Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, tr. Iona MacIntyre and Fiona Macintosh
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Adventures of China Iron begins with a moment of lyricism that isn’t any less powerful for being directed at a dog ... China Iron showcases a remarkably fresh vision of life on the 19th-century pampas ... It’s easy to categorize China Iron at first as magical realism, but it’s something else entirely, a historical novel that reminds us, in Cabezón Cámara’s entrancing poetry, how magical and frankly unpleasant it is to live through history ... a masterly subversion of Argentine national identity ... The translation by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh is sure-footed, Cabezón Cámara’s lush prose spilling out without hesitation.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThere are a handful of novelists who excel in describing, often from ludicrously comic heights, the Russian-American experience. Call it the Borscht Shelf: Gary Shteyngart, Boris Fishman and the resplendent Lara Vapnyar ... Divide Me by Zero, which begins with Katya’s Russian childhood and ends in her American middle age, is structured throughout with Nina’s flash cards and various missives from Katya ... The content of these notes leans toward the tediously self-evident ... The framing can feel contrived, though it’s in keeping with Vapnyar’s track record: deeply affecting but playful, edging into cutesy. The world hews closely to Vapnyar’s own life...but everything about it is slightly notched up, surreal ... So goes the bildungsroman half of the novel, which hits its stride midway as a brutally sad romantic comedy. ... Divide Me by Zero is a mordant tribute to lost loves, none more beloved or irretrievably lost than Katya’s mother.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Ladies Who Punch is gleefully camp, dissolving at times into a bouillabaisse of cliché ... Ladies Who Punch is ultimately an indictment of what television and reality culture does to women—how it draws them in, chews them up, and unceremoniously spits them out. It’s less clear what it’s done to the rest of us.
Joao Gilberto Noll Trans. by Edgar Garbelotto
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"A manic treatise on travel and transformation ... for a novel guided by delirium, Lord is remarkably suspenseful and assured. Darkened by reflections on death and visions of failure, the novel makes depressive comedy from displacement. Even the cover strikes a visual rhyme with its beat-up bowler hat, a nod to Beckett.\
Joyce Carol Oates
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewOates has always said that her primary interest is in personality. A writer like Atwood takes great joy in world-building, but for Oates it’s a chore to be dispensed with. And so the Cliffs Notes-like introduction is a frantic scrabble to get back into charted territory ... The novel’s underdescribed future, with its hints at totalitarian politics, doesn’t play to Oates’s strengths as a nostalgia artist, her ability to abruptly evoke a bygone era with a teenager’s pink plastic hairbrush, a mother’s black net gloves. At her best, her worlds, however violent, feel lovingly considered. The futuristic one in Hazards of Time Travel feels hastily made ... But the world she imagines is rigorously believable, its every twist underlined and circled. Oates evokes a future made from the ingredients of the present: televisions and internet access, cellphones and broken government. She doesn’t try to stretch the limits of what we know, or what we might become. That’s a task for an Atwood, perhaps.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe stories in his new story collection, Good Trouble, revolve around various unreliable, slightly odious men, the sort of people unlikely to be on the receiving end of a warmhearted learning experience and, indeed, unlikely to learn anything at all ... On a sentence level, O’Neill’s stories are playful, evocative, intoxicated with possibility. By any other measure, they’re disappointingly formulaic. His protagonists rant lyrically for 10 or 15 pages, consider taking a grand action but don’t pursue it, and eventually, when O’Neill decides the story is finished, have an epiphanic experience triggered by the subtle gradations in gravel, clouds or plant life. He works in a Nabokovian tradition of eloquence, in which the most artistically sensitive people are also the most socially stunted and brutish ... O’Neill resembles a very talented craftsman working in a master’s atelier, each different style an argument for the continued vitality of the tradition he works in ... O’Neill’s characters float through a world whose modest pleasures are theoretically attainable but never, in practice, tangible. You want O’Neill to get into more trouble than his title promises, more than he will allow.
PositiveThe Washington PostRelentlessly introspective but dependably playful, Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts is a novel that continually calls attention to its own book-ness ... The result is tedious — but fascinating ... Like Marilynne Robinson\'s Gilead, it is a philosophical proposition as much as a work of fiction — and often an act of devotion ... In the absence of plot, Border Districts is bound together by intersected themes of light and faith ... Space has rarely been so tenderly observed or so irrelevant ... Murnane’s mischievous suggestion is there is no point in trying to see the world as it is. Your own mind sanctifies and stains the glass.
Yan Lianke, Trans. by Carlos Rojas
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere is a rich tradition in China, going back to the advent of written narrative and predating fiction, called zhiguai: accounts of the inexplicable and occult, often featuring ghosts. 'Marrow' is a saucy sendup of that genre ... Yan’s world is earthy, male and often very juvenile: snot, urine, phlegm and voluminous breasts almost qualify as secondary characters. It’s also funny, although Rojas’s otherwise smooth translation mishandles Yan’s curses ... Unlike Lu Xun, whose work pointed to structural shortcomings in Chinese society, Yan doesn’t suggest any solutions in his disillusioned fables. The problem, he implies, is human nature. We are all degraded and degrading. There’s no help for that.
RaveThe Washington PostWeike Wang’s Chemistry is the most assured novel about indecisiveness you’ll ever read ... Chemistry is narrated in a continual present tense, which, in conjunction with Wang’s marvelous sense of timing and short, spare sections, can make the novel feel like a stand-up routine. Personal crises are interrupted, to great effect, with deadpan observations about crystal structures and the beaching patterns of whales. The spacing arrives like beats for applause ... Despite its humor, Chemistry is an emotionally devastating novel about being young today and working to the point of incapacity without knowing what you should really be doing and when you can stop.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksAt its strongest, Love and Trouble is a story of spiritual possession — partially the story of Dederer’s sudden surrender to her younger self, but also the story of how she spent so many years dearly wanting to be possessed ... Alas, the memoir as a whole is less sharp, less cohesive, than my retelling may suggest ... This is memoir-as-collage ... The wobbly mosaic these chapters create is intentional; still, it’s hard not to wish the tiles were more precisely cut ... Lives, too, are essentially plotless. But if they don’t have an inherent structure, they can be given a shape ...a good deal of the memoir’s force hinges on the reader’s ability to believe that the events of that spring were world-changing enough to make Dederer undertake a forensic examination of her entire youth ... Whatever form it has is inconsistent. But when it’s visible, it’s gorgeous.
MixedBOMB...to summarize these stories is to miss the point. Within this narrow framework, Lively is remarkably digressive. Her characters are talkers—many of the stories here are narrated through stream-of-consciousness or dialogue—and she achieves a level of detail not strictly necessary for the mechanics of the piece ... This collection's title is The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories, but that 'and' might be more transparently followed by 'other sketches.' 'The Weekend' is about a weekend; 'The Row' is about an argument; 'Mrs. Bennett' is about a Mrs. Bennett, poor thing. At Lively's best, this is richly done. But too often her plots rest on inversions of a type that feels predictable and self-satisfied.
PositiveThe Washington PostIt’s Levy’s voice in The Rules Do Not Apply that wins us over, at once commanding and vulnerable ... one feels that the subtlety of Levy’s politics doesn’t achieve the subtlety of her prose, tending instead toward the polemical...Levy may be the most retrogressive progressive writer we have ... And what a writer she is. Her memoir is all tough immediacy, every detail sharp as India ink ... One finishes the book thinking of Levy’s awe when she met Caster Semenya. 'She didn’t look like a teenage girl, or a teenage boy,' Levy writes. 'She looked like something else, something magnificent.'”
PositiveThe Washington PostAs a structure, this is as old as Chaucer, but it feels, for this generation, very new. At a time when many literary bestsellers are introspective and self-focused, Cusk has created a novel in which every chapter begins with other people. The narrator reduces herself to a vehicle for others’ stories. There’s a daring in this method congruent with its modesty ... This would be vague or allegorical, if Cusk weren’t so perfectly specific ... the language of these stories is not quite plausible. Cusk’s characters are characters, but also symbols and philosophical propositions. The dialogue is not so much dialogue as Socratic questioning. This is the fantasy of a life lived without small talk, all the fat cut away. But Cusk’s goal isn’t plausibility so much as the establishment of a compelling, dreamlike language and worldview that are utterly her own.
RaveThe Washington Post...[an] astonishing biography ... King is able to sort through these claims and others without deflating their emotional truth ... His language is richer, his understanding more acute. He speaks Beryl natively ... You have to laugh, or you’ll cry. The best of Bainbridge’s fiction — and this marvelous biography — invites us to do both.
PositiveVICEWhat Murray's novel does very well is re-create the surprise and fascination of these men's lives without really needing all the information. Most particularly, it re-creates their friendship ... There are more than 30 years to cover, and the novel dashes through them, pausing only for quick reaction shots from our friends. And there are hasty cameos by late Victorian notables: Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Titanic.
PositiveThe Washington PostIt’s easy to mistake Hot Milk for a similarly empty-handed performance. But while the plot is shaggy, Levy’s language is precise. The absurdities of her style seem scattershot at first, but yield a larger pattern: a commentary on debt and personal responsibility, family ties and independence. Hot Milk isn’t the fable we asked for about the European financial crisis. But it’s the one we’ve got.
MixedThe Millions\"The cultural order may have fallen with Mao Zedong, but Bei Tong finds that lost feeling of political and social cohesion in an ideal same-sex relationship, placing all the charged meaning of tongzhi, in its traditional sense, in a gay couple. Created on a website, crowd-sourced in serial, Beijing Comrades is the people’s public fantasy of intimacy. Handong wonders \'whether two comrades could be lifelong partners, loving one another and taking care of each other til the end.\' Beijing Comrades is one generation’s best effort.\