RaveLos Angeles TimesThough Lawrence is the inspiration, it isn’t his energy that dominates Second Place. Instead I sensed the residue of Anita Brookner’s weary protagonists: bright, cultured women who know what they’re missing out on and resent those who keep it from them ... As Cusk hits all the high notes of indignant rage, this book snaps and steams ... the mere existence of Second Place makes me wonder if she found the Outline trilogy as cleansing as so many of us did ... Cusk’s open experimentation is refreshing, as is her belief that a writer must keep moving forward, forging a rough chain.
PanLos Angeles Times\'Memoir or fiction?\' the back cover asks. \'The reader decides\'...The real question is: Does the reader care? Each story is like the greenery filler in a grocery store bouquet: stiff and charmless, background fodder, indistinct organic matter. They’re like copies of copies of copies of Murakami’s older work; all the specificity and vivacity is blurred out. The women are rubbed down into featureless nubs, the men deflated caricatures — popped balloons. The only appeal left to make to the reader is the brand name on the cover ... Murakami has never been the recluse of popular repute, but First Person Singular, his fifth story collection and 22nd book, arrives as he seems more willing than ever to commodify his bigger-than-cult status ... The eight stories in First Person Singular share a deadening lack of curiosity ... Unlike the best of Murakami, in which strange coincidences subsume the characters’ lives, pulling them into vast underground conspiracies that reorient their (and our) relationship with the \'normal\' world, First Person Singular butts up against oddities and then walks away, slightly bewildered ... But sheer snooziness isn’t the collection’s worst offense. Murakami’s treatment of women is abhorrent. He disregards women as interchangeable and unremarkable for anything other than their looks: of all the women in these eight stories, only one has a name ... Namelessness, especially in a collection that plays with notions of authorial identity, isn’t such a grievous offense on its own. But the collection on the whole is dismissive of women as creatures of intellect and agency, and so bent on spotlighting its own ignorance that it feels less like a stylistic move than a simple refusal to see women in three dimensions. After writing a long string of hypersexualized teen girls, Murakami ought to hope we read all these as fiction and pretend that the \'is-it-memoir\' question is merely a literary stunt.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewDeterioration marks every aspect of Landslide, which is enveloping and warm, if slightly undercooked and sometimes flat-footed ... Conley’s writing can be uneven, but there’s a lot of heart in it — a compliment that sounds treacly but is meant earnestly. She has a gift for writing tiny, meaningful interactions ... Conley isn’t afraid to inject a little hope that these creatures will find their way back home.
MixedThe Los Angeles Times... either a work of genius or an exasperating endurance trial. Never before has a novel left me so internally polarized. Should I revel in its cathartic eventual escape from social media, or pan it for wallowing so, so long in the very online? I am, as a famously wounded suitor once put it, half agony, half hope ... You read it the way you scan social media, hopping from one thought to another; if Lockwood could have delivered her manuscript in a scrolling format, I think she might have ... in part a micro-history of mid-2010s Twitter ... [Lockwood] succeeds brilliantly in reflecting the online experience, but at a cost: The anecdotes that start out as wry or clever eventually turn overly punchy, like a friend who forgot to drink water between shots. If this is what she wants, it’s effective but annoying. If I’m in a novel, I want to be in a novel, I kept thinking, not in a Twitter simulation ... Instead of raising new ideas about what constitutes a novel, No One Is Talking About This evokes dread of its long-predicted death ... It’s a shame — to jam all that richness and revelation into the one place a critic dare not spoil, never mind how exquisitely it fits against the narrator’s internet-scrambled psyche ... If No One Is Talking About This is an experiment in form, it’s one that can only be redeemed by conceding its own failure, admitting that it needs at least some of the structure and heart of the traditional novel to dig beneath glib artifice.
emily m. danforth
RaveLos Angeles Times...there are times when a reader wants nothing more, and nothing less, than an exquisitely plotted, winkingly crafted romp. Plain Bad Heroines, a queer historical meta-novel by Emily Danforth with at least a dozen layers of formal flourish, is joyfully and delightfully middlebrow; I say this with reverence in my tone and adoration in my heart. It’s 600 pages you can read in a weekend, a supersized Slurpee that will satiate you and leave behind a sugar high ... There are direct asides to the dear reader, George Eliot-esque epigraphs and even ink sketches of bustle-skirted ladies in distress. It’s also — to use a word rarely employed in high praise — fun ... There is no literary embellishment in which Danforth won’t indulge. Her narrator winks at us from the footnotes ... In less dexterous hands, this sort of high-camp homage — which pops up perennially from novelists as varied as Susanna Clarke, Marisha Pessl and Reif Larsen — could fail spectacularly ... She’s gifted at braiding characterization, suspenseful plotting and frequent injections of flat-out terror. And she knows that piling it on past the breaking point is a formal innovation all its own ... What’s more, Danforth writes potent women ... The sheer queerness of it all is exhilarating. No stock lesbians, and no coyness. Every major character is a queer woman — every last one — and each of them wears her sexuality differently, an idea that shouldn’t feel revelatory in 2020 but annoyingly doe ... It’s successfully played on and inverted the myth of a book as a haunted object, and at the same time made us afraid that even closing the book won’t prevent a zealous little insect from crawling out of its pages.
PanVultureDeLillo’s The Silence is downright skinny, only 116 pages, with typeface and margins a middle-schooler might use to pad his term paper ... The Silence digresses, and I mean this quite literally, into a series of overlapping, stream-of-consciousness monologues ... What makes The Silence such a letdown is that if the future is coming for us — and it is — it’s DeLillo who I most expected to nail the tenor of how that feels ... DeLillo is so obsessed with what his characters might theorize about the disconnecting world that he forgets they might feel some things, too. They’re malfunctioning holograms, sputtering their lines, supposed avatars from the future who fail to pass themselves off as human.
RaveThe New Yorker... enthralling ... Leave the World Behind is a coy little thing: a disaster novel without the disaster ... In most literature of this ilk, the disaster, whether rising seas or a virus, is a force of narrative tension: the reader is keen to learn how humans move from a time of upheaval to one of stability. Alam never gets there; upheaval is all his characters have. His achievement is to see that his genre’s traditional arc, which relies on the idea of aftermath, no longer makes sense.
PanVultureAmis has written a novel so interested in Amis that its cover—a black-and-white portrait of, you guessed it, Amis—feels less like a postmodern joke and more like a warning sign ... admittedly, Amis’s life has been rather eventful. He flits about from topic to topic ... much of Inside Story is regurgitated from Amis’s other work, especially his memoir Experience ... But if you thought that Amis, now 73, might look over his wild life with fresh eyes, you’d be laughably wrong. He especially hasn’t evolved when it comes to recognizing that women, too, might have brains and creative talent ... Amis is still able to charm (when he isn’t calling an old girlfriend \'tits on a stick\'), but that charm is his only weapon, and the shine’s gone off over the past 40 years ... [one of those] lazy books, born of...novelists trotting out diluted versions of their greatest hits.
RaveLos Angeles Times... a little imp of a book that packs a punch several times its (relatively) meager page count. I’d worried that, all these years later, Clarke might have grown timid, seeking a breather from all the grand historical world-building. Instead, she creates a dazzling world of infinite fascination inside the musings of one very simple man ... The world of Piranesi is built entirely from scratch, at first as devoid of life as an Escher sketch but gradually filled in until it’s as rich as a second universe ... Piranesi is a portrait of us as young readers, swept into a story and happy to stay there. \'Keep it up!\' the novel seems to murmur in our ears, \'read, read, read!\' ... In Clarke’s world, we are more than an observer. If we’re reading Piranesi’s words, then we must be subject to the magic as well.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... this is a climate novel, a species of fiction that is too-little-loved (perhaps because it’s too frequently patronizing) but by no means endangered in 2020. And yet this is a unique specimen: If worry is the staple emotion that most climate fiction evokes in its readers, Migrations — the novelistic equivalent of an energizing cold plunge — flutters off into more expansive territory ... McConaghy has a gift for sketching out enveloping, memorable characters using only the smallest of strokes, which makes Franny’s time with the crew of the Saghani the novel’s strongest and most vibrant thread ... References to Moby Dick offer up Migrations as a kind of bookend to that early American industrial-era parable. What better way to demonstrate the logical endpoint of mankind’s rapaciousness than to cast out little reminders of Ahab’s crew spearing and stripping scores of whales for profit and pleasure? ... McConaghy can’t stop heaping on steaming piles of sadness, as if without an overstuffed grab-bag of tragedy a character has no basis for her pain ... This is a novel that doles out heartbreaking events as twists (like the will-she-won’t-she of her planned suicide), but Migrations doesn’t need them; it has so much else to offer ... The specter of the wilderness haunts this novel ... McConaghy has an eye for the webs of connectivity that humans have ditched in favor of their own supposed development, and Migrations, rather than struggle to convince readers of some plan of environmental action, instead puts humans in their place.
MixedLos Angeles Times... bizarrely, rather run-of-the-mill, like her take on an after-school special ... You need to understand a bit about Naples for The Lying Life of Adults to really make sense ... The quest for total honesty is one only a teenager could pursue with a straight face ... There’s no facet of teenage rebellion that Ferrante leaves unnarrated...At some middle point, the story picks up steam...And here Ferrante’s rigorous, undaunted prose comes to the fore, culminating in a Sebaldian two-page-long rant of a sentence that comes falling out of Giovanna’s father’s mouth ... The Lying Life of Adults can’t sit still, and Giovanna wriggles through so many abrupt reversals that while Ferrante captures the flightiness of adolescence, her narrative sometimes sputters and stumbles ... I’m delighted by the idea of a bildungsroman that doesn’t automatically launch its protagonist into an adult life of wisdom and serenity. What makes Giovanna so special is the way she deems grownups no smarter or more emotionally adaptable than the most hormonally motivated teens. But at the end of The Lying Life of Adults, there’s little to indicate whether even Giovanna has taken notice of who she herself is ... Ferrante is still Ferrante — her characters have wide-spanned souls and so does Naples, exuding the smells of the sea and gasoline and baking crust. But without a counterbalance, her own brilliant friend, poor Giovanna drifts. I wanted to see her tethered to something, anything, even if it was her own unsteadiness. Perhaps Ferrante is saving that for a sequel.
RaveLos Angeles Times...transcendent ... She couldn’t save her mother, but she could reanimate her memory and welcome her spirit back into her life ... There is a twinning of documentary evidence and personal memory in much of Trethewey’s poetry, as in Memorial Drive ... Memorial Drive is a monument with a name ... Memorial Drive essentially consists of three parts, dotted with small inflection points and snippets of dreams. It bears the contours of tortured memory: natural detours and unexpected chasms, vivid flashes and black holes ... The book eschews the common memoiristic route of picking apart the aftermath of trauma ... the closing chapters of Memorial Drive are almost entirely in Gwendolyn’s words; the grace and polish of the poet’s voice recedes to reveal a monument with an iron core ... It’s an astonishing decision — to cede the stage to her mother’s words, unedited and practically bleeding on the page. It’s an act of preservation and a reckoning.
Lynn Steger Strong
RaveVulture... a defining novel of our age of left-behind families ... By the time of its publication this July, four months into unemployment numbers so obscene that they’ll be meaningless, Want doesn’t feel so far off from the lives many Americans have been living every day ... an ideal sample of how to produce fiction that is timely and timeless ... It’s appeal right now may have something to do with the ways it thoughtfully plays with autofiction, darting in with details from Strong’s real life, then knowingly inflating and reshaping plot points, a wise reimagining of what we can do with our own stories ... But it’s also due to the prose — liquid, tender, fluttering — which keeps this story easy, perhaps too easy, to read. It’s an odd pleasure — a difficult story that is winningly told. You’ll feel guilty for enjoying it as much as you do.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewIn her carefully concocted but unfermented new memoir...the ensuing portrait Danler composes of herself resembles a Cubist Picasso, broken into bits and incongruously reassembled ... a literary It Girl...[Danler\'s] success story barely figures into Stray, despite the fact that the book is primarily occupied with her mind-set in those post-book-deal years. Danler never explicitly refutes the charmed image; she simply dips us in and out of enough familial screaming matches and self-destructive decisions that any previous assumptions about her blessedness melt away ... \'I’m a ruthless performer of likability,\' she writes at one point. \'I come from a long line of charismatic liars,\' she cheerfully admits at another. But she doesn’t go far beyond mere acknowledgment. Where, I kept wondering, is the moment that takes this story from recollection to something she has disassembled and futzed with and zealously turned over in her mind, until it has eventually taken on a brand-new shape? It’s such a thrill to watch a writer open up her greediest thoughts, to slice open little pockets of her skin and root around underneath her flesh. But disclosure is not revelation. She needn’t stitch herself back up...but it’s best to make sure that the blood lost will be worth it.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... full of verve and sketched in colors as vibrant as a Tilt-A-Whirl David Hockney landscape ... Thorpe inverts the more common tale of an impoverished sufferer who is momentarily saved or mourned by a richer, more stable friend. The result is revelatory ... Can a 30-something white female author really nail the intricacies of a 16-year-old queer teen?...This 30-something white female critic can’t decide, though I know charismatic, empathetic writing when I see it. What undoubtedly works here is Thorpe’s portrait of teenage ostracism ... Thorpe writes convincingly about the intricacies of teenage hierarchy and the endless varieties of torture that the young can inflict on one other. She illustrates the performativity of status cleverly.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesYes, both of the love interests are writers, but this smooth, deliberate chronicle of creation keeps the men in their place and Casey firmly rooted at the center of her own story. Instead of casting her as a woman torn between archetypes of male creativity, Writers & Lovers portrays her as a woman in thrall to her own generative processes, a devotee to the art of (her own) attention ... This isn’t an exploration of what it means to be a writer; it’s an exploration of what it means to write. And King’s prose, simple, clear and accretive, mimics in form what she’s conveying — that art is an accumulation of details and that, in the IRL present, close attention is slipping away from us with every swipe of the screen ... What’s most refreshing is that after a spate of novels and memoirs that fix a female creator in reference to a great man, Casey emerges as a woman who builds her literary identity out of parts all her own ... while describing the intense effort of putting words in order, feels effortless, or at least like an unconscious natural process. King’s sentences are like layers of silt and pebbles condensed into sedimentary rock — distinct from one another but fitted into an indestructible whole. And she pulls off a considerable trick: she convinces us that the miracle of attention, that coveted capability we all imagine slipped from our grasps as the new millennium dawned, must still lie somewhere inside writers, even if their fingers are swiping as often as typing. After all, in the year 2020, she’s produced this, a classic bildungsroman for struggling artists everywhere.
PositiveVultureFormally, Weather is closer to Dept. of Speculation, Offill’s second novel and the break-out critical hit she published in 2014. Both novels intersperse narrative momentum with anecdotes, quotes, lists, and, in the case of Weather, a series of email Q&As. It abandons traditional storytelling just as the arc of humanity is hitting its denouement ... Weather isn’t a piece of climate propaganda or the equivalent of a proselytizing nutter come knocking on your door ... despite increasingly dire climate news, the worry is a restricted emotion, kept closeted as if contagious. Weather asks the question, what if we all just let it spill out, and revelled in the relief that comes with acceptance?
Kate Elizabeth Russell
PositiveLos Angeles Times... exquisite, often nauseating ... isn’t just fighting the infection; it’s tracing the pathogen back to its source, tracing its spread from unsuspecting woman to unsuspecting woman ... simultaneously specific and universal ... anatomizes most sharply the rip in time that keeps women replaying and relitigating their own culpability in their assaults, especially when those violations happen behind the walls of an institution that vows to protect them ... Ultimately, what makes My Dark Vanessa so hypnotic is that it provides Vanessa with what so many abused women want — the chance to admit that they have desires too. Readers might hate her for what they see as her complicity, her refusal to take up the mantle of victimhood in a way they can easily sloganize. I don’t think she’d care.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewRick Moody wants you to know that he knows. He knows that he has a reputation as \'out of control and somewhat mentally ill.\' He knows that in his first marriage he \'reproduced many of the features of the bad writerly marriages\' he knew about \'from reading all the biographies.\' He knows that he has spent a good portion of his adult life on \'a spree of self-centeredness, moral fuzziness and destructive sexual abandon.\' Alas, what Rick Moody doesn’t know is that his self-awareness is all too limited, that in this memoir he has relayed a story so devoid of insight and full of ego it’s essentially mummified ... It’s true that Moody...had a tumultuous year, that the pain he endured sounds heavy. But The Long Accomplishment seems likely to prove most interesting only to Rick Moody, since it is largely interested only in Rick Moody, despite the fact that the calamities he discusses largely happen to the women around him ... In this memoir about his own suffering, Moody often dwells on the experiences of women who aren’t allowed to have their own say. His own stake in these difficulties and tragedies isn’t enough to help this rambling monologue achieve liftoff ... It’s wonderful that he got all this out of his system and onto the page, but it’s a shame he felt the need to share it with the rest of us.
PositiveVultureIf you’ve ever had to suffer through a woman talking about how she’s being \'so bad\' for eating a chocolate-chip cookie, Lara Williams’s debut will leave you panting and ravenous ... In its unselfconscious splendor, the supper club (and the book) tackles age-old questions about the female form with a delightfully 21st-century voice.
PanVulture\"Vivian, who begins the novel as a naïve, silly 19-year-old and ends it a slightly wiser octogenarian, is a blank, a TV turned to static—fuzzy, mildly distracting, and ultimately an annoyance. Why an accomplished novelist like Gilbert would so blithely expose the hole where her protagonist’s personality ought to be, I don’t know. But Vivian is dull, and, what’s worse, there is nothing intriguing about her dullness ... Vivian is all feathers and glitter—a sparkly story stitched onto a formless narrative garment that forgets all the lessons Gilbert has learned (and imparted) about the so-called plight of single, sexually voracious women ... [The book offers] a glimpse into the inner workings of the mid-century New York theater world that is as engaging as all the sequined gowns might suggest. But City of Girls then skips willy-nilly through the rest of Vivian’s life, compressing decades into sentences and lingering on like a comatose patient without a living will. She has sex, makes friends, sews a bit, walks the city, and remains shut off to her own interiority all the while ... The problem here is that Gilbert writes as if having a ton of sex...is a replacement for a personality ... This novel is simply an idea walking around pretending to be a fleshed-out character study ... This sex is as meaningless for the reader as it is for Vivian.
Philippe Besson, trans. by Molly Ringwald
PositiveVultureIs it autofiction? ... Whatever it is, the story — imbued with the sprightliness of youth, the nostalgia of age, the deep internal echoes of regret — is all true, even if it’s not true ... this synopsis reeks of André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name... where Aciman’s novel flashes in the heat and salt of summer, Besson’s is soaked in heavy, sodden gray ... Lie With Me unpeels like a springy orange ... Lie With Me is single-minded in its focus, spare but lucid in its descriptions ... The intimacy is ripe on the page; this is a novel is horny for itself ... somewhere shy of the halfway point, Lie With Me veers sharply into the nether lands of ironic quasi-autobiography. In direct asides, Besson press-gangs the reader into the role of confessional priest ... Besson is never as transparent as Rachel Cusk or Catherine Millet. Lie With Me is closer on the metafiction scale to far more playful works like Pale Fire ... By concealing the line between artifice and truth, Besson preserves it ... Ultimately, these games are not a distraction from the romance and nostalgia but very much the point. Think about it: How much of our own teenage years do we invent? ... Besson’s method sucks you in as an accomplice to this kind of necessary self-delusion, and offers a tantalizing third way of considering our own pasts ... moving and graceful.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewKnight doesn’t use all those tightly corralled, hormonal bodies to stir up narrative tension. Instead, Briarwood is low-key, even placid; it floats from event to event without ever raising its pulse ... Knight unfortunately diverts our attention with two in loco parentis adults ... Both are given plenty of space for their own musings and worries, but their presence smothers the story’s low-burning flame. A bildungsroman — even a spare one — needs to give its heroine a wide berth so readers can watch her unfold ... In a small novel packed with side plots, I was greedy for more of Lenore and Eugenia.
PositiveVulture\"All the Lives could have read as gush; instead, Smyth reaffirms the value of novels as existential guideposts ... Smyth’s beautiful debut is more tightly strung together than you’d imagine a memoir-cum-literary-requiem could be. It is innovative, like Woolf, in its power of association and its ability to transform the intangible nature of grief into a warm, graspable, fleshy mass ... Where All the Lives We Ever Lived really makes its mark is in its living embodiment of an author and her work.\
Leila Slimani Trans. by Sam Taylor
PanVulture\" [The book is] a thriller only if you consider dozens of unsatisfying sexual trysts conducted with all the titillation of a Chia Pet commercial thrilling. Adèle is, at best, an oxymoronically sex-filled dud. At worst, it’s offensively oblivious to the idea that female characters in novels have, in fact, had sex before ... I’ve never been so bored by kinky descriptions of cunnilingus or thrusting hips ... Still worse, Slimani’s prose is a parade of the flat and predictable; nothing is artfully concealed or circumspect.\
RaveSlate...[a] fiery new novel ... Give Me Your Hand could have been a standard-issue peek into the secret lives of American teenagers—the usual chaos and drama and hormones, just with higher stakes and body counts. But it’s much more than that. By springing forward into Kit and Diane’s adult lives and fleshing out the messy psychological ramifications of decade-plus-old traumas, she digs into the gravitas of adolescent emotional wounds ... Abbott’s earlier novels are mostly structured as typical whodunits. But in Give Me Your Hand, we know both the crime and the perpetrator early on. There’s nothing to solve. Instead, it’s a slower-paced Match Point–esque anxiety fest, a caustic nightmare about our youthful bad decisions.
PanThe New RepublicThe fate of the monarchs is at the center of Flight Behavior’s narrative; they create, for Dellarobia, a newfound awareness of the world, and also pitch her into existential and metaphysical turmoil. For all Dellarobia’s anguish, however, Flight Behavior too often eschews the psychological in favor of the political. Each twist of the plot—which is mostly a series of near-catastrophes concerning the butterflies—feels designed to convince readers of our planet’s impending doom. This is not a frivolous mission, and there is no reason why a piece of literature cannot also serve a political need. But a subtle hand is required to stitch together literature and politics. Kingsolver’s needle is blunt.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis isn’t yet another novel about a woman 'finding herself' in the wild; it’s an endearing chronicle of female friendship and evolution in the early 20th century...Amend displays her talent for making solitary humans the most alluring animals among blue-footed boobies, great frigatebirds and the rest of Darwin’s magnificent crew. On an island bursting with nature’s most remarkable creatures, humanity’s depthless capacity for loneliness crows most keenly.