Heather Scott Partington
Heather Scott Partington is writer, teacher, and book critic. Her writing appears at The Los Angeles Times, Ploughshares’ Blog, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She is a contributor to Goodreads, Las Vegas Weekly, Electric Literature, and The Rumpus. Find her on Twitter @HeatherScottP
PositiveThe National Book Review\"... Jonathan Lethem’s The Feral Detective... pare[s] away our attachments to cliched news-cycle narratives and give us weirder, truer ones ... This is not a novel about the election or the Trump presidency, and yet it is everything that 2016 was: the power of women, the sacredness of male leadership, the division into two warring, long-entrenched parties. Lethem takes us out into the desert, removing the light pollution of those narratives we accept about civics, and in so doing, allows us to glimpse our untamed reflection.\
PositiveNewsdayAbbott’s characters speak in pithy, clipped sentences. They make doomy proclamations that tell the reader that something important and scary is coming ... Abbott writes high school well, and her alternating then/now chapters balance teenage perception and identity with the extreme competition of the adult scientific world ... Diane’s secret and the lengths she’ll go to cover it up are predictable. The subtlety of Give Me Your Hand lies in the nuance of the women’s relationship: how, particularly in our teenage years, those we idolize can be bad for us yet also push us to our greatest heights. Friendship can be both a poison and a tonic.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Sittenfeld’s collection speaks to how even happy lives can be underscored by conflict and unease. These are short stories that show how self-doubt can lead to mistrust and deception that wrecks relationships. But Sittenfeld’s prose makes them a treat — there’s something about, to borrow a phrase, \'the purity of her cynicism,\' and the clarity of her characters’ open desires.\
RaveNewsdayThe tales range from legendary to modern: everything from a single mother’s search for the perfect, daylong bath to a young girl’s refuge from her divided family in an asylum. The writer unfolds each with careful awareness of the short story form. Readers new to Diski will find a wide range of topics and styles, but always her singular social critique ... In this age when women are coming forward, claiming #metoo and reclaiming their space in artistic milieux, Diski’s stories of women choosing their own narratives sound a particularly resonant note ... It’s hard not to read these tales and lament the writer’s passing, again. But The Vanishing Princess is another radiant facet of her legacy.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneEach of Allende’s sentences curls into the next like a delicate arabesque. She is most at ease when describing the august romance that blooms between Richard and Lucia ... Allende’s characters’ lives are marked by tragedy — fate seems to have dealt them more than their fair share of darkness. But the book shines when she gives voice to the slow burn of mature love. Allende’s work can rely too heavily on stereotypes, substituting culture as a shorthand for character ... At times it seems the gravity of the plot is a bit lost on Allende and her characters. Readers who love Allende will find much to enjoy. This is a syntactically beautiful story with the twists and turns of a telenovela, and it has warmth at its center. It is a novel that touches some difficult topics: immigration, murder, spiritual belief, divorce and the death of children. Although she can sometimes take on too much, Allende writes connections well.
MixedThe Las Vegas WeeklyMuch of what Gay writes is repetitive; she writes around difficult topics, and this opacity—or desire, in some cases, to hold back information from the reader—can undermine a story that is, at other times, bold and confessional. Many of the chapters are meditations on one feeling or another, and these overlap in their ideas and tone … Gay’s work is most compelling when she tells specific stories from her life, as she does with her original trauma, subsequent moves around the country, relationships and experiences in academia. The strength of Gay’s storytelling talent shines in those moments; the specific seems more universal when given the weight of detail.
RaveElectric LiteratureIn Courtney Maum’s novel, Touch, Sloane Jacobsen returns to the United States from Paris, where she’s been hiding from grief about her father’s death for years ... Sloane’s work allows her to peek inside the minds of the people who create and design tech, and she finds that while technology has made their lives easier, it has made even the tech creators at Mammoth long for old-fashioned physical contact? — ?hand-holding, sex, the embrace of a friend ... Maum excels at depicting the subtleties of human interaction in all its various forms, particularly the different types of tension in the workplace ... One of the best qualities of Touch is how accessible Maum renders esoteric ideas ... Maum’s Touch is the right novel at the right time, but this is not to discount the author’s skill in rendering well-paced scenes attenuated to the human condition.
PositiveThe Las Vegas WeeklyStartup could be called Pride and Prejudice and Tech Bros; Shafrir turns a sharp eye on the culture of techy startups and their unspoken moral codes … Shafrir underscores the cultural differences between generations, highlighting how a single decade means the difference between Dan and Sabrina’s experience on the cusp of technology, and that of those younger, who have grown up with the certainty of the Internet … This isn’t bold, defiant satire, but the kind that highlights the thousand natural shocks of human interaction.
RaveThe Las Vegas WeeklyHamid masterfully juxtaposes the unexpected and the ordinary to both complicate the lovers’ tale and offer an important critique of current refugee crises ... Hamid uses several recurring motifs: The night sky, the plurality of languages and the shame of refugees are refrains woven artfully into this tale about the difficulties of sustaining a relationship through trauma. There’s a decidedly absurdist overtone to Exit West, as in some ways the lovers (and others) seem to be filling their time, waiting for something they have yet to discover ... Hamid’s apposition of the magic and the pedestrian forces his reader to think differently about refugees and the idea of leaving an entire country or life behind.
MixedElectric Literature...presents a loop of circular logic; while some of the writer’s essays on similar material have been clearer and more forthright, the manifesto suffers for want of a through line ... she offers her strongest critiques when going after capitalism, celebrity, and self-help culture. But much of Why I Am Not a Feminist suffers from a lack of grounding in external references or specific examples of what she’s critiquing. Whereas Crispin’s other work in essays is direct and specific, Feminist offers something less consistent ... Why I Am Not a Feminist relies the most on abstraction where it is the most angry, in its first third... [it is] at its most thoughtful when it is tackling specific issues ... The problem is that she doesn’t offer much in the way of a specific call to action. How might this be accomplished?
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThough the structure of Dear Friend is nonlinear, there are recurring preoccupations — fatalism, melodrama — that influence Li’s actions and unify the text ... A reluctant memoirist, Li’s halting prose reflects both her discomfort with the form and her trepidation about revealing too much ... Notwithstanding her own discomfort, Li has created Dear Friend from the messy intersection of reader and writer, where she has always lived. The result, though hard to classify — neither straight-ahead memoir nor straightforward literary criticism — amounts to a deeply sad story, one that nonetheless reveals, gloriously, the companionship, intimacy, and insight that can come from obsession with the written word.
RaveThe Las Vegas WeeklyMyers shows us how these songwriters artfully, purposefully and sometimes accidentally tap into our secret yearning with their own. There’s all kinds of fun stuff here ... Perhaps the greatest gift of Anatomy of a Song is its range. Myers considers widely the definitions of rock, R&B and pop, including their influences from a variety of sources. Most tender, perhaps, is his depiction of Joni Mitchell’s inspiration for 'Carey,' and he covers everything from the big sounds of 'Proud Mary' to the TV glitz of Elvis’ 'Suspicious Minds' comeback. This is a book that encourages you to go back into your record collection, to the hits you think you remember well.
RaveThe Las Vegas WeeklyDarnielle draws together lyrical diction and carefully timed doubt to build tension on every page. He leads Jeremy on a hunt for the tapes’ meaning, and parallels Jeremy’s story with a much older one about another character who has also lost her mother ... Darnielle’s non-linear timeline mirrors the broken tapes; ambiguity is wielded so artfully, it might as well be the secondary setting ... Darnielle thankfully avoids overwriting and spoiling the beautiful confusion until he draws it to a satisfying end ... Universal Harvester is a story about the children that mothers leave behind. It’s about generational dissonance, about the futility of any method of record keeping or art to preserve history or truth. Darnielle paints a haunting picture as notable for its blank spaces as its thrilling detail.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveThe National Book ReviewWhat remains true in each story, whether his characters are in California’s Vietnamese communities or in Vietnam, is that war creates breaks in family lines. Nguyen writes compelling stories that reflect these caesura, and The Refugees is a precisely rendered collection of sketches ... Nguyen’s stories are significant because they both are and are not like those of everyone else; the presentation of the refugee experience as human, and therefore relevant, written with a skillful hand. Since these stories speak to the unique refugee experience, they will garner reviews full of words like 'necessary,' 'important' and 'required.' It’s impossible not to use these words because they’re earned by his steady prose. Nguyen’s writing is a wonderful dichotomy of honesty and energy. At the same time, these are stories that will seem familiar to any reader because they’re generational, human.
PositiveThe Las Vegas Weekly...[a] gritty and shrewdly constructed meta-fiction ... Tea writes Michelle mouthfuls of agitated prose reminiscent of Salinger. As Michelle descends into a spiral of poor decisions, making always the worst possible choice, she interrogates herself on the page as she writes the story, allowing us to see her erasure of painful memories and people. Tea forces us to consider what we’d rather not remember from our own lives ... Tea shifts gears sharply mid-novel and lives out the apocalypse in a used bookstore, half-drunk on jugs of wine. Though its second half isn’t written with the same intensity as the first, Black Wave remains ambitious, raw and wholly readable.
PositiveElectric LiteratureMake no mistake that Atwood’s novel?—?like any good retelling or reworking, or new version of a tale?—?is a basket of Easter eggs. But as the reworking of an archetype, it succeeds on its own because of how Atwood employs the material she’s given?—?as a compelling story in its own right, undeniably augmented by the underlying magic of the original, and made better for being built upon such rich a rich foundation ... Through Felix’s delusions, Atwood asks important questions about the nature of theater and belief ... If there’s a quibble to be had with Hag-Seed, it’s the lack of depth Atwood gives the players, Felix’s prisoners.
PositiveElectric LiteratureThough Shaw’s premise feels at first a little thin, like it would have been better suited to the confines of a short story, eventually it is the depth of his characters’ interactions and their subsequent understanding of each other, as well as those characters’ understanding of what the trees?—?the event of their growth?—?means to each of them that elevates Shaw’s work beyond a simple journey through an unknown world to a complex and otherworldly meditation on nature.
PositiveElectric LiteratureThe Woman in Cabin 10 is a psychological thriller that’s well paced, and satisfying as a good mystery should be ... Ware wants us to consider whether or not it’s possible to be the worst kind of witness, and still be right ... it's creepy, it’s frustrating, and it’s interesting. It brings elements of our current fixations into the realm of the thriller/mystery in the best possible way.
PositiveThe Las Vegas WeeklyWappler’s novel operates on the steady mystery of the UFO, but what makes it work is its combination of tropes from the ’90s with believable, complex characters. Neon Green is not just a pop-culture romp, but rather, a careful study of family dynamics ... Wappler’s work as a reporter informs her style, which is easy and rooted in memorable character descriptions. There are times when Neon Green suffers from its slower pacing, but it is an imaginative what-if.
MixedElectric LiteratureBarrodale’s tales are witty, but they can also be lumbering. Her unusual characters are in odd stories that are sometimes difficult to connect with ... The many strengths of Barrodale’s work include the way she artfully engages characters in miscommunicative dialogue ... Barrodale’s style in the stories of You Are Having a Good Time is sparse. Sparse can work, but every once in a while her characters’ actions seem empty or methodical, devoid of purpose. The subtext is either missing or too difficult to discern through the staccato of her syntax. This is not an even collection, and as it progresses, it becomes more distant and difficult.
RaveElectric LiteratureAllison Amend’s Enchanted Islands is as bewitching as the title suggests; [a] lush and captivating tale of friendship, marriage, and espionage ... Amend’s writing is spellbinding, and her characters are complicated and richly conceived ... Amend’s characterization of the protagonist feels as rich and vibrant as her descriptions of the island. It is worth mentioning here, too, that female protagonists over 35 are rare in contemporary fiction, especially women over 35 whose lives have purpose beyond stereotypes or saccharine conclusions.
RaveThe Las Vegas WeeklyLucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women is sure to be lauded as a model of short-story writing. Berlin’s skill in telling these witty, grease- and blood-smudged tales means they are great reads—quick moments of suffering and weird shared joy. They draw attention to the dark corners and rusted-out cars where real life happens in its ugly glory ... This posthumous collection, 43 of her previously published short stories, is the world’s chance to see beauty in rusted ruins. A Manual for Cleaning Women reflects a masterful view of the world, a celebration of art in the ordinary.
MixedElectric LiteratureDaredevils stays primarily in safe emotional territory. This is the milquetoast coming of age of an underage polygamist bride; Loretta’s arranged marriage is more a function of setting than of pressing conflict ... In the case of most of Vestal’s minor characters, it feels as though there are opportunities for a stronger, darker motivation or connection ... Vestal’s polygamists are softer, nicer polygamists. And though there are some missed opportunities in Daredevils, it’s not a bad story. It’s just not one that challenges its characters as much as it could.
RaveElectric LiteratureLee’s High Dive is suspenseful, expertly paced, and an excellent read...High Dive succeeds for so many reasons, particularly the author’s strength in creating dramatic scenes with an awareness of the historical and personal significance of the events he writes into the background of his novel. But more importantly, this is a novel of sympathy for the individual, the highly personal, and the domestic.
PositiveElectric LiteratureThe Unfinished World is slightly unbalanced, but offers more than it leaves the reader desiring. What Sparks presents—especially in the first stories of the collection—is a flair for the shorter short story. Sparks understands timing, juxtaposition, and how to create original characters within the confines of a short work.