Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won
RaveThe Washington PostHan Kang espouses a[n]...affinity for these territories of syntax and meaning; she also excels at capturing the ways in which they can be lonely and inaccessible ... The book is told in alternating perspectives, and the student’s chapters are written at a remove, in the third person. They reveal in subtle scenes of recollection and routine a heartsick person trying to access expression again, without her voice ... Han is at her best when focusing on the physicality of language, and readers of her previous work, most notably her acclaimed novel The Vegetarian, will recognize her flair for depicting a kind of voluptuous disgust ... The prose Han deploys, at once evocative and elliptical, complements her characters’ inner torment and alienation. There is a sense of inevitability when at last the protagonists begin, touchingly, to communicate with one another ... Demonstrates the breadth of Han’s writing style ... A silence spreads, at once captivating and distancing.
RaveGawkerStands out by virtue of how successful she is in the attempt. In fact at moments it feels quite far from the fray, perhaps because...her pieces, even her sentences, tend to conclude ambivalently, and are driven throughout by a curiosity that resists its own moral and rhetorical instincts, forging narrative ones instead ... Texts that appear in Strangers are rich ground for layered readings: poetic, humorous, impassioned, or else curiously vacant ... In trying to articulate what makes Aviv’s writing so generative and particular I keep gravitating to her style, unusual for a reporter or essayist exploring the \'psychic hinterlands,\' as Aviv puts it, \'where language tends to fail\' ... I am impressed by Aviv’s deft manipulation of studies, academic treatises, doctor’s notes, and interviews, but I am moved by her commitment to weaving uncertainty, mystery, and devotion into these narratives as well. It’s writing that aspires to spare nobody the anguish of its ambivalence, and yet helping to illuminate a subject’s particular suffering or ecstasy can be a gift. At its best the words wield this dimensionality like a threshold, which I envision not as a window onto a subject’s soul, but like a door that stays open for anyone wishing to be welcomed as a stranger.
MixedThe New York Time Book ReviewThe novel’s laser focus is on our present moment, and reading The Displacements is like bingeing a monthslong news cycle in six hours. It plods along boasting all the shock and awe of constant updates, yet by the end the narrative seems canned. There are bad characters and good ones; the latter either learn their lessons in time or are martyred victims of circumstance. The climax involves flying bullets and tornadoes. Then the clouds part, revealing a somewhat sunnier financial situation for the Larsen-Halls than previously forecast ... Although the novel’s subjects could not be more important, its suffocating eventfulness doesn’t leave room for much besides America’s steadily swelling storm. There are stoked resentments and greedy politicians and heartless corporate actors and sociologists and artists and enough guns to outnumber them all. Each is viewed through the lens of a spiraling speculative logic in which disaster is about to happen, has already happened and is happening, all at once. The air is heavy from the start, making the tragedies that do occur in the narrative so light they drift above our heads ... This sort of atmosphere usually prevails in the media, rather than in the pages of a novel. It’s increasingly possible to pass a good deal of one’s time scrolling through the worst moments of other people’s lives, as if the eye of the hurricane is a sort of dance partner one must keep in step with. In this way The Displacements is a thorough translation to fiction of what it can feel like to live right now. It’s hypnotic, it’s upsetting, there are stakes, you still haven’t been blown away.
Alejandro Zambra, tr. Megan McDowell
PositiveBookforumToward its beginning the novel is heavy on twee machismo that isn’t offensive so much as pesky, and much more prevalent in Zambra’s early novels ... The narration, again consistent with much of Zambra’s previous fiction, features a cheeky authorial voice who occasionally interrupts the close third to make metafictional cracks ... Then there are those signature Zambra sentences, those reckless, rambling sentences that proceed like sleepwalkers traversing the same crosswalk, heedless of traffic lights ... As for Zambra’s realization of character: nobody is ever not in the mood for sex. Nobody does anything at a reasonable hour if they can help it. Often the women possess a sort of mystical introspective wisdom. The men are not wise, but love fiercely, as does everyone—the women, the children—unless they are a fascist, a fascist schoolteacher, or a deadbeat dad. There is something contrived but comforting, too, about a world where every passion is dispatched at night and every true thought is coupled with a false one—a reading and writing world, and an artistic one regardless of whether its characters make art ... Though Zambra’s latest dwells primarily in youth (or maybe it’s even fair to say in his younger novels), it does in many strange and enthralling ways mature as one reads it. Time almost always moves forward—two generations get their moment in the sun, governments transition—but more to the point, the novel’s occasionally self-referential author-voice changes, becomes less tortured and vain, more attentive and funny as the pages turn. This voice never remarks naively upon its own progress or belittles the journey at its end, but changes constantly, subtly, over time and line by line, through processes of repetition ... Reading Chilean Poet, one arrives at the sense that everything there is to say about literary lives has already been said, but that isn’t at all a bad thing.
PositiveThe Nation... excellent and exhaustive, but sometimes too spellbound ... though [Lee] may also wish to garland Stoppard’s life and legacy with a sense of resolution, it’s not her prerogative to prop him up as a sympathetic or romantic figure. Not all brilliant lives thrill and seduce their audiences in a matter of minutes; some are long, guarded, and appropriately dull.
PanThe DriftAlam is drawn to characters resigned to lives of quiet consumerism, shaping the novel around a couple of well-to-do, internet-addled families at a vacation home. As the families weather mysterious indications of a far-reaching and deadly disaster and their placid retreat mutates into a shelter from apocalypse, they carry on with their drinking and small-talk, never knowing what to feel or what to do. Without entertaining alternatives, they continue to shut out the world and cling to the security of their exclusive, expensive clan. The novel courts indifference and is ultimately bested by it, cast out like its characters on the shimmering surface of experience to face oblivion ... what’s less exciting in this novel is the game itself, fixed such that all points accrue to the same column: everyone’s clueless, and a bit of a philistine ... The novel was advertised and reviewed as a Get Out -style thriller that’s likewise an examination of anti-Black racism as well as an apocalypse horror story with science-fiction elements. After a few chapters that introduce us to Clay and Amanda’s family, these ingredients begin appearing on the page, but not with the insistence or subversion needed to steer the novel away from its consuming subject: how frustratingly vapid its characters are, swaddled in their fog of inexactitude ... Although the stakes are high, the prose is constantly emphasizing the futility and insignificance of it all ... With pointless remarks like this the reader is kept circling the themes and issues that the novel purports to engage, but never gets any closer. This holding pattern style of writing might generously be said to reflect the listless machinations of Alam’s characters’ minds, but it isn’t always clear ... I’ve yet to read a review of it that didn’t also call it \'prescient\' — but about what? ... Uncertainty is the novel’s reason for being and answer to everything. It’s the only plausible villain and a primary psychological component of each character’s interiority save for G.H., who prides himself on knowing things but only seems foolish in the end, too ... The glib cynicism comes too easily, is not earned.
RaveThe Nation... quite unburdened, almost light, the obverse of the embellished brooding so characteristic of campus novels ... plot structure and themes, can, at times, be almost archetypal ... Rooney’s prose style is elegant and clipped. She writes of psychological pressures with gentle precision and leaves her sentences largely unadorned. A combination of simple plotting from above plus subversive attachment from below (both in terms of the protagonists’ breaking of social rank and the private intensities of their relationship) holds the reader close. I especially love Rooney’s conjurings of inclement weather ... Rooney fills the form with her own ideas. As with any great novel of manners, Normal People’s politics manifests itself in the building of characters, not the rhetorical proving wrought through individual conversations ... What’s rare about Normal People is that it has something to say about literary ambition...Even rarer is that it announces this earnestly.
PositiveThe Village VoiceThe interconnected tales never grow into a conspiracy, given how expertly the distances between characters are calibrated. As a consequence, inexact doubles proliferate; altered versions of dinner party guests stumble home. As with much of Mathews’s writing, The Solitary Twin is a problem of numbers, which language resolves, or at least subdues with bubbling intoxicants. The town speaks as one out of many; the twins as many out of one.
PanThe Village VoiceTangerine’s strength is its propulsive, tightly drawn plot, especially toward the end, and exhibition of tried-and-true thriller themes. The central relationship between Alice and Lucy strongly recalls Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley in its frenetic pace, homoerotic implications, stark class divide, and mutual obsession ... Although actually, the book feels more like a screenplay for the movie version, a text in which each line advances the plot, selects a mood or a time of day, but appears far too untroubled by artistic intention, novelty, or intrigue ... The imperious conflation of personal drama with the coinciding fight for Moroccan independence is flat-out unbearable.
RaveThe Village VoiceHalliday’s novel is a gutsy meditation on the despoilment of symmetry in literature and the lives flung somewhere about its orbit. Her structures and characters interrogate — sometimes with journalistic precision, sometimes with journalistic ambivalence — the imbalances upheld in establishment publishing circles, the costs of projected self-worth, Western imperialism, and what might be achieved by writing whose creator aches to feel personally responsible for it. Refreshingly, it’s a roving book about intersecting lives in which fate is never invoked; each major association between characters is forged quite nakedly from authorial ambition.
RaveThe Village VoiceAs is typical of Johnson’s writing, these final stories favor situations where people are flung together by instinct or chance rather than a good sense of direction: inmates, addicts (in rehab), writers (in academia), families ... Johnson always wrote as if beyond the grave and at the bottom of one. He wasn’t afraid to own up to large, prophetic emotion, or low-down material suffering. The movement between the two, the trembling exchange of one state of consciousness for another, fixed him an elixir of estranged notes. And he was never stolid over endings, in fact they brought out the best in him, displaying the titanic struggle of his words ... This discarding of armor was assuredly a lifelong project, and in no other work of Johnson’s I’ve read has he appeared so stripped down.
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveThe Village VoiceThough sketched with the lineaments of horror, these stories strive not to reheat cold psychopathies, but to gently reflect back the kinds of fears, passions, and persuasions that aren’t often coaxed to the surface, because they almost go without saying. Or could — especially if you happen to be a woman with a body...Machado’s eight creepily poignant stories, many of which are stained with supernatural elements, are much more given to portraying ghosts than monsters ...has already emerged a master of several beloved genres (horror, fantasy, magical realism), combined with a varied, empathetic exploration of female embodiment, in particular physical and emotional threats (mostly from men), sexual pleasure (mostly from women), disordered eating and other illnesses, and child-bearing.
MixedThe Village Voice\"Stylistically, the novel is a frenetic, pulpy mash-up that talks like the goddess of all blogs — maddeningly self-aware yet casually funny — and is at its best when it indulges in a kind of American grotesque ... often a jarring, unnecessary ethical order is imposed upon the text rather than arising shaggily from the novel’s mayhem. A glaring instance is Jasper’s interwoven story, which, while thematically in the same romantically challenged universe as Hazel’s, functions awkwardly as a detachable part...Similarly, I couldn’t square the book’s many outrageous scenes with the naïve plot devices that overlay them ... Still, Hazel emerges naturally enough as the book’s ethical anchor, grounding the madness of bloodlusting corporate mind control in familiar anxieties about aging, failing at succeeding, and feeling unlovable for incalculable reasons.\