters with generosity and intuition, steering blessedly free of caricature ... As with Helen Frankenthaler’s canvases, Groundskeeping achieves poise and uplift ... The novel’s not only a forensic examination of our toxic politics, it’s also a sly sendup of literary culture, a conveyor belt of M.F.A. programs and prizes and teaching gigs ... A sterling novel that presages a major career, Groundskeeping puts a fresh spin on the divided self adrift in a divided nation.
RaveOprah Daily... as affecting, original, and brilliantly written a novel as any we’ll see in 2022 ... From political hostilities to personal anguish, Stuart harmonizes his notes, pitch-perfect ... Young Mungo’s greatest triumph is Stuart’s prose. He leans into the colloquial quirks and beauties of Glaswegian voices, the opposite of posh Queen’s English but equally rich. There’s jazz and bounce in his sentences—his cadences are rollicking, his dialogue often comic—but also a meticulous precision; I counted exactly one edit-worthy clause in the entire novel. I felt the same frisson as when I read works by other leading innovators, among them Kevin Barry, Hilary Mantel, Arundhati Roy, Ali Smith, and Colson Whitehead ... There’s a hint of hope among Stuart’s exquisite sentences, as when the boy roams the Highlands, trying to escape his tormentors.
RaveThe Boston Globe[An] affecting, razor-sharp debut ... This Boy We Made blows up the stale formulas of trauma memoir, implicating us in Harris’s most intimate and terrifying moments, and those of her family, with candor and cool precision. Her book also serves as an allegory of sorts: a Black woman grapples with enduring racial disparities in health practices and outcomes, the stark divides both in and out of clinical settings ... Harris toggles between Tophs’s story and her own; each enriches the other ... Harris deftly draws a line between a Before and an After — when she grasps there’s something wrong with her son, she reconsiders earlier episodes ... The book also plumbs a less visible kind of malady: the unique obstacles African Americans confront in our medical infrastructure ... This Boy We Made not only reflects broader social reckonings, it is itself a reckoning, illuminating inequities entrenched not only within our justice system, but also within seemingly neutral institutions, such as health care. Mostly, it’s a scrupulous, moving read that deserves a wide audience, one inspired to push for change in a plethora of arenas.
RaveThe Star TribuneMore than any book in recent memory, Lost & Found evokes the process of falling in love with a lush expansiveness and alertness to detail, a perfect ballet of confession and philosophy. Schulz plaits her personal narrative with canonical explorations, from Plato to Dante to Elizabeth Bishop. Hers is a generous, conversational voice; the effect is like an intoxicating Oxbridge tutorial. This richly discursive style conjures a marriage of minds, between an atheist Jewish sophisticate and a rural-centric, theologically attuned Christian ... Lost & Found concludes on a jubilant note, an unabashed ode to joy.
RaveThe Star TribuneIn his meticulously researched, beautifully calibrated Liberty Is Sweet, historian Woody Holton adds necessary nuance, building on...stories previously marginalized (or invisible) in our narrative of the nation\'s birth while illuminating a collective yearning to form a more perfect union ... Holton\'s painstaking yet vivid military coverage is one of the book\'s crowning achievements. Until now I\'d not grasped the machinations of battles such as Breed\'s (also known as Bunker) Hill or Cowpens, or even Washington\'s iconic crossing of the Delaware River ... Holton also enriches Liberty Is Sweet with astute analysis of how the young states began to organize themselves in their grand experiment of self-government ... Holton, then, threads the needle, expanding the spirit of the 1619 Project while bringing a granular scholarship and immersive storytelling in the mode of Gordon Wood and Sean Wilentz. Liberty Is Sweet is a magnificent book, a vital account worthy of all the accolades that will come its way.
MixedThe Star Tribune... engrossing if erratic ... The book\'s pleasures are many. Perry shines when she\'s present in the narrative, an archaeologist troweling through strata of history and culture. Her vignettes spark off the page ... Unfortunately, these evocative moments are overwhelmed by a strident op-ed voice, ginned up by conjecture ... and a stream-of-consciousness delivery. South to America is, at best, an impressionistic overview of this inscrutably complex region. Perry tosses off obligatory lines about revered figures such as Dolly Parton (good), Flannery O\'Connor (bad) and Thomas Jefferson (very bad); but evangelical churches, SEC football and Rotary Club luncheons don\'t ping her radar ... Too often her editorializing reinforces stereotypes rather than diffusing them ... an immersive read, but in the end it\'s blinkered by a failure to illuminate the homeland for those of us born and raised there, and who crave—sweet Lord, how we crave—a deeper wisdom and clarity among the scorching contradictions.
RaveThe Washington PostStylish, simmering ... Branum breaks up her novel into fragments, some only a paragraph long, and each with its own subhead. There’s a diaphanous flow to her storytelling, full of light and air, with darker notes that play off our hard-wired terror of falling, or basophobia ... Branum toggles between present and past, adroitly meting out her plot ... Some sections feel like padding, as though Branum is trying to convince herself (and us) that Defenestrate is more than a short story masquerading as a novel. She flirts with preciosity, particularly in her overbearing use of [Buster] Keaton ... But in a feat of literary archery, Branum’s lyrical prose hits its mark again and again, rich but never overly ripe, delicate but with a tautness that propels the narrative ... And the novel’s spare, ghostly mood recalls Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides ... Evocative passages...stud the novel like diamonds. The story cuts back and forth, brimming with suspense. It’s always a joy to see a writer dig confidently into her gifts, as Branum does in Defenestrate. Her characters may fear falling, but this novel soars.
RaveHarvard ReviewTo Paradise, Yanagihara’s dense, ambitious new novel, is a leap forward: she constructs a wildly speculative story that enthralls even as it challenges readers. With impeccable control, she examines the rot at the heart of the American experiment, reimagining the nation’s legacy at three different junctures in an alternative history ... The language of [the first section] \'Washington Square\' is rich and exacting, calling to mind the social novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton, and the lavish textures of Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film adaptation of The Age of Innocence. Cinematic and lyrical, Washington Square appeals to the eye as well as the ear ... [the second section] captures the opprobrium visited upon victims of the epidemic, with strong echoes of Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia ... [the third section] \'Zone Eight\' is long, but, in this case, more is more ... For all the darkness, Yanagihara offers glimmers of human connection as a kind of balm, the sign of a paradise regained. To Paradise expands on the promise of A Little Life with a layered narrative that’s more daring yet more restrained, executed with a dazzling technique that raises the novel above its peers.
RaveThe Star Tribune... lavish, authoritative ... Danchev seasons his book with reams of research and critique and not a little gossip, evoking a titan of the 20th-century European avant-garde ... Erotic titillation and the menace of mortality underpin Magritte ... The book also entertains: Squint hard, and you just might spy an Andalusian dog ... a superb account of one enigmatic, enduring artist, a gratifying addition to our cultural literature, and an ode to modernity\'s contradictions.
David Graeber and David Wengrow
PositiveThe Star Tribune... a glorious mess of a book that nonetheless upends platitudes about early human communities and power disparities that have persisted through the ages. While Graeber and Wengrow challenge our parochial views of prehistory, their true target is history of a modern, Eurocentric flavor. The book posits a sweeping new paradigm as the authors pore over a massive body of anthropological and archaeological data ... Graeber and Wengrow offer a menu of delicious set pieces ... At its best The Dawn of Everything transports us around the globe, aweing with its encyclopedic scope. What\'s missing is more crucial: Graeber and Wengrow ignore paleogenomics, for instance, a glaring omission given the revelations of technological advances in analyzing DNA ... For a book determined to blow up confirmational biases, it suffers from a few of its own, such as the false binary of women versus men ... The Dawn of Everything is having numerous debates with itself, not all of them coherent ... And yet the book\'s an enthralling read, crackling with energy and arguments that rarely push into mainstream discourse. The Dawn of Everything may be less than the sum of its parts, but it\'s nonetheless a searching, vibrant work that will inspire future researchers to dig deeper into the past.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... rollicking if occasionally strained ... Shteyngart skewers the petty narcissisms of cultural elites with trademark hilarity. His descriptions are precise and elegant ... As the quarantine drags on, Our Country Friend lapses into contrived situations and scripted banter; Shteyngart holds the satire a beat too long, bordering on the precious. The politics are messy, faithfully reflecting these Disunited States, but he can\'t quite quell his impulse to editorialize. While his choice of an omniscient narrator allows him room to maneuver, drama leaks from the narrative ... And yet his delight in his own sentences is contagious; his gimlet-eyed optimism lifts us up. Our Country Friends is ultimately a generous book.
RaveThe Boston GlobeCloud Cuckoo Land, [Doerr\'s] erudite, exuberant new work, taps all his gifts while moving in a bold, fresh direction. If All the Light We Cannot See was a lyrical tour de force, Cloud Cuckoo Land is a David Mitchell-esque maze of interlocking stories and characters in three different timestreams, past, present, and future. Doerr’s reach is galactic, but there’s also a surprising intimacy here, as the elements orbit around a Greek text that has all but vanished ... In a big fiction year — and make no mistake, 2021 has been epic — Cloud Cuckoo Land stands out. The trope of the child in jeopardy is hardly original, but Doerr digs deep ... Doerr guides us through lavish backstories and broken hearts, war and peace, each chapter a masterstroke ... Layer by layer, Doerr builds a cathedral of a novel, rich with naves and transepts and soaring stained-glass windows, and yet he keeps us close to the pages, turning and turning. An intricate design emerges: Doerr’s a soothsayer obsessed with our survival, fearing the worst ... a profound compassion undergirds the novel as the pieces snap into place ... Doerr’s characters are astoundingly resilient, suggesting that we may yet save ourselves, with literature an essential tool. Their journeys leave footprints across our hearts ... With its breathtaking ambition and beautiful prose Cloud Cuckoo Land is the anti-Twitter novel we need, unabashedly celebrating the power of books and their caretakers.
RaveThe Washington Post... gorgeously crafted ... The Lincoln Highway deftly shifts between first- and third-person narration ... Towles binds the novel with compassion and scrupulous detail: his America brims with outcasts scrambling over scraps from the Emerald City, con artists behind the curtain, the innocents they exploit ... Examining the dynamics of race, class and gender, Towles draws a line between the social maladies of then and now, connecting the yearnings of his characters with our own volatile era. He does it with stylish, sophisticated storytelling. There’s no need for fancy narrative tricks ... The Lincoln Highway...is a long and winding road, but one Towles’s motley crew navigates with brains, heart and courage. The novel embraces the contradictions of our character with a skillful hand, guiding the reader forward with \'a sensation of floating—like one who’s being carried down a wide river on a warm summer day.\'
Robert Olen Butler
PositiveThe Star TribuneButler offers a fresh spin on the conceit in his immersive if uneven new novel ... moves briskly, paced by boldface headlines and tragic events ... The novel may seem preoccupied with politics, but Butler would argue that canvassing the public square, antennae tuned to rumor as well as fact, is a reporter\'s raison d\'être ... With its robust narrative and staccato cadence, the first half of Late City appeals, but midway the novel stumbles into formulaic plotting and wooden dialogue. God nails his one-liners, but he\'s still just a device to vary the flow of episodes ... Sam, too, flattens beneath the weight of his halo: he\'s preternaturally down with Black sharecroppers, feminist causes and the labor movement, atoning for his own privilege. This may be Butler\'s bid for topicality, but too often he sermonizes rather than telling Sam\'s story ... If the whole is less than the sum of its parts, Late City is still an engaging read and a commendable quest into the underpinnings of the complicated, often contradictory American people. More crucially, the novel is a poignant meditation on the circle of life, the wonder we all feel as it slips away.
RaveOprah DailyJonathan Franzen’s sweeping, sumptuous new novel, Crossroads, peers back at this oddball moment, post-Manson Family and pre-Watergate, when Jesus was groovy and Nixon’s America teetered beneath the stresses of Vietnam and (closer to home) the ravages of drug use and infidelity ... He pays homage to great nineteenth century social realists, from George Eliot to Balzac to Dickens, while gazing unflinchingly to the ills that shape us today ... It’s a credit to Franzen that he recreates these characters and their nexus of sex and salvation in a nostalgic yet immediate way. His use of rich period detail is spot on, from sheepskin jackets to group hugs to two-faced cliques ... The novel paces itself leisurely, accreting detail and narrative strata in the vein of Eliot’s Middlemarch and Balzac’s The Human Comedy, but Franzen\'s also dialoguing with Dante\'s Inferno, injecting a distinctive American Puritanism ... Perhaps Franzen\'s most radical move is to bore deep inside a middle class family as it struggles with cosmic issues of faith and fealty, family and community ... a triumphant opening gambit in what may become a vital pillar of our literature.
RaveThe Star TribuneBelieve the hype. Choi\'s collection of short stories is an inventive, dazzling work that probes the Korean-American experience from myriad angles and perspectives, wielding the double-edged sword of the hyphen to superb effect. Each piece is a banger ... She moves confidently between countries and decades, enriching her surfaces with details from the methods of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff to foods found in a Korean deli (beef leg bones and rainbow rice cakes) ... Choi brings not only a mastery of technique but also a wry humor to her characters ... She probes relationships — particularly marriage — with candor ... From its intricate architecture to its beautifully crafted sentences, Skinship is one of this year\'s literary triumphs.
Anthony Veasna So
RaveOn the Seawall... [a] gut-wrenching, beautifully crafted collection ... There’s gallows humor sprinkled throughout Afterparties, the frisson of love lost and won and lost again, but in the background demons lurk, cobra-like, poised to strike. These stories are powerful dioramas of historical trauma, but that’s only part of Afterparties’ dark allure ... Perhaps it’s sentimental to consider these stories as a form of reincarnation. Yet So’s abundant gifts reconstitute us as readers. It’s no surprise, then, that Afterparties soars as one of 2021’s most celebrated collections of short fiction. So may have left us too soon, but with its compassion and fastidious attention to detail, Afterparties rises above the plain of desultory débuts. So sweats the small stuff in pursuit of a grave history: a courageous, wise, and awesome achievement.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... clear-eyed, crisply written ... [Hooven] deftly threads the needle of social ferment with her own imperatives as a scientist ... T does what all superb popular science must do: It entertains as it educates ... Ms. Hooven plumbs the dimorphic nature of sex, but she’s also incisive in her exploration of atypical development ... a rich narrative ore, which Ms. Hooven mines with relish ... Ultimately, T is a vigorous defense of the scientific method itself ... She does not shy away from hot-button topics ... confronts ugly truths about male behavior, but also seeks to reintroduce nuance into our discourse by enlarging our grasp of the biological processes shaped by testosterone. T is a gorgeous culmination of an odyssey both professional and personal.
PositiveOprah Daily... spare, affecting ... By keeping a tight focus on his father’s difficult death, played out in weeks, the author expands our sense of marriage, warts and all, as well as the complicated parent-child relationship and the layered calling of the artist ... His tone is intimate, confidential, tender. There’s a dreamlike quality, too, as he weaves in Polaroid-like glimpses of his father ... a gentle ironic humor also suffuses the book ... evokes how our parents linger, ghostly[.]
PositiveOprah Daily... a tale that burns like dry ice ... In crystalline prose, Kitamura probes the labyrinths of language and the riddles of our humanity ... a judicious, cerebral novel, but Kitamura seasons it with dashes of glamor ... The novel’s innovations build momentum as Kitamura jettisons quotation marks, allowing pronouns to float free of their referents ... The comma is Kitamura’s secret weapon, deployed prolifically throughout Intimacies, giving equal weight to arguments and counter-arguments buzzing inside the narrator’s head, fulcrums that pivot the plot first this way, then that ... chips away at moral platitudes while still holding up the commitments and compromises we make as families and communities. The fragility of those bonds. This slim, graceful novel punches above its weight as Kitamura explores tragedy on an epic scale, reckoning with the ways we deceive each other and ourselves.
RaveThe Star TribuneHis enthralling, cinematic new work...tweaks a simple heist story to limn enduring conflicts of race and class ... Whitehead\'s sentences are beautifully bricked together—it\'s nigh impossible to wedge a blade between them—and his midcentury deadpan is flawless. But there\'s a touch of Renaissance storytelling, as well ... While a valentine to a time and place, Harlem Shuffle brilliantly tackles the daunting challenges of any American era.
PositiveChapter16Her book is a valuable tool as we continue to grapple with the pandemic ... Her panels—often spare, with single figures floating through voids of space and ocean—tease out her themes. Her assured line drawings, eye for composition and borrowing from photography enhance her investigation ... She writes candidly about nomadic treks from the Midwest to New York ... She also depicts another American city, Las Vegas, with brio; her illustrations sketch the city she found beneath the facade of casino lights and hotel marquees. At her best, Radtke mirrors the country\'s post-Trump anomie with her own aching loneliness, illuminating a lifetime of mental struggles with candor. But the book has an Achilles\' heel: Its second half doggedly erases the interior lives of men, reducing their emotional realities to those of TV characters ... Regrettably, this binary of men as predatory ogres and women as sanctified victims mars an otherwise fascinating book ... On balance, Seek You is a valuable contribution to an emerging form that daringly marries words to pictures, evoking pictograms, the earliest writing, in a book that comes full circle through the ages, limning the condition of loneliness as a constant source of agony and ecstasy, and perhaps something we all may need.
M Leona Godin
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... elegant, fiercely argued ... the most intriguing sections in There Plant Eyes form a kind of seminar, close readings of texts through the prism of blindness: Homer, Sophocles, Shakespeare and Milton ... The author’s dry wit runs throughout ... We sense the influence of weighty critics such as Harold Bloom, but Ms. Godin leavens her narrative with pop-culture references ... Her anecdotes sparkle ... Honest and direct with her readers, she confesses past jealousies and alcohol abuse while celebrating her current stable relationship with her partner ... brings us deeply into Ms. Godin’s experience: the things she said in anger and later regretted, the technologies that boost her, microaggressions that annoy. But as she shifts to memoir mode her tone shifts as well. She increasingly hectors her sighted readers. Her provocations are righteous but often fall flat. She neglects the vast spectrum of other disabilities: a patient with cerebral palsy, for instance, or a teenager with a neuromuscular disorder, hooked up to a ventilator. By focusing relentlessly on blind versus sighted she sometimes affirms the binary thinking she seeks to overturn ... And yet Ms. Godin largely succeeds in her call to arms. All too often disabled writers are treated as stepchildren of social-justice movements ... Ms. Godin enlarges our understanding of the blind and sight impaired, and There Plant Eyes, proves a landmark contribution to the literature of disability...which is to say the literature of the human itself.
RaveThe Star Tribune... lean-limbed, immersive ... Chapter by stellar chapter, Wright charts COVID-19\'s arc ... Wright is at his commanding best, though, when he places the pandemic in historical context — his detours into the Black Plague and the 1918 Spanish flu are narrative marvels — and in his portraits of the players ... He threads The Plague Year with delightful transatlantic calls to Gianna Pomata, a former Johns Hopkins professor now retired to her hometown of Bologna. Pomata has long studied the transformative impacts of pandemics on economies and social orders. She sees a silver lining in COVID-19, noting, with Italian brio and humor, that innovations evolve from global calamities. One could say the same about Wright\'s arresting book, birthed by a plague year but rich with peerless reportage and incisive critique.
PositiveThe New York Time Book Review... atmospheric, layered ... West steeps her tale in a rich broth of religious ardor and personal betrayal ... West evokes Miriam’s naïveté — and awakening — to brilliant effect ... West beautifully nails these details as well as more casual ones, from adolescent flirtations to cups of grape juice ... For all its merits, particularly its winning protagonist, Revival Season toggles between pitch-perfect moments and the occasional clunky sentence ... Still, West creates a vivid, intimate world on the page, dramatizing the compromises evangelical women must make.
PositiveThe Washington Post... witty, vigorously written ... In bold, brilliant strokes Leitch evokes the eccentricities of Athens, haunted in equal parts by the ghosts of R.E.M. and legendary coach Vince Dooley ... Leitch draws his cast beautifully ... Although able-bodied, Leitch has modeled Daniel on the son of a friend, vetting his character meticulously. And yet there’s a nagging sense of one-degree-removed that mars his novel. Although SMA phenotypes vary widely, he gets a few crucial details wrong, or at best half-right, from the functions of the cough-assist to the disease’s progression to a desultory mention of such transformative drugs as Spinraza. Occasionally Daniel veers into tutorials on the disease — one feels the hand of a sensitivity reader at work – but lapses stand out ... Fortunately, How Lucky picks up the trail of its own meandering through-line as Daniel homes in on Ai-Chin’s fate ...It’s a tricky exercise when a writer steps outside his own personal experience to inhabit a character very different from himself; but How Lucky succeeds on more than just luck. With only a few missteps Leitch gives us an authentic, compelling portrait of a narrator who motors through the obstacle course of his life with grit and grace, a sprinkling of sex and a surfeit of curse words. Daniel may be locked in a physically atypical body, but he’s just as human as the rest of us.
RaveThe Star TribuneA luminous weave of memoir, scientific treatise and Native-inflected meditation ... She limns her tale with rich anecdotes and family lore ... But the science here is equally absorbing. Simard is foremost a student of trees. Early on, she stumbles across a vital linkage between forests and mycorrhizal fungi, and she devotes years of graduate study and creative field experiments to the complex symbiosis between overstory (the uppermost canopy) and understory (the saplings and shrubs below) ... a literary revelation, that botany class you never knew you needed, and certain to be one of this year\'s most widely discussed books.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeCusk’s language pulses beautifully — she’s one of Britain’s greatest stylists — even as her story spins into abstract digression. As in her previous work Cusk flickers around erotic sparks like a moth around a candle ... M considers L’s landscapes to be his best work; Cusk’s lush descriptions of the surrounding marshes are hers ... The final chapters of Second Place are less vivid and more cerebral as M skewers L’s contempt and her own erratic behavior. The claustrophobia here mirrors the claustrophobia of quarantine, how the past year has forced all manner of reckonings, but there’s a whiff of first-world problems that feels tedious. Cusk’s tone is deliberately arch, but undermines her more arresting scenes and sentences ... Quibbles aside, Cusk is fearless in her interior journeys, whether they lead to heaven or hell, or, more likely, to a banal purgatory of the self ... The novel’s most moving sections capture the delicate dance between mother and daughter, how Justine reflects back to M her own ambivalences. And Cusk plays up the double entendre of her title: the second place refers not only to the guest house on the estate but also to the role male artists assign to women. Second Place may not rise to the triumphs of her previous books, but it showcases her signature economy of style, her fascination with the schism between body and mind. For Cusk, the heart at war with itself may be the final frontier, and she’s determined to boldly go where no writer has gone before. Her explorations of love and lust are singular.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel
RaveThe Oprah DailyThe pieces here tap the author’s infatuations with the Beatles and Mozart, baseball and poetry, transgressive sex and fleeting romance, served up with dollops of American pop culture. It’s all here, narrated in a range of voices, from deadpan poet to magical realist to song critic ... Murakami’s encyclopedic knowledge of music surges to the fore, echoed in vivid imagery ... First Person Singular takes us not only through Murakami’s imagination but also his career, teasing out evergreen themes while offering fresh spins on the meaning of \'I,\' an eye that’s both observer and participant in the stories of others.
Kirstin Valdez Quade
RaveThe Star TribuneQuade delivers on the promise of her debut collection ... Her sinewy sentences and emotional daring astound ... the novel\'s vibrant sheen masks deeper, darker currents. Birth—and rebirth—balance against death like yin and yang. Quade glides elegantly across a silken tightrope between comedy and tragedy, twists of fate that buoy her narrative to its resonant conclusion. The Five Wounds is destined to be one of this year\'s most celebrated works of fiction. Quade is a writer on the move.
RaveOprah Daily... a deftly crafted noir ... If you love nothing more than curling up with an atmospheric murder mystery—or binging a Hitchcock marathon on TMC—Every Vow You Break delivers on all counts ... Swanson imbeds unpleasant truths about marriage and money, and whether or not we can truly know another person.
RaveThe Harvard Review... [a] gorgeous, mesmerizing new novel ... So much is going on in this novel, yet Flanagan never misses a beat. His language is drum-tight, his ear for prose rhythms impeccable ... Death broods over this novel; the reader senses Flanagan’s eye on the clock, his preoccupation with his own mortality. And yet the mosaic of life endures—fitful, imperiled, but also joyous. Transformations are everywhere in The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. Flanagan saves his most intriguing reveals for the later chapters ... Flanagan has given us a novel that’s inventive and lyrical, a dark meditation on where we are and where we may be headed. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is his finest work yet.
RaveThe Star Tribune... the protagonist of Russell Banks\' exuberant new novel, Foregone, is such an unreliable if captivating narrator ... that tension is just one of the book\'s many delights ... It\'s a thrill to watch Banks pull off so many risky formal maneuvers. Foregone is a brilliantly cinematic novel; it moves in and out of the past and present like a camera, with montages, dissolves and jump cuts. There are memories embedded with memories, agonized mashups of Fife\'s betrayals ... Few writers have explored the regrets of aging and the door-knock of mortality with Banks\' steely-eyed grace and gorgeous language. Foregone is a subtle yet unsparing achievement from a master.
RaveThe Washington PostRare is the first book that reveals the writer fully formed, the muscles and sinews of her sentences firm and taut, the voice distinctly her own [...] But Cherie Jones’s lavish, cinematic debut, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, rises to that high bar, its beguiling title a steppingstone into a Barbados that’s both Caribbean paradise and a crime-riddled underworld. Which is to say: The novel’s a stunner ... Jones’s evocation of Barbados is exquisite, her brushwork assured ... How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House [...] could have veered into melodrama, but Jones is far too savvy a writer, beautifully choreographing entrances and exits as she metes out her story, redirecting our attention at just the moment we think we’ve cracked her code. Through flashbacks, Jones deftly widens the novel’s aperture ... Jones’s prose is supple, often luxuriant, but the structure of her novel is even more impressive as she bobs and weaves through the aftermath of two mysterious crimes. The pieces snap together, one by one, exposing the consequences of dreams deferred. In Jones’s telling, sin and redemption are both personal and communal. With its rich imagery, confident pacing and moral vision, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House reads like a third or fourth book. Here’s the launch of a stellar literary career.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
RaveThe Star Tribune[Gates\'] vibrant, incisive The Black Church, a companion book to the new PBS series, leads us along hidden corridors as it unearths revelatory stories while pounding the pulpit with passionate arguments about faith and justice ... With a surgeon\'s skill, Gates teases out the threads of the various Black denominations ... Meticulously reported, the book is its own rich sermon. Gates is proselytizing us, and it\'s nigh impossible to not stamp our feet and shout, \'Amen!\' ... The Black Church is a marvel, a breezy, illuminating tale of a distinctly powerful institution at the beating heart of the American Experiment, and an invaluable work from a masterful chronicler.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... rangy, propulsive ... expands on these preoccupations by embracing dark comedy in the manner of Gary Shteyngart and George Saunders ... Even if Lee doesn\'t quite match the success of Shteyngart\'s Lake Success, he spins an engaging, layered tale that ferries the reader from the bucolic comforts of a New Jersey university town to an Asia in the throes of economic and cultural change ... At its best, My Year Abroad is a pulse-raising page-turner, with dazzling moments and a Saunders-esque riot of marketing gimmicks and junk food. Unfortunately, though, Lee never quite nails Tiller\'s voice, which comes across as overly fussy and long-winded. Less would have been more ... The Val story line, too, fails to deliver the emotional charge we feel as Pong tracks his white whale across the largest continent ... And yet Lee still shines as one of our most inventive writers and moralists, a guide we can trust on any odyssey.
RaveThe Harvard Review... marvel of a literary debut ... If Loedel’s plot sounds like high romance, it is … until it isn’t. He deftly navigates the underbelly of an oppressive regime where ghosts of the past mingle with survivors ... He masterfully treads a high wire between grisly crimes and playful magical realism, paying homage not only to the titans of Latin American literature but also to genre-bending tales such as Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. The fantastical may be the only way of speaking the unspeakable, of excavating the horrors of the twentieth century ... It’s rare to find an accomplished first novel that moves boldly past coming-of-age conventions and sets the journeys of its characters in relief against a backdrop of grim history. As Loedel suggests, that history haunts us still. He reimagines the platitude \'the personal is political\' by injecting enchantment and morality into one man’s entanglements with forces aligned against him. Hades, Argentina announces a major career, and we can expect great work from this gifted writer in the future.
RaveO, The Oprah MagazineThrough her work, Didion has conjured a culture that’s dazzling and dangerous, mythic and mundane ... [Let Me Tell You What I Mean] brings together previously uncollected pieces in a prismatic retrospective; the critic Hilton Als charts the arc of her career in a rich foreword that’s almost as long as the book itself. The essays could easily feel like bits from the cutting-room floor, but as usual, Didion exceeds our expectations ... there’s also plenty of vintage Didion: her passion for writing is omnipresent, a compulsion to write about writing, which sparks her finest meditations here. These interior debates about what she does, and how and why she does it, resonate ... the Didion of Let Me Tell You What I Mean is also a revelation, as the woman behind the curtain steps forward, more intimate somehow, with flashes of feminist feeling ... Brava.
Mariana Enriquez, tr. Megan McDowell
RaveOprah Daily... ravishing ... a volume that reimagines the Gothic and gives it a wholly original spin ... Enríquez mines her inner Poe: Her characters grapple with ghosts and their own hauntings. Their spirits are low, but the stakes couldn’t be higher ... While Enríquez\'s prose is precise and disciplined, her soul is pure punk, the opposite of the \'elegant\' Allende, whom she reveres ... Enríquez is also a clinician of the body, dissecting her characters—sometimes literally—with a surgeon’s scalpel. The decay of our physical selves, the fears of an afterlife, and sudden surges of sex ignite these stories with a blue flame; her exploration of female self-pleasure is both erotic and chilling ... establishes Enríquez as a premier literary voice. Enríquez\'s extraordinary—and extraordinarily ominous—fiction holds up a mirror to our bewildering times, when borders between the everyday and the inexplicable blur, and converge.
RaveThe Boston Globe... sweeping, vigorous ... There’s a dry, didactic quality to Exercised; Lieberman’s a top-flight scientist and cogent writer, but the book lacks the stylistic spark of a Robert Sapolsky or David Eagleman. And yet Lieberman’s clarity never wavers. When the book shifts to prescriptive sections, he readily acknowledges the data is more suggestive than certain ... He’s particularly good at busting myths, organizing chapters around debunking assumptions about what constitutes fitness and health ... His answers to physiological questions dispel lazy platitudes...They also inspire ... If Exercised occasionally reads with the tone of your stern-voiced mother, wagging her finger and imploring you to eat your vegetables and jog around the block, then all to the good. Lieberman has accomplished his mission. But the science beneath his arguments is revelatory, with thrilling implications for evolutionary biology. Written in a brisk prose, with ample graphs, Exercised is an excellent compendium on the broad medical advantages of exercise and a roadmap out of our pandemic to better health.
RaveThe New York Times... crystalline ... Bible knows his Bible Belt well, its family secrets and summer storms, the rigid social grids through which sex sluices like lake water. He’s drawn to the consequences of rebellion ... Bible beautifully captures the listless yaw of these outsiders as they search for meaning in a place where there’s little to do but drive 90 miles an hour along back roads, light joints and hook up ... Bible treads a fine line between ripe prose and a staccato cadence as he moves into the stories of others scarred by Iggy’s crime. The novel shifts, polyphonic, between timelines, jig-sawing its narrative, revealing depths in the shallowest of characters. Harmony, unsurprisingly, is more nuanced than a Hardee’s menu. There’s the occasional misfire — a diaper-clad 5-year-old, a mystical mood Cleo calls the Constant — but Bible is spot on as he illuminates the patterns of calamity, how they radiate outward ... By necessity Southern writers are uneasy moralists: They go along to get along, plotting their transgressions on the page. It’s fitting, then, that here Bible draws up his own Holy Writ, both recoiling from religious fervor and bowing to its power. At just over 100 pages, The Ancient Hours may seem a slender meditation on a life that jumps the guardrails of right-and-wrong, but it packs a wallop: The actual culprits may be the folks in the pulpit and pews, fanning away the poor in spirit with their \'thoughts and prayers and thoughts and prayers and thoughts and prayers.\'
Nicholas A Christakis
RaveThe Star Tribune... capacious, gripping ... Christakis grounds his account not only in the events of recent months but also in a larger history. As he rightly reminds us, pathogens have flitted between humans since the dawn of communal living ... Apollo’s Arrow weaves in graphs and tables, all set against crisp, concise storytelling. The book derives its title from the Iliad but wears its erudition lightly, framing our plague with sociological insights and sparkling anecdotes ... From hard-hit locales such as Brooklyn and the Sun Belt, Christakis illuminates our evolving knowledge of SARS-CoV-2, a virus initially thought to attack the lungs but now recognized as a multi-organ predator. He paints an indelible portrait of a world transformed, from goats and elephants skulking along city streets to the lifting of pollution, as in Jalandhar, India, where citizens could view, for the first time, Himalayan peaks over 100 miles away.
RaveO, the Oprah MagazineRed Comet, Heather Clark’s heroic biography of Sylvia Plath, draws on a plethora of untapped archives and letters—and even a previously undiscovered novel—to resurrect Plath ... illuminates Plath’s life in unprecedented detail. Suicide attempts take a backseat to fiercely focused genius ... Red Comet achieves the remarkable: It’s a majestic tome with the narrative propulsion of a thriller. We now have the complete story.
RaveThe Star Tribune... [an] incandescent, richly researched biography ... Red Comet takes us on a literary picaresque, drawing on untapped archives, Plath’s complete correspondence, interviews with surviving members of the couple’s social and professional circles, and, most crucially, on Hughes’ journals and letters. From both perspectives Clark evokes how their common purpose rose and later diverged, invaluable reportage missing from other books ... Clark delves deeper than biographers who have gone before: We see the poet as if peering through the Hubble Telescope for the first time, blurred galaxies and nebulas bursting into crystalline detail. Yet this gold standard of a biography does something more: Red Comet is a page-turner, particularly when Clark shifts to Plath’s final two years in England ... By centering Plath’s evolving command of craft—by focusing on her peerless lyrical ear—Clark peels away clichéd interpretations much as the poet shed her false selves ... A bravura performance, Red Comet is the one we’ve waited for.
PositiveThe Star TribuneDeLillo masterfully builds thin layers of dread and desire: Musings on Einstein; sex in a bathroom stall; chaos in the city’s streets ... The second half of the book doesn’t quite deliver on the first’s premise—a grating editorial voice occasionally intrudes—but DeLillo’s prose is always supple, his gaze into our culture’s black hole as penetrating as ever. Equal parts lush and spare, The Silence never settles for easy answers.
PositiveThe Star TribuneHe fleshes out his story with consummate authority and élan, even if he occasionally falls into the trap of elites-speaking-only-to-elites. But perhaps that elitism is purposeful, given Wagner\'s audiences. Ross is an unabashed Europhile ... Ross is particularly adept at highlighting sexual tensions, not only in the operas but also in the composer\'s life ... Ross\' book is one of this year\'s intellectual triumphs.
Bobbie Ann Mason
RaveChapter 16...vibrant ... Dear Ann steers clear of politics; this is not a war novel. Mason is more invested in charting Ann’s inner life as a passionate disciple of literature and how a first great love casts a shadow over the rest of her life ... a crisp collage, the whole of a life greater than the sum of its parts. Mason’s in complete command, from the alternate-reality premise right to the shocking plot twist at the end. Despite its serious themes, Dear Ann is a limpid, riveting read, set in a deceptively light register
RaveChapter 16What emerges is similar to a Calder mobile, an original assemblage of bright colors and jagged shards that move and twirl into a coherent, strikingly beautiful whole ... Homeland Elegies unfolds across a mash of forms, from family saga to political op-ed to Muslim history ... As with Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the narrative proper may be a farce, with the real action unfolding in a series of carefully inserted footnotes. Each section conjures its own erudite magic ... moments of vulnerability enrich our understanding. Homeland Elegies, then, is a multitude of elegies: for Akhtar’s ancestral Pakistan, for an America that’s lost its way, for Islam, for his youth, for the act of storytelling itself. And yet here he’s forged something vivid, compelling and possibly new.
RaveThe Star Tribune... a shimmering tapestry of rage and redemption ... She’s at the top of her game here, dovetailing flashbacks with foreground story in sumptuous sentences, capturing the shameful plight of World War II—and present-day—detainees. Summer argues passionately for art as our best weapon to vanquish the chaos of the present, probing the season’s gossamer mystique with a delicate array of motifs ... She\'s...a magnanimous stylist with an ear like none other, a command of both mania and poise that feels beautifully tailored to our time. With its jubilant final act, the seasonal quartet assures that Smith will be studied for decades to come, a beacon to future readers eager to wrest meaning from our turbulent moment.5
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...gorgeously crafted ... Her reporting is nimble and her sentences exquisite. But the real power of Caste lies tucked within the stories she strings together like pearls ... a luminous read, bearing its own torch of righteous wrath in a diamond-hard prose that will be admired and studied by future generations of journalists.
RaveChapter16... audacious, beguiling ... In our own pandemic era, her novel resonates, filling in the lacunae of literary history, an ode to intimate pleasures and ineffable pain ... Her novel is embroidered with humor as well as sorrow, characters true to their time and yet immediate, reminiscent of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy. Faulkner once called the Bard’s oeuvre \'a casebook on mankind\'; here O’Farrell picks up the baton of all great literature, giving us an indelible, moving book destined to stand the test of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. The test of time.
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle... exuberant if uneven ... Doty shifts between exquisite close readings and tales of his own sexual awakening, critical analysis blended with an autobiographical prose poem, a kind of call-and-response to Whitman ... A leading poet in his own right, Doty brings an attuned eye and ear to the backstory behind Whitman’s 1855 poetry collection ... This is Doty at his best: In gorgeous, calibrated sentences, he evokes the flourishes and sprung rhythms that make Whitman so contemporary, the poet’s intimate conversations with his readers, lines that we now hear as come-ons ... Less successful are Doty’s own confessions...These sections come across as self-regarding, a tad fulsome ... Quibble aside, Doty’s passion is contagious at a moment when the American body politic is under vicious assault. An assured, eloquent study of our poetic progenitor, What Is the Grass makes the case for Whitman as the medicine we need.
RaveNashville Scene...a spicy cocktail that will intoxicate readers — a few fingers of Dorothy Parker and a splash of comedian Wanda Sykes, as bracing and delicious as a cosmopolitan ... If zingers were money, she’d be a zillionaire ... her pieces crackle with conversational electricity, equal parts stand-up comedy and literary craft ... there’s a tenderness beneath the attitude. Irby approaches personal experience with a keen clinical eye ... Immersed in the sparkling flow of Irby’s prose, it’s almost possible to forget there’s a pandemic happening.
RaveThe Star TribuneA weave of gripping reportage and scientific detective story, Hidden Valley Road plumbs the heart-wrenching tragedies and surprising triumphs of the Galvins...in a page-turner ... He moves nimbly from the foreground plot to broader clinical investigations and the terra incognita of the brain ... a tale like no other ... destined to become a classic of narrative nonfiction.
RaveThe Oprah Magazines... entrancing ... Tyler is a keen-eyed but tenderhearted social observer ... Few writers flesh out the malaise of middle age with such delicate, assured strokes. Tyler is an American Vermeer whose canvases keep opening whole worlds within compact frames.
RaveThe Star TribuneIt’s a stunning capstone to an epic that’s both engrossing history and an unsurpassed literary achievement ... The Mirror and the Light is long and lacks the galvanizing presence of Boleyn, whose arc drove the earlier novels. (Henry’s third and fourth queens, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, are realized here, but they’re no match for Boleyn’s Lady Macbeth antics.) Mantel has far more political ground and plot twists to cover, requiring a reader’s patience with the intricacies of backroom deals and the fledgling Reformation. But the narrative never feels like a maze; Mantel’s language sings gloriously across the register, from lyric to comic to tragic, her punctuation and use of pronouns as liquid and expressionistic as Monet’s brushwork in his late canvases ... The Mirror and the Light is a diadem of riches, binding together the complex pieces of Cromwell’s character while leading inexorably toward the scaffold. With the trilogy now complete, Mantel cements her position as one of our greatest literary stylists and innovators.
RaveThe Oprah MagazineThe Mirror & the Light bears the stamp of Mantel’s genius; it’s a richly hued mural of meticulous research, enthralling characters, and expressionistic language. She is our literary Michelangelo. In Cromwell, a striver who will do anything to survive, she lets us glimpse the invention of modernity. Teeming with pageantry, intrigue, sex, and salvation, The Mirror & the Light reflects the looming tensions of every era, between those who hoard power and those who crave it.
RaveThe Star Tribune... absorbing ... Inskeep...deftly traces how the marriage mirrored the era’s ferment ... Vibrant and propulsive, Imperfect Union is by far Inskeep’s strongest book, reminiscent of work by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham. Inskeep re-creates the darker currents beneath Manifest Destiny while rescuing John and Jessie from the margins of history, seeing them as precursors to the epic struggles ahead ... a pure delight to read, but beneath Inskeep’s stylish sentences lurk astute insights, illuminating the outsized role celebrity plays in our culture, the outward triumphs and quiet pain it inflicted on two lives that left an indelible, if neglected, mark on our politics.
RaveThe Star TribuneFatland’s anecdotes are rich and revelatory ... Sovietistan blends complex history with Fatland’s own clear-eyed reporting, the devastation of the Soviet era always in the background (and sometimes the foreground). With the Russian Bear once again on the move, she plumbs the high cost of dictatorships and the human yearning for self-determination. Sovietistan is a perspicacious, vital book about little-known places and real lives; it deserves a wide readership.
Carola Saavedra, Trans. by Daniel Hahn
RavePloughshares... mesmerizing ... Saavedra brilliantly plays with the epistolary form, crafting the letters into a story-within-a-story ... The erotic storyline peels away to reveal the author’s underlying preoccupation: the chasm of miscommunication between men and women ... It’s a testament to Saavedra’s daring that she explores our desires panoramically, careful not to judge. The novel is both visceral and spare, stitched with motifs ... the novel startles with the inevitability of fate. Obsessive love is a theme as old as the Iliad, but here Saavedra gives it her own enigmatic twist, joining the ranks of Latin American authors who are transforming our literary landscape in vivid, thrilling ways.
RaveThe Oprah MagazineMcCann, who began his career as a reporter, examines with skill and empathy the characters’ private agonies as they play out against the backdrop of war; his virtuosic storytelling conjures the confounding realities of the Israeli occupation ... Throughout, there’s a rich tension between the factual and the imagined, and in the way particular tribulations are part of a universal experience ... Apeirogon reminds us that such incandescent art evokes humility and light in the face of oppression and loss.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Booker Prize-winning writer Aravind Adiga brings fresh urgency to the issue [of the global migrant crisis] in his searing, inventive Amnesty ... Amnesty is Adiga’s most accomplished novel yet, a gorgeously crafted page-turner with brains and heart, illuminating the courage of displaced peoples and the cruelties of those who conspire against them.
RaveOprah Magazine... electrifying ... In taut, propulsive sentences, Moore draws on the police procedural in conjuring a community on the brink while exploring tensions between two sisters on either side of the thin blue line ... the author has something more transgressive in mind—that is, to use the tropes of crime fiction in composing a deeper morality tale in which the heroes and villains commingle and even change places. Among the first novelists to dive into the riptides of the opioid crisis, Moore navigates assuredly through plot twists and big reveals ... equal parts literary and thrilling—a compassionate, multidimensional look at an epidemic that surrounds us ... it’s got all the ingredients that make for an unputdownable mystery, but it’s got something more, a narrator who leads you into unexpected places, and keeps surprising you until the end.
RaveThe Star TribuneThomas Pierce\'s debut collection, Hall of Small Mammals, taps the aquifer of Southern literature but blends in supernatural elements with a light, deft touch, echoes of García Márquez among the biscuits and magnolias. A praline sweetness glazes the surface of these stories, offset by the occasional bitter aftertaste. Pierce knows his people well, connecting their conflicts to a deeper narrative about the human condition ... Although these stories are suffused in whimsy, Pierce plumbs the darkness that laps at his characters\' lives. He\'s particularly astute in his grasp of the ways men oppress each other, the joys and limitations of the father-son relationship.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...vibrant, trenchant ... The Economists’ Hour...vividly narrates the advance of Friedman and his peers out of academia and into the marbled corridors of Washington, D.C. ... Appelbaum paints a lavish group portrait, from the famous, such as Paul Volcker and Arthur Laffer, to more obscure figures, among them Walter Oi and George Stigler ... To those familiar with Appelbaum’s Twitter feed, his sense of humor is whimsical, leavening the dense history and reflected here in headings such as \'Bubble Trouble\' and \'Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There.\' The Economists’ Hour tacks back and forth across the decades, occasionally diffusing the force and clarity of his storytelling ... Appelbaum’s conclusion is stirring, as he brings a moral purpose to the inequity that plagues our politics today[.]
RaveThe Star Tribune... a slender yet potent study that illuminates how the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments...were hammered into the Constitution ... With The Second Founding, Foner offers a taut, absorbing companion piece to his magisterial Reconstruction, published three decades ago ... Foner strikes a note as clear as a bell: We cannot sustain a third founding.
RaveThe Star TribuneNow with her searing, poignant, often hilarious Out of Darkness, Shining Light, she upends the conventions of historical fiction ... [narrator] Halima is a kind of African Wife of Bath...bossy, brassy and brilliantly realized ... Gappah\'s treatment of her characters\' odyssey, by turns playful and tragic, is underpinned by a larger theme: the legacy of colonization ... Out of Darkness, Shining Light beautifully evokes the moral ambiguities that lurk within the human heart, revealing a talent that continues to grow from book to book.
RaveThe Star TribuneBenjamin Moser’s authorized biography, Sontag: Her Life and Work, is an epiphany of research and storytelling, the definitive life of a writer both more and less than the myth she fastidiously crafted...[with] many juicy revelations ... Sontag strides across Sontag like a colossus ... But Moser’s no hagiographer; he details Sontag’s middling fiction, her petty grievances, a childlike inability to take care of herself ... A searching meditation on the divided self, a warts-and-all appraisal of Sontag’s behavior, scrupulous readings of her texts: all speak to Moser’s luminous achievement.
RaveChapter 16The stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret comprise a kind of magic show, a mystical whirl of light and dark, humor and heartbreak. His new collection, Fly Already, transports us into his quirky yet profound world, shaped by an obsession with the twinned masks of comedy and tragedy reminiscent of writers as varied as George Saunders, Gary Shteyngart, and Isaac Bashevis Singer ... To Keret’s credit, he never brings the Palestinian conflict into full focus, allowing his characters (usually men) to stumble through mishaps of their own making .. Their reversals of fortune are both sudden and moving ... Keret’s ear for the whacky and revelatory is pitch-perfect ... Keret’s stories are not all created equal, but happily the misses are few. Fly Already showcases a writer with a wealth of tricks up his sleeve and a rich, slangy voice, a recognized talent on the global stage who deserves a wider American audience.
PositiveChapter 16... a big-hearted, capacious novel, like the dwelling at the center of it, with Dickensian touches throughout. Its characterization varies with mileage, but the novel’s exploration of family and place is as searching as any in Patchett’s oeuvre, as she limns the pain of even the most privileged. There’s an affecting twist in her final act, leading to yet more tragedy ... Danny’s celestial city proves elusive, but as Patchett suggests, the striving may be the point, even if it leaves a bittersweet taste to \'happily ever after.\'
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHorrocks shines as she renders the Montmartre demimonde in Day-Glo colors, as provocative as a Toulouse-Lautrec canvas. Deftly she plumbs the singular zeal — and occasional neuroses — that drive artists toward achievement as well as self-destruction ... In the second half, the novel’s tension slackens: The decades roll on predictably as Horrocks slips into a formulaic groove that traces the composer’s later years, although cameos from Jean Cocteau and Claude Debussy add sparkle...Fortunately, an elderly Louise rescues the drifting narrative ... Feisty to the end, she remembers her brother’s youthful triumph, a coda to the grand themes that The Vexations explores with grace and conviction.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe trope of the absent child often casts a grim shadow over our literary landscape but rarely with the acute psychological insights of Chia-Chia Lin’s poised debut ... Lin conjures these quotidian lives in a shimmering prose ... If you’re expecting a quirky Alaskan story along the lines of the old television series Northern Exposure, think again: Lin guides us subtly but relentlessly into a wilderness of anguish ... But the bleakness here is redeemed by Lin’s honesty and honed craft, her masterful evocation of the Last Frontier ... And Lin’s characters are fully realized ... The Unpassing is the work of a mature artist, an eloquent, unsparing testament to the vicissitudes of our lives, how love can plunge us into the brutal cold of a long Arctic night.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"... Smith spins a beguiling, faceted tale, stirring with underground resistance, ordinary folks doing extraordinary things in the name of morality ... The prose here is vintage Smith: slangy and acerbic but speckled like a quail’s egg with lyrical insights ... With its inventive twists, all-too-human cast and wrenching political reckoning, Spring ushers in a fresh season of Ali Smith’s genius.\
RaveChapter 16... [a] gimlet-eyed, laugh-out-loud collection ... zingers enliven the collection while simultaneously dispensing practical advice ... big-hearted ... Pride and Prejudice reimagined as an episode of Designing Women. Ellis draws back the curtain on a class-bound milieu, detailing the polite way to travel on planes, the virtues of mayonnaise and mail-order hams, but with cutting insights about our troubled times.
PositiveNashville Scene\"... richly drawn, propulsive ... There’s much distinctive storytelling in Losing Earth ... Losing Earth beautifully underscores what it would mean to lose our Earth, but also plots a few steps — wobbly, tentative — toward saving it.\
RaveChapter 16\"... Emily Skaja writes with astonishing skill and versatility ... Variety is Skaja’s game: she deploys non-sequiturs and elliptical imagery with surgical precision, seeking power in contradiction, masking a drama impossible to disguise ... [Skaja\'s] emotional range keeps extending as the collection unfolds ... Emily Skaja brings an inventive imagination and fearless pursuit of craft to Brute, a voice fully formed in a captivating first book. We can expect great things from her in the future.\
PositiveThe Star Tribune\"Gingerbread struggles to find its emotional sweet spot, leaning into self-conscious flourishes and a plot that occasionally feels unmoored, devoid of gravity, an Escher drawing in print. Oyeyemi loves to poke us in the eye. Only in the novel’s stirring last act, as Harriet, Margot and Perdita seek out Gretel with the help of a creepy real estate agent, Miss Maszkeradi, does Gingerbread come together ... For all her shape-shifting sentences, Oyeyemi still gives us dashes of lyricism; few writers can milk an ellipsis with such dramatic precision ... With this final hook, Gingerbread rises to the level of Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird, revealing Oyeyemi as a master of literary masquerade, forging a singular art.\
PositiveNashville Scene\"There are stylistic echoes of Joan Didion — terse yet beautiful writing, a bracing honesty — in the graceful new essay collection by Emily Bernard ... Didion’s essays are models of clinical observation, but Bernard leads us into her inner landscape with candor and confession. Beneath her still surfaces, a rage roils ... This is an essayist who takes risks, casting real people as characters ... Small moments open onto piercing revelations about race ... Black Is the Body often rises to a taut lyricism, rich in detail and feeling ... As is often the case with collections, Black Is the Body is uneven ... Quibbles aside, Black Is the Body marks the debut of an essayist in command of her gifts, a book that belongs beside the best of contemporary autobiography.\
PositiveBarnes & Noble Review\"... The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence In Human Evolution explores in rich detail ... The first half is maddeningly repetitive and often textbook-dull; Wrantham can’t quite shed the tweeds and lecterns of academia ... But as its pieces jigsaw into place, The Goodness Paradox picks up velocity, its themes emerging with force and clarity ... Once The Goodness Paradox has methodically mapped out self-domestication and its selective underpinnings, the book shrugs off its academic chrysalis; its prose eases into graceful lines, mimicking the syndrome itself. Wrantham moves beyond biological survey into the realms of politics and philosophy.\
RaveThe Star Tribune\"Treuer blends a scholar’s tenacity with vivid reportage and personal anecdotes, but beneath his compassionate storytelling a magma of anger flows ... Treuer movingly probes the horrors of Indian boarding schools, for instance, a project dreamed up by well-meaning white progressives but destined to rip apart thousands of families, scores of children forever cut off from their parents ... The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee looks back unflinchingly at the suffering and self-reliance of Indians, sifting fresh insights from well-trod soil ... Beautifully written and argued, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee dares to imagine, even in our own cynical time, the arc of history bending toward justice.\
RaveStar TribuneA Rope From the Sky...is a masterful account of the birth and near-death of a nation. Minnesota native Vertin, a seasoned diplomat and journalist active in Sudan for decades, offers a wealth of \'you are there\' reportage and revelatory interviews with South Sudan’s founding fathers. He seams together a staggeringly complicated puzzle, re-creating the savage street battles and high-level diplomacy that has informed South Sudan’s infancy and childhood. But much of the book’s texture comes from beautiful portraits of the South Sudanese people, as they carve out lives in thatch-roofed tukuls in the bush and in Juba’s electronic shops and open-air markets. A Rope From the Sky is an invaluable contribution to the literature of global politics, an intimate diary of a young nation’s tenuous struggle to survive, and a cautionary tale of two men whose personal animus pushed their country to the brink.
David W. Blight
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...authoritative, meticulously researched ... Blight’s arc traces the familiar lines of Douglass’ story...but assiduously fleshing it out with rich detail and context ... This is scholarship on an epic yet accessible scale, occasionally dry but always vital, as Douglass’ writing, activism and contradictions speak directly to us today. Blight taps previously neglected archives to re-create Douglass’ later years ... Blight’s exhaustive, donnish approach may not suit every reader’s palate. But it’s a commanding account of a singular life, a sumptuous portrait of a crusader unyielding in his pursuit of racial justice.
RaveBarnes and Noble Review...authoritative and enthralling ... Gabriel chooses to trace, in lush, meticulous detail, the lives and careers of five women featured in that show, shifting back and forth between them, revealing their gifts and idiosyncrasies ... Gabriel astutely draws a bright line between Krasner and Elaine de Kooning ... By any metric Gabriel’s accomplishment is formidable. She brings a perspicacity to Ninth Street Women, packing exhaustive research and original reporting into a dense but richly hued narrative. Her execution is essentially perfect ... Art criticism: Gabriel is always incisive but she never trips over exegesis. She keeps her language sophisticated but smooth ... And Ninth Street Women wouldn’t be the landmark work it is without an unflinching appraisal of gender politics. Gabriel plays it fair and square ... Mary Gabriel’s magisterial book clasps each woman by the hand and waltzes her gracefully to center stage.
RaveThe Star TribuneWith Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975, British military historian Max Hastings offers a literary analogue to PBS’ series; in his introduction he acknowledges a debt to Burns and Novick. But while equally stellar, Hastings’ book skews differently, an outsider’s detailed, under-the-hood investigation into the United States’ unwinnable war; China and the Soviet Union’s chicanery; and a people determined to strip away the bonds of colonialism, even to the point of self-immolation. Richly drawn, the dramatis personae leap from Hastings’ pages. There’s moral rot aplenty, on all sides ... while the tragic arc is familiar, Hastings paints his mural in fresh hues, his strokes concise yet colorful, guiding us through each trauma-wracked episode, from the acrimonious collapse of French imperialism to the Geneva Convention’s partition of Vietnam to mounting war ... the complete story is here, masterfully told, in the tradition of David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan and Seymour Hersh.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Trans. by Anne McClean
RaveStar Tribune...a layered, meticulously observed new novel ... Vásquez’s pacing is leisurely, but a story-within-a-story emerges ... Dense and allusive, with a broad cast of characters, The Shape of the Ruins may tax the patience of American readers. It occasionally comes across as an obscure lecture on Colombian history rather than a deep dive into a country’s damaged soul ... Dense and allusive, with a broad cast of characters, The Shape of the Ruins may tax the patience of American readers. It occasionally comes across as an obscure lecture on Colombian history rather than a deep dive into a country’s damaged soul ... But stick with it. The Shape of the Ruins is far more than a tutorial; it’s a gripping Deep State novel that richly illuminates how the powerful brutalize the powerless. Its implications should serve as a cautionary tale for other nations under authoritarian threats. Vásquez has written the epic of his people.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneWhen poets turn to prose, images spark off the page and incantatory rhythms thrum in the minds of readers ... The feel of the reins is different: A taut power surges through the lines. Enter New Zealander Ashleigh Young, whose new collection of essays, Can You Tolerate This? is an edgy, vibrant portrait of electricity in language and the body in crisis ... Young infuses a quirky energy into her surreal moments ... These essays are interior, keenly felt, occasionally shocking, sprinkled with enigmatic bits of history ... Can You Tolerate This? adds up to a memoir prismed into multiple perspectives, drifting restlessly from first-person confessions to second-person meditations to third-person dramas ... In exacting sentences she probes the body’s mysteries ... These essays were reading me. She sees to the marrow of our humanity with a kind of MRI vision ... Can You Tolerate This? is an assured debut from a prodigiously talented, empathic writer whose prose shines as brightly as her poetry.
R O Kwon
PositiveNew York Journal of Books...a luminous and propulsive if uneven debut ... Kwon wisely keeps the characters cloaked in mystery, gradually revealing their tragic backstories in short, seductively impressionistic chapters ... Kwon’s language is often intoxicating, but in her drive to layer on poetic sentences she occasionally overreaches ... Her pacing in the final stretch feels rushed, wrapping up loose plot threads, as if she’s unsure about the narrative choices she’s made ... But these are minor quibbles ... The Incendiaries marks the genesis of a dazzling career and showcases a writer who pushes herself courageously into the dark.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneUnlike previous books, which focused almost exclusively on the mysteries entwined in our DNA, Zimmer chooses heredity as his subject, which includes nongenetic arcs as well. He commences with vivid historical anecdotes ... For all the rich cultural ground Zimmer covers, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh shines supernova-bright as he teases out the genomic threads of heredity. Mendel’s Law, epigenetic influences, the revolutionary CRISPR molecules — they’re all here, painted in the nuanced tones of a Renaissance master ... Zimmer’s medical investigations unfold with the suspense and flair of a novel ... a lush, enthralling book that transforms the reader with its insights.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksEach day we pillage habitats of myriad animals and plants—think of all the miles of Brazilian rain forest maimed each year—and yet nature somehow bounces back with plan B, on our own turf. Darwin Comes to Town brims with absorbing, evocative stories, but it’s also cutting-edge science; Schilthuizen, along with only a handful of biologists around the world, is plumbing the genomic mutations and natural selection erupting around us ... Darwin Comes to Town, then, is surprisingly optimistic as it dives deep into the data of HIREC, or Human-Induced Rapid Evolutionary Change. As our world grows increasingly urbanized, as we design \'green\' buildings among our congested downtowns, Schilthuizen’s book makes for essential reading. But don’t expect a dry textbook: he’s written an enthralling account that stands out from the pack of environmental literature.
RaveThe Star TribuneA Welsh native now living in northern England, Davies conjures the frontier ethos and landscape in a spare yet elegant prose. Her imagery and cadences glide beautifully into place ... Davies deftly exposes her characters’ magical thinking, how we’re all too eager to sacrifice our most intimate relationships in pursuit of personal Manifest Destinies. From a distance, West looks like a slim fable; but a closer view reveals a peculiarly American self-delusion, opening up like a vast prairie. Davies is an audaciously talented writer to watch.
PositiveBarnes & Noble\"The book bleeds purple in sections where Eisner’s admiration swells, and he rushes through the poet’s final decade: the 1971 Nobel Prize, a diagnosis of prostate cancer, Neruda’s sad, self-indulgent liaisons with his wife’s niece even as he was dying amid the Pinochet coup. But in meticulously dissecting Neruda’s poems and in mapping out the chronology of a rich if profoundly flawed life, Eisner gives us a definitive work. Neruda: The Poet’s Calling unfolds as a masterful weave of biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, a scrupulous portrait of a genius as vast and contradictory as the continent he loved.\
T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a captivating page-turner ... The book’s narrative is grounded in Marie, but brilliantly cuts back and forth between her story and subsequent sexual assaults in Denver suburbs. There’s a gripping 'you are there' immediacy as crackerjack officers and criminalists pore over scant evidence before finally homing in on their man ... The authors flesh out their through-line with vivid portraits of attacker, victims and police, speaking powerfully to our cultural moment (even as they skirt the thorny issue of due process). Rich in forensic detail, deftly written and paced, A False Report is an instant true-crime classic, taking its rightful place beside Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and Dave Cullen’s Columbine.
R. Marie Griffith
PositiveThe Barnes and Noble ReviewR. Marie Griffith probes the answers to these questions, and so much more, in Moral Combat, that rare academic work that weaves incisive research into a spellbinding tale of American piety and its restless twin, sex ... She comes by her arguments honestly...and spins her story with skill and grit. As with Frances FitzGerald’s magisterial The Evangelicals, Griffith breathes spirit into dry history, fashioning sinew and muscle onto brittle bones ... Moral Combat hews to a simple argument — those who seek plurality and change will wrestle unto death with those invested in tradition and order — making its case with vivid anecdotes ... Griffith’s diagnosis is dark but spot-on: Christianity has ruptured over the political weaponization of gender. Similar to class warfare and the legacy of slavery, reactionary puritanism is an enduring strand in our national DNA.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs he nears his 50th birthday, Giffels, a professor of creative writing at the University of Akron and a native of that city, sketches an enigmatic project: the building of his own coffin with his octogenarian father, Thomas ... As father and son embark on the project, Giffels’ longtime best friend, John, an artist, is diagnosed with fatal esophageal cancer; his rapid decline imbues Furnishing Eternity with elegiac power ... The memoir is strongest when it’s focused on Giffels and his father in the workshop, tactile and immediate, as Giffels evokes the lush grains of wood, the tools’ allure, the 'mealy' spray of sawdust. Occasionally the narrative goes slack, marred by gratuitous asides and editorializing... A varnished, carefully crafted box, a spark of life within: Here’s an obvious yet affecting metaphor for the book itself.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMukherjee tracks five characters as they migrate back and forth across the country, their stories gradually braiding together in an assured, beautiful prose. His India is a lush kaleidoscope, but one with sharp edges, mysterious shadows, vanishing crowds — a touch of surrealism pervades A State of Freedom, as in a De Chirico painting … Few writers come at the intersection of class and politics with his subtlety and compassion … Mukherjee’s accomplishment: a ravishing prose style, a lavish mural of an India that is sinister and sublime, characters that sing to us the epic of their cobbled-together country.
Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMoss and Baden deftly highlight the cognitive dissonance at the heart of the evangelicalism, how and why the faithful cherry-pick Scriptures that buttress their own beliefs while dismissing contradictions among the texts themselves ... Bible Nation is a geek’s delight, seasoned with the historical skulduggery and theological debate found in a Dan Brown novel or an Indiana Jones film. Moss and Baden draw on extensive research and interviews with a revolving-door cast of so-called experts and hangers-on, leaving no proverbial stone unturned in their quest to determine the value and validity of the Green collection, the Bible Museum’s underlying purpose. Bible Nation peels away the bark on one of the largest branches of the American family tree, using an academic story to tell a broader one: the evangelicals’ unshakable conviction in their own fantasies and the demonization of anything, or anyone, that dares to challenge them.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"In Caroline Fraser’s magisterial and eloquent biography, Prairie Fires, Wilder, in a willful act of reinvention, sanitized the people and events of her life with the support of her troubled only child, Rose Wilder Lane … From politics to art, Prairie Fires is virtually a double biography of mother and daughter and the work they forged in the crucible of their torments, creating an awesome achievement in children’s literature. Fraser assiduously avoids the sentimentality of earlier books, such as Donald Zochert’s Laura, proving herself a fearless chronicler, adept at skewering sacred cows. She’s given us the definitive biography of a self-taught writer whose pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythology cloaked the shame of poverty and airbrushed a life perpetually teetering on the brink of doom.\
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewIn the first of two planned volumes spanning the life and career of Alexander ‘Sandy’ Calder, the art critic Jed Perl argues that Calder’s greatness sprang from his canny ability to harness time and movement to explore form. Here Perl is following the lead of John Richardson, doing for Calder what Richardson, in his definitive, multi-book opus, has done for Picasso. Exhaustively researched, exuberantly written, Calder: The Conquest of Time captures in exquisite detail the first half of Calder’s life … Calder: The Conquest of Time is a dense but fulfilling read, enriched by an abundance of anecdotes and Perl’s command of art history, making a persuasive case for Calder as a colossus who blended American self-reliance with French intellectualism, looming (literally) over Europe’s avant-garde.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"The King Is Always Above the People, delivers on every level, from the intricate to the inventive, from the subtle to the sublime ... it’s Alarcón’s first-person narrators that give the collection its velocity and vulnerability in the face of love, lust, fear and cruelty ... In dazzling prose, then, The King Is Always Above the People mulls weighty philosophical questions, but through intimate personal dramas that Alarcón deftly teases out to surprise endings, a David Lynch-style menace and surrealism brewing beneath the surface of everyday lives. There’s daring and defiance in these stories, a beauty that will make your soul soar, as Alarcón ascends steadily to the top tier of American writers.\
Richard Lloyd Parry
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...nothing quite compares to the tsunami that struck the northeastern coast of Honshu, the archipelago’s largest island, on the flurry-flecked afternoon of March 11, 2011. In his vivid, suspenseful Ghosts of the Tsunami, British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry opens with his own account of that day in Tokyo...re-creates the tragic events in a cinematic style reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, weaving in and out of the central mystery...a harrowing intimacy here, as he brings us into families senseless with grief, the desire for a justice that eludes them ... Lloyd Parry’s elegant, clear-eyed prose allows him to circle ever closer to the heart of Okawa’s mystery — why virtually all the children there died, unlike any other school in the country. Part detective story, part cultural history, part dirge, Ghosts of the Tsunami probes the scars of loss and the persistence of courage in the face of unspeakable disaster.
Sylvia Plath, ed. by Peter K. Steinberg & Karen V. Kukil
MixedStar Tribune\"Readers may feel suffocated by Plath’s smarmy tone; what more can be said about a biography pored over for decades? But two ghosts haunt Volume I: Aurelia’s sanitized Letters Home (originally published in 1975), which purged allusions to her daughter’s fierce eroticism and emotional volatility, and Ted Hughes’ destruction of Plath’s late journals and ruthless editing of her work. Hence everything and the kitchen sink: The record must show all. And yet a nuanced imagination emerges from ad nauseam ramblings about term papers and tutorials, a rotating cast of boyfriends, as Plath riffs in the caustic vein that would make her famous. She confesses secrets and gossip to friends and pen pals and to Aurelia, always Aurelia.\
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWe hear Jay rather than see him — Mendelsohn artfully avoids excessive visual details, allowing Jay to define himself through bluster and unexpected moments of tenderness. He’s a marvelous character, anchoring the class discussion and nudging his son to different perspectives, not only about the Greek poem but also their family’s history ... After the class ends, father and son take an Aegean cruise that traces the path of Odysseus. Unfortunately, these scenes feel dashed off, failing to deliver on dramatic expectations. And Mendelsohn’s prose, while beautiful and precise, sporadically lapses into self-conscious flourishes ... Quibbles aside, An Odyssey is a candid, majestic book on the art of teaching and the push-pull relationship between professor and student, especially if the student is one’s father ... With this graceful and searching memoir, we all drink from the cup of knowledge proffered by one of our leading philosopher-writers.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewMargaret Jull Costa’s pitch-perfect translation evokes the textures and urgency of Carrasco’s prose ... Festering wounds, slaughtered goats, the rasp of breath, body stench: all bring us fully into Carrasco’s fictional world. There’s a David Lynchian quality to the characters as well, among them the legless owner of a village commissary and the chain-smoking bailiff, whose lusts and crimes drive him to his own doom. Perhaps Jull Costa’s brightest accomplishment here is her skill in conjuring Carrasco’s mood and pacing, the taut suspense of withholding information that eventually trails back to the doors of the very institution that glues the culture together.
Robert M. Sapolsky
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneSapolsky is that rara avis who’s both eminent scientist and elegant prose stylist ... His new book is his magnum opus, but is also strikingly different from his earlier work, veering sharply toward hard science as it looms myriad strands of his ruminations on human behavior. The familiar, enchanting Sapolsky tropes are here — his warm, witty voice, a sleight of hand that unfolds the mysteries of cognition — but Behave keeps the bar high ... a stunning achievement and an invaluable addition to the canon of scientific literature, certain to kindle debate for years to come.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn her crisply written, deeply informed memoir, The Family Gene, Joselin Linder captures the dread and fatigue that accompanies such an odyssey, how it ripples out to engulf multiple branches of a family ... Linder evokes the twists and turns of Seidman’s yearslong investigation with a wry wit and flair ... Like any memoir, The Family Gene detours into details of the author’s personal life. Linder occasionally indulges herself with vexing romances and beer-soaked misadventures as she roams from city to city after her father’s death. Less might have been more here. But her underlying insight is revelatory ... The Family Gene nails this truth in a clear, honest voice, an invaluable addition to the literature that dramatizes severe illness and its impact.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn gossamer-fine sentences, Exit West weaves a pulse-raising tale of menace and romance, a parable of our refugee crisis, and a poignant vignette of love won and lost. Hamid’s imagery is gorgeous, his sentences unfurling languidly ... Hamid portrays his characters’ plight with an aching beauty, particularly when they decide to part ... Let the word go forth: Hamid has written his most lyrical and piercing novel yet, destined to be one of this year’s landmark achievements.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...[an] exquisitely wrought if occasionally static novel ... Kitamura skillfully draws the cast and setting, creating a Hitchcockian mood among the bright colors and bleached sunlight of the Mediterranean ... [Kitamura] takes her place among a set of women authors who explore ambivalence about marriage through their female characters. There’s a classical feel to these explorations, a need to revisit — to reinvent — the old stories.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a spirited if uneven tale that depicts the triumphs and travails of two brothers, athletic prodigies whose competition threatens to tear them apart ... The elements of Selection Day are strong throughout: a dramatic, readable arc; satire glinting with hints of tragedy; a witty, vibrant voice. Adiga also deftly teases out the strands of India’s fluid society...He wrestles with transitions in places, though, especially in the first half, unwieldy sentences that escaped the eye of his editor. Fortunately, the novel loses its awkwardness as it gains velocity, illuminating a country in the throes of change as well as one boy’s troubled yet beguiling embrace of himself.
Blanche Wiesen Cook
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneEleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3 depicts ER’s emergent public persona with more detail and anecdote than in the previous two volumes, and Cook’s prose reflects that shift, with cool, crisp sentences that avoid her earlier worshipful tone. Even as Cook treads familiar history, her perspective, through ER’s eyes, is vigorous and fresh, the comparisons with our own darkening world subtle and yet potent ... Cook packing ER’s last 17 years into an afterword, a rich period in which the former first lady traveled extensively, advocating for human rights and the critical importance of the United Nations as a hub of international peace and goodwill. Despite this editorial misfire, Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3 achieves the biographer’s lofty goal: to bring ER to life through her own words and deeds.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis is no mere anthropomorphizing, but rather a deeper, quasi-religious connection to the natural world, a singular passion that shines in each paragraph ... Oliver immerses us in an ever-widening circle, in which a shrub or flower opens onto the cosmos, revealing our meager, masterful place in it. Hold Upstream in your hands, and you hold a miracle of ravishing imagery and startling revelation.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star...a nuanced, intimate portrait of this influential if arrogant figure whose theories transformed the ways we view our cities ... Kanigel is superb at fleshing out Jacobs the woman; he’s less adept at showing how her ideas evolved and were embraced across the world. Eyes on the Street is a personal story, not an intellectual history. The last third of the book is the weakest ... But these are minor quibbles when compared with the dazzling merits of Eyes on the Street. It’s an exhaustively researched, beautifully rendered tale, revealing the human contours of a vigorous, original mind.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMbue’s fluent prose captures the aspirations and flaws of both couples, trapped on opposing sides of the darkening American dream, each character staring into a chasm below ... The novel occasionally loses momentum as it moves from one domestic squabble to another, bleeding out drama. In this respect, Behold the Dreamers might have worked better as a novella or short story. But Mbue’s meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] beautifully written account ... Yong — who like Carl Zimmer belongs to the highest tier of science journalists at work today — weaves revelatory anecdotes and cutting-edge reporting into an elegant, illuminating page-turner that deserves a broad readership ... But I Contain Multitudes is hardly pure science. Yong paints a lavish mural teeming with vivid characters.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune[Mukherjee] renders complex science with a novelist's skill for conjuring real lives, seismic events...Despite the book's elegant craftsmanship, some technical sections will lose lay readers, particularly among the dense thickets of his later chapters, as Mukherjee delves into thrilling recent developments in gene therapy, epigenetics and gene 'editing.' Sometimes the specifics can't be dumbed down for the rest of us, despite a beautiful prose style.
PositiveO: The Oprah Magazine...[an] accomplished debut of longing and redemption. In lush, sinuous sentences, Alvar probes the enduring stain of race, colonialism and especially class, giving voice to all strata of Philippine society.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[The Vanishing Velazquez] elegantly weaves a narrative that is equal parts criticism, detective story and pure enchantment ... a layered, irresistible tale, one that resonates today.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneIn less gifted hands, these stories would fly apart, casualties of their own centrifugal energy. Oyeyemi remains in perfect control, though, her voice bracingly unique, with What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours a testament to her growing reputation as a contemporary master.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe novel’s sections occasionally feel discrete from one another, strung out over multiple perspectives and tense shifts; but Fidelma is a triumph, the thread that binds the narrative together. Beautifully crafted, The Little Red Chairs is a bold indictment of violence, played out in one woman’s life, an intimate canvas that expands beyond its frame, filling rooms.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneYour Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist goes long on theme and language while coming up short on story and characterization, but Sunil Yapa's voice and ambition leap off the page.
MixedMinneapolis Star TribuneAs Schiff moves into the trials and convictions, her narrative slows down, its language tightening beneath a surfeit of detail: Cotton Mather’s self-serving observations, Stoughton’s cruel reversal of Rebecca Nurse’s acquittal.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneJefferson’s method is impressionistic, discursive and often lyrical, revealing the deep divisions of black elites, who have fought silently but stoically against institutionalized white racism even as they’ve remained aloof from lower-income people of color. Negroland lifts the veil from the 'Talented Tenth,' striking at the hypocrisies still curdled beneath our conversations about race and class.