RaveThe Guardian (UK)Whitehead offers a literary crime saga that is as delicious as it is nutritious, a much lighter meal than his previous two novels, which emerge from the real-life atrocities of slavery and a brutal reform school in the American south. Whether in high literary form or entertaining, page-turner mode, the man is simply incapable of writing a bad book ... an extraordinary story about an ordinary man ... The ordinary-Joe-furniture-salesman aspect of Carney’s life gets restated a touch too much in the novel, as do his sleepless nights spent in worry, though, understandably, the novel’s premise hangs on his double life. The pleasure of the plot lies in discovering what kind of trouble an ordinary man can get into, and how or whether he’ll get out. Crime novels risk becoming formulaic, like action movies. While there aren’t any car chases or Tarantino-style fight scenes in Harlem Shuffle, Whitehead capably fulfils the genre’s expectations while gently parodying them ... The three acts could make satisfying novellas on their own, but they’re better together. The novel gains force through accumulation and acceleration – brake and gas, gas and brake, until we are far from where we started. In one or two sentences at the end of a chapter, Whitehead can change the book’s whole trajectory ... Set 60 years ago, the novel nonetheless has a number of parallels to our time ... Thankfully, Whitehead is never sermonising or sentimental ... yet another novel that New Yorkers are going to lovingly claim ... If Harlem Shuffle is your introduction to Whitehead, you’ll discover a writer with range. Without being pretentious or phony, he can use a verb like bivouac then convincingly switch registers ... Whitehead counterbalances humour with insight ... you’ll discover a tenderness beneath the swagger. Whitehead draws his roster of secondary characters, especially the ones that could easily become stock figures such as crime bosses and petty thieves, with as much care as the primary ones. His portraits are never mean-spirited; instead, Whitehead renders the humanity of hustlers. He gets their sweetness down.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... impressive ... Taylor plays the Lionel-Charles-Sophie storyline for all its awkwardness and resentment, but it can feel like a note held too long to suspend commitment, which is the resolution we’re trained to expect ... The violence is neither glamorous nor gratuitous; it is senseless without being pointless. In contrast, Taylor presents such earnest moments of vulnerability in Anne of Cleves that my breath hitched ... Some writers have the gift of perfect pitch when writing dialogue; Taylor’s gift is perfect tempo. In a band of writers, he’d be the drummer who sticks to a steady moderato. He neither rushes a story to its high notes nor drags the pace so that we can admire his voice. And as a plotter, he doesn’t rely on gasp-inducing reveals ... Taylor’s superpower is compressing a lifetime of backstory into a paragraph – sometimes just a sentence ... I’ve come to expect, in fiction, the story of the Sad Gay Youth who is rejected by his often religious family and thereafter becomes self-destructive or reckless. And while Taylor refracts versions of this story throughout the collection, he does so without overly romanticising it ... He is a writer of enormous subtlety and of composure beyond his years.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It flies us from Houston to Osaka and back to Houston, transporting us from Benson’s head to Mike’s and back to Benson’s. A writer in his 20s, Washington already shows poise with his subject matter and cool control over his formal options. What I really want to say is, he’s a chill writer. Characters haunt dating apps; they text; they snap photographs and send them to each other, and Washington reproduces them on the page without fanfare or self-congratulation at how contemporary his novel is ... Memorial reveals our incredible openness to believe, excuse, or empathise with whoever we feel closest to at a given moment ... What is so impressive about Washington is his restraint. He knows how to temper and balance. He does not indulge character and voice – or other pampered aspects of the literary novel – at the expense of plot. He tugs his plot forward by braiding the past with the present, home with work, Houston with Osaka. Race, sexuality, grief, trauma and class are timely subjects and Washington handles them with seriousness but not reverence. He can be funny without clowning around for approval. Characters fight physically; they hurt each other in so many ways. Yet none of it goes reported to authorities. Memorial reads like the unreported lives of people getting by without the mediation of police, social workers or therapists. In some ways, these Americans are the true undocumented people of the country ... The book’s short sections can feel staccato. Perhaps Washington mistrusts our attention span ... The achievement of Memorial is not in its mainstreaming of gay sexuality but its accomplishment of something far simpler and foundational to the novel: what is it like to see the world from Benson’s perspective? What is it like to see the world from Mike’s? Only in shifting perspectives, in temporarily relinquishing our own, can we inhabit a relationship from two sides. After a year that has formalised the appropriate distance between humans, Washington offers that fundamental skill, so lacking in American politics – to attend to another person’s subjectivity as if your life depended on theirs.