PositiveThe Washington PostNo mere catalogue of errors, Life’s Edge guides us from an abandoned mine in the Adirondacks where bats hang in homeostatic slumber to a California start-up attempting to synthesize RNA-based medications. With these and other examples, Zimmer illustrates why it is so difficult to arrive at a common understanding of where life stops and starts—and how we might one day reach it ... lucid ... The care and precision with which Zimmer maps these complex and challenging issues inevitably prompt another question: Why does it matter how we define life? ... Ultimately, the pleasures of Life’s Edge derive from its willingness to sit with the ambiguities it introduces, instead of pretending to conclusively transform the senseless into the sensible. To read this book is to realize that life’s insistence on fluttering out of our grasp is a consequence of our desire to pin it down like a butterfly on a board.
Stefan Klein, Trans. by Mike Mitchell
PanThe Washington PostMany of these topics already exude an inherent gee-whiz quality, but Klein wants to show us that they are even more peculiar than they seem ... Always squinting at the fuzzy edge of the horizon, Klein insists we should be most amazed by the things we suspect but can never fully know ... He writes, for example, of a storm that scientists failed to predict because the equipment at a single outlying weather monitoring station wasn’t calibrated properly. By my read, this feels more like a failure of scientific instrumentation and process than like evidence that we can never fully untangle the knot of reality. Nevertheless, such events lead him to oddly metaphysical musings ... nonsensical phrases suggest that Klein longs to be one with the poets he criticizes. Perhaps this is why he, a trained physicist, tends to treat hard-won scientific realizations as if they were still-mysterious puzzles, often making them more difficult to understand than they would be otherwise ... Eager to astonish, Klein prizes mystery over solution. Thus, we find him working by sleight of hand, often starting with questions before establishing a foundation of understanding. Science may well make the world stranger, but it helps no one to estrange us from science.
PositiveSlateWho Is Rich? feels so vital, even when we know we’ve been here before ... [The sex writing] is hallucinatory stuff, but Klam is at his best when he’s describing other sensations, the kind that emerge out of domestic life’s quotidian rhythms. Some chapters descend into Rich’s past, and when they do, Klam’s prose is like the feverish swoon of a dying man revisiting his childhood, each drop of sweat a memory in miniature.
RaveSlateA few chapters into Universal Harvester, you might be forgiven for thinking you were reading an unusually artful novelization of some forgotten X-Files episode ... Darnielle’s novel ultimately proves itself to be an exploration of—if not quite a meditation on—the experience of loss writ large. Though Universal Harvester sometimes teases true horror, that promised menace never quite materializes. Instead, Darnielle’s novel belongs to what might be called the literature of disquiet, a sentiment that emerges as much from his syntax as from the content of his story ... In time, a pattern begins to emerge from these stoicisms, one that tells a quiet story about our estrangement from familiar people, places, and things ... If Universal Harvester is ultimately a horror novel at all, as it initially seems to be, it is one in which the only monster is the deep well of our shared sadness.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of Books...[a] remarkable graphic biography ... Measured and precise, virtually every page of The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is a triumph of technical cartooning, relying almost exclusively on strict nine-panel grids that impose a sense of clarity and order on even the most hectic experiences ... Seabrook is never a dull read, and it consistently engages. Nevertheless, it’s uncommonly willing to render its subject dull ... We eventually come to view Seabrook as he must have viewed himself: caught in an endless circuit of monomaniacal self-regard and morose self-loathing. If this approach sometimes threatens to take a complex man and make him boring, it ultimately serves to de-exoticize Seabrook, as if to anticipatorily inveigh against the concern that he cannot have been real. It’s a fitting sleight of hand, in part because it aligns so well with Seabrook’s own ideals.
RaveSlatePatience as a whole is a surprisingly calm work, probably Clowes’ most confident and clear-headed book to date ... Comics aren’t time machines, but they are chronological atlases, each panel a frozen instant, each page a map. Exploiting this quality of comics, Clowes dramatizes the painful work of putting together the pieces of a beloved’s history. And as he does so, his book rewards attention to its details as much as it does to the difficult, moving whole. In Patience, each assured and elegant panel reminds us that every moment matters.
John Berger, Ed. Tom Overton
RaveSlatePortaits could have easily been a stolid monument, mere evidence of a lifetime lost to contemplation of the image. Instead, its essays and extracts—ably edited by Tom Overton—are surprisingly flighty, Berger’s style varying from one entry to the next. Read in sequence, they offer a surprisingly vital and uncommonly engaging proof of concept for ideas that Berger has long espoused.
MixedSlateAt its most obtuse moments, This Census-Taker feels as if it had been crafted out of the cast-off fragments of an unfinished Samuel Beckett novel. And yet occasional images of unusual beauty await the attentive and patient.