RaveAir MailSo, it seems churlish to talk about mourning the loss of pleasure. But what about the relief and flooding happiness that accompanies its re-introduction? That is the state I found myself in while reading Lorna Mott Comes Home, the divine Diane Johnson’s latest propulsive novel—her 12th—a layered yet airy confection. I felt like someone awakened from a coma to the taste of chocolate or the look on my own children’s faces when they first encountered ice cream, a wonderment that something this delicious might pass this way again ... Johnson is a master plotter and soon...loose and lonely threads knot up into an unlikely but entertaining story that is hard to put down ... Johnson specializes in piercing, satirical wit, and though this novel’s various husbands, children, and grandchildren are at times clearly suffering, as is our heroine, I often found myself chuckling mordantly ... you might as well read about someone else’s messy fun in a book just like this one.
Joyce Carol Oates
RaveThe New York TimesAs is true for many of the mournful stories in Joyce Carol Oates’s trenchant and moody new collection, her wonderful Blue Guide is a rhapsodic elegy for the vanishing possibilities of life ... These are dark stories about dark days, suffused, like most of Oates’s work, with themes of violence, loss and longing. She offers possibility here, too, but only as if to say that while the myriad choices we can make may produce wildly different journeys, none of us, ultimately, is spared.
MixedAir MailThere are five parts to this \'nove\'l (not counting the Preludial, an Interludial, and a Postludial, plus Afterthoughts and an addendum), and each part contains roughly four or five chapters. Within all of this are bouts of fiction and nonfiction and memoir. There are also photographs and long footnotes, which at times make reading a chore ... It’s hard to know what a young writer might glean from all this. Inside Story is one complicated compilation of writing. The word \'hodgepodge\' comes to mind ... One of the many positive things one can say about Amis as a writer, besides his being smart and possessing a well-stocked mind, is that he loves deeply ... Fiction and nonfiction cover such similar territory that I found myself losing track of what it was that his student reader, or anyone, was supposed to learn from the shifting stance, happening sometimes in mid-scene, mid-flight ... the How to Write advice disappears for long stretches of pages, only to disjointedly rear its head here and there with grammatical lessons in tow—some more intriguing than others ... In a chapter titled Things Fiction Can’t Do, Amis lists \'Sex\' at No. 2, after \'Dreams.\' At that point I wanted to send him paper airplanes embossed with great sex scenes written by, I don’t know, Toni Morrison, James Salter, Jeanette Winterson, and James Baldwin. Marguerite Duras. Elena Ferrante, whom he dismisses here in an aside ... If you tire of \'Mart\' and \'I,\' Amis includes the short story Oktober, previously published in The New Yorker and plopped down here, nearly whole hog, in the middle of the book ... Amis is also uxorious, and so I first delighted in his heartfelt appreciation and deep regard for his beautiful and brilliant wife—I was happy for them! But many pages in I tired of their witty repartee, and wondered if they ever turned it off ... Still, the pages devoted to \'the principals\' were fascinating and gutting. Amis’s devotion to Hitchens is very affecting, their friendship an everlasting love affair between two people who were meant to go through life together, their habits and language carefully cultivated by the shared time they’ve clocked. The patience Amis shows his hero, Bellow, as the Nobel laureate slips away into a demented fog, brought me to tears.
Lynn Steger Strong
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewI empathized with Elizabeth, the confessional narrator of Want, Lynn Steger Strong’s moving second novel ... As a narrator, Elizabeth is smart and funny and literary to the marrow. The books she inhales for sustenance have turned out to be a great addition to my own pandemic pile. (Thank you, Ms. Strong.) But her tale of woe is in many ways painfully familiar, and Want often reads like the plotless treadmill diary of a 30-something artist-class white Brooklynite who was born into what she unrealistically thought was a safer, more forgiving world. As I read on, engaged, sympathetic and often frustrated, I found myself in that strange space of feeling deeply for her predicament, yet wanting to shake sense into her: Keep your two lousy jobs and send your husband back to work! But what looks at first glance like a couple too entitled and spoiled to face the music ultimately lays bare what happens to people so vulnerable and idealistic that they are seemingly unable to climb out of the hole they’ve dug together. Viewed from that angle, the book proved more interesting, and it turns out some of the heroine’s fecklessness is related to long-ago psychological torment that brought both Elizabeth and Sasha to their knees ... While it doesn’t fix the world or even pay the rent, in companionship there is grace.
RaveAir Mail...it’s been no secret that Colum McCann is one of the most compassionate writers alive, but, wow: his new book not only enters the hearts and minds of all its characters; it also validates my faith in the novel as a relentlessly resourceful and powerful form. Apeirogon is a wrenching and repetitive book, structurally inventive ... At its core, this is a fierce and brave rendering of the Middle East crucible from numerous angles ... McCann deftly elides sentiment. Instead...he conveys life’s hard truths effectively and indelibly, shedding new light upon what is both unthinkable and also now frighteningly ordinary—we kill our neighbors’ children every day.I had to keep putting the book down to gather the strength to go on. By repeating their stories, both Bassam and Rami, and also McCann, get to the heart of grief itself, its agonizing tenacity, and the unbearable tedium of its cruelties ... In a cultural moment where the question of who-has-a-right-to-what-story is argued all the time, McCann validates my belief in the writer’s right to go where his obsessions and imagination take him, and, as in this work of fiction studded with fact, to produce myriad, penetrating rays of truth.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThat Kind of Mother...is both provocative and vexing ... Alam shrewdly explores the complexities of caregiving as employment, illuminating issues of class and race that arise when people are paid to do hard, dirty work and, in essence, to provide love. While Rebecca’s life is an open book, Priscilla is private—a dynamic yet contained character whom anyone who’s spent time with middle-class American parents and their babysitters will recognize all too well ... The book’s central issues—white privilege and transracial adoption—are lived with but not fully reckoned with, either dramatically or even, for all of Rebecca’s optimistic navel gazing, internally. While Alam depicts Rebecca’s faults with a natural-born observer’s smart and funny gaze and a heightened sense of irony, I wasn’t always sure what to make of her ... In Rebecca, he has created a flawed and sometimes irritating character who fully and completely loves her children—adopted and biological, black and white—beyond reason, because she is their parent. It is that all-consuming, passionate and annoying parental love that resonates and gives this book its value. It also rings true. In this sense, both the author and the character he searched both inside and outside of himself to create ultimately perform the jobs they were meant to do.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewIt opens like a movie; you can almost hear the swelling soundtrack, promising a good old-fashioned, escapist story, even as it is imbued with a knowing — and often hilarious — satirical edge. And it ends like a movie, too, with a heaping helping of tied-up satisfaction … Beautiful Ruins is his Hollywood novel, his Italian novel and his Pacific Northwestern novel all braided into one: an epic romance, tragicomic, invented and reported (Walter knows his Cleopatra trivia), magical yet hard-boiled (think García Márquez meets Peter Biskind), with chapters that encompass not just Italy in the ’60s and present-day Hollywood, but also Seattle and Britain and Idaho, plot strands unfolding across the land mines of the last half-century — an American landscape of vice, addiction, loss and heartache, thwarted careers and broken dreams.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere are some fascinating examinations of the shifting culture as filtered through Andrea’s various iterations: the art student, hungry for approval; the single woman at her best friend’s side, feeling more warmly toward this TriBeCa yummy-mummy now that her financier husband has ditched her and their baby, somehow evening out the score ... It’s intriguingly provocative on Attenberg’s part to make a protagonist this insensitive and, dare I say it, immature ... It’s no easy task to build a novel around a character who doesn’t necessarily evolve, or perhaps evolves quietly, with baby steps, on tiptoe, close to the finish line, and maybe, please God, it’s not too late. But for all the dark clouds coasting overhead, Attenberg, with her wry sense of humor, manages to entertain and move us nonetheless.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...a moving and compassionate literary dive straight into the heart of a frantic parent ... Parkhurst is a sincere and crafty writer. Alexandra’s perspective on the grueling history of her efforts to care for Tilly is presented in the second-person present tense, yielding a shatteringly immediate portrait ... Harmony is an intriguing book, although I’m not sure it’s my kind of book: the sentences lack the architectural ingenuity that feeds my reading habit, and the adult characters, while full of angst, lack singularity.