PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewKashimada’s book blurs the national and the personal in a way that suggests the continued difficulty of working through world-historical trauma ... Kashimada’s novel unravels like an extended exercise in what it means to attempt to describe the indescribable. Its plot tends less toward closure than relentless repetition. The same motifs and memories filter in and out ... At times, the narrative grows vertiginously unstable, as scenes recur and flashbacks fold in on themselves. This too is partly the point.
RaveThe AtlanticSittenfeld deftly toggles between deconstructing a well-worn genre and leaning into its most predictable beats ... Any awkwardness that might have ensued from the incorporation of the pandemic into a romantic comedy (a combination of too soon? and in a comedy?) is rescued by the fact that Sittenfeld mobilizes it almost wholly as a plot device, an ingenious choice that smartly doesn’t make COVID the main narrative impetus ... At times, Sittenfeld’s sparkling banter reads like the populist’s version of a Sally Rooney novel. Sittenfeld’s prose is a bit more colloquial and her plotlines more classically structured, but both are indebted to the novel’s long tradition of epistolary romance—the progenitor, in some sense, of sexting ... This epistolary bent is one of the most winning aspects of her book ... Sittenfeld treads a fine line between writing a romantic comedy and upending it—and it’s a line that grows fuzzier as Sally and Noah finally reunite in the final section (at his mansion, no less) and fall in love. In breaking the Danny Horst Rule, however, they end up fulfilling all the rules of the romantic comedy. Or, to put it another way, what begins as the romance of comedy eventually melts away into the romance of romance. But maybe that’s okay. After all, many a feminist reworking of the rom-com lies precisely in this gray zone—one in which reclaiming the genre is hard to disentangle from simply taking its fantasies seriously to begin with.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewSuch narrative clichés recur exhaustively throughout Lucy Ives’s latest novel, Life Is Everywhere, a dizzyingly labyrinthine work of speculative metafiction that seems to take on, as its title suggests, everything ... Crammed full of recognizable tropes, Ives’s metafiction doesn’t linger on any single one for too long. Her third novel, Life Is Everywhere carries traces of the author’s earlier, more avant-garde fiction, experimental poetry and art criticism. Like so much of Ives’s work, this book feels like a self-conscious recycling of prior aesthetic forms, of other people’s stories — taking the tired templates of hackneyed genres and rewiring them into Ives’s polyphonic pastiche ... With all its narrative feints and literary hoaxes, Ives’s novel often reads like an extended thought experiment. Plotlines spiral out, minor details take on outsize significance, while world-historical events (the July Revolution, World War II) get rapidly reduced, stuffed into footnotes like the loose pages in so many handbags ... The novel announces perhaps more than any of her previous work the anxiety of this influence, spinning the rarefied platitudes and paradigms of the ivory tower into the very meat of her text ... becomes an uncanny hyperbole of the campus novel in which the genre’s intertextual winks and nods get so aggressively overplayed as to lose their edges entirely. It’s Roland Barthes’s \'death of the author,\' but Ives’s narrator keeps exhuming the author figure only to bury him again. At times, the novel reads like the G.R.E. on Adderall ... What is the point of such a bilious, billowing narrative? Why put the reader through nearly 500 pages of dense intertextual exercise? ... the reader’s attention too will sometimes drift. But don’t worry: If you begin to feel yourself lose the plot, rest assured that is also the whole point ... The novel doesn’t so much push a moral or philosophical takeaway as plunge the reader into the murky waters of its proliferating allusions, asking you to rethink, reimagine and sometimes actually reread its various parts. Ives’s frenetic satire seemingly leaves no stones unturned ... Ives takes Le Guin’s theory of fiction that privileges form over content — the bag itself over what it carries — and turns it into a kind of practical method ... The result falls somewhere between a campus satire and a Borgesian fever dream, between the conventional dramas of bourgeois realism and the speculative fantasies that animate our alternative selves.
RaveBookforum... mark[s] a distinct maturation in Riley’s storytelling powers, despite—or precisely through—[its] compulsive repetition of the same old themes ... a book in which not much really happens, even as its emotional stakes feel increasingly dire. Riley is frequently compared to Jean Rhys, Albert Camus, or something akin to kitchen-sink existentialism, but her novels seem to share more with the stuffed, claustrophobic apartments of Barbara Pym novels or Harold Pinter plays ... This halting language, at turns exacting and equivocating, is exemplary of Riley’s prose, which frequently presents a strong thesis only to immediately turn in on itself.
RaveNew York Times Book Review... an even more explicit meditation on questions of inheritance, working through Castillo’s responsibilities not as a writer, but as a reader. Its eight chapters engage the readers who have most informed her own practice ... This is a book on readership that is itself a series of readings. Castillo leads by example ... Despite its searching quality, How to Read Now approaches reading as a political act that implicates everyone. To be a good reader, Castillo suggests, means being open to the different readings of other people, perhaps especially those you disagree with ... Castillo’s nonfiction carries the same animated verve as her novel. At times the prose veers toward the polemical, but only to unsettle our pieties ... Castillo pulls off a masterly takedown of the cult of Joan Didion ... Despite its declarative title, How to Read Now is not so much an instruction manual as an earnest invitation...What emerges is an engaging and provocative conversation with a playful interlocutor who wanted me, her reader, to talk back ... There is a breathless earnestness to Castillo’s writing, which unfurls in long sentences laced with extended parentheticals and subordinate clauses. The chatty prose and its rhetorical flourishes are distinctly millennial ... When I started reading the book, I (another Asian American living in the Bay Area) frequently found myself in ambivalent or even direct disagreement with Castillo. It gradually became clear that that was the point: for me to become her “unexpected reader,” and thus feel the full weight of her argument. How to Read Now is a book that doesn’t seek to shut down the current literary discourse so much as shake it up. And on this I agree with Castillo: It so desperately needs to change.
MixedNew York Times Book ReviewHere we meet the same figures and tropes from Yellow: striving artists who sell out; slackers; lovers with internalized self-hatred that turns them violently bitter and paranoid ... Sentences...intended to move the reader, often tip into overwritten melodrama. Lee’s stories are often about disappointment, but his prose, too, can disappoint in deflating moments such as these.
PositiveThe Atlantic... an audacious period piece that—over the course of four acts, each framed as a \'book\'—seeks to undo the hardened conventions undergirding myths about American power. And it deftly illustrates how stories about the nation’s exceptionalism are inextricable from the circulation of money ... The progression suggests that one way fiction might approach the depiction of capitalist totality and its impossible forms is by presenting it, however futilely, through incommensurable shards ... Rarely does Diaz inhabit the perspective of the worker, except when that worker comes within proximity to power (like Ida). More often, he gives texture to individuals who stand in (sometimes self-consciously) for the broader world of finance as a way of drawing readers closer to the abstract complexities of capital accumulation ... We may not get close to grasping the heart of the mystery. But that’s hardly the point. Instead, we might at least begin to perceive how little it is we can see at all.
MixedVultureMost of the book unfolds with Rooney’s typical effervescent prose, whose extreme readability lies partly in its narrative economy ... As in her past books, the life of the body trumps the life of the mind: I continue to find Rooney to be a remarkably unembarrassing writer of sex scenes and, if anything, wished this novel had more of them. Sounds fun, right? Well, sort of. While Rooney’s newest book luxuriates in the same bourgeois comforts as her first two...it adds yet another, more pedantic layer of realist detail to her characters’ lives ... It’s an epistolary novel meets Ulysses lite. The aesthetic goal is admirable, but the effect is haphazard, as the two parts of the novel never quite cohere ... One might expect these chapters to at least offer deeper insight into their friendship, but they more often read like extended abstract musings ... the stilted and superficial cadence of their letters hints at deeper troubles. This conversation between friends is dominated by thinky tangents, but the unspoken tension driving it is whether, and when, Eileen will finally visit her faraway friend. It’s an interesting conceit—to make theorization the deferral of real talk, real life—but it doesn’t make these sections any more readable ... these long philosophical tangents on the value of fiction, the meaning of art, and the decline of beauty read like overindulgent and anxious attempts to preemptively control the cacophony that surrounds the reception of her work. To read them is to feel the discourse winning.
Anthony Veasna So
MixedBookforumIf So’s Cambodian parents form the historical consciousness of his plots, then canonical American writers like Whitman and Melville and Stein form the literary consciousness of his prose ... So doesn’t try to write refugee history or trauma straight—to represent ethnic American minority experiences \'authentically.\' Instead, his collection takes the difficulty of representing contemporary Cambodian American culture and turns it into its premise ... Afterparties might also be described as a book filled with knockoff memories, many of them lost in the haze of pot smoke. The final story takes place three years before So’s birth and is told from his mother’s perspective. By explicitly framing his parents’ experiences as passed down, shot through with trauma, and twice removed through their fictionalization, So acknowledges that the perversion of history is often what makes it real for its inheritors. Fiction might be the privileged site of historical forgetting, where the descendants of genocide are allowed to make it new. Other people’s fucked-up stories about traumatic loss might be a gateway drug into imagining new worlds. Sometimes, they’re even fodder for punch lines.
PanThe New York Times Book Review... a morally implausible, if not confused, novel ... reveals the difficulty of refracting recent Chinese history through fictions about lone individuals ... Over the course of A Song Everlasting, I kept expecting Tian’s life to finally fall apart, laying bare the impossibility of telling Chinese narratives of progress in an era of historical amnesia. Things go perilously from bad to worse for Tian, each turn prompted by an impulsive decision or event more random than the last. The novel’s genre flickers in and out of focus accordingly. At times, the specificity in which Jin details China’s online surveillance apparatus renders the novel aggressively realist. The bulk of A Song Everlasting, however, might best be read as naturalist fiction, in which characters are reduced to cogs in the machinery of capitalism, moving, as Lily Bart does in The House of Mirth, into smaller and dingier rooms until they die. Such a novel would refuse to indulge in Chinese mass trauma with Chinese individual heroism. Ultimately, though, Jin can’t resist the temptation ... One wonders how a character with as much long-game integrity as Tian ever sang for the Chinese state in the first place, much less take the side gig, only to defect for life. In his latest novel, Jin seems finally to have lost the plot.
RaveBookforumAn old student and friend of Said’s, Brennan is himself a formidable scholar, having authored numerous books and essays on topics from world literature to Hegel to jazz. But despite his personal relationship to his subject, Brennan quickly recedes into the background, following a short preface ... Previous books on Said have been organized around thematic chapters or individual essays. Without neglecting critical analysis, Brennan attempts to tell something more like a story. What emerges is a remarkably careful and considered narrative of Said’s life from cradle to grave—an account that is both synthesis and corrective ... Riffing on the title of Said’s memoir, which renders an image of the exile as always \'out of place,\' Places of Mind turnsinward—to reveal the intellectual center of a seemingly roving career ... Places of Mind takes the task of the intellectual biography to heart: it understands Said’s life by way of his work, and understands his work by way of the thinker at its center. That’s not to say that Said’s thought was uniform. If anything, he recognized and often relished his own contradictions: a critic of Orientalism who was also an Anglophile, a social scientist who was also an aesthete, a radical leftist with expensive tastes. Yet for Brennan, Said was, above all, a literary critic, and the only way to understand him is through reading, well, his literary criticism ... as much an intellectual biography as a kind of literary criticism on literary criticism. In immensely readable prose, Brennan flexes his expertise as one of the world’s leading authorities on Said.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe language here will be familiar to anyone who has read Ishiguro: simple, descriptive, conversational to the point of banality. Like a modern version of Plato’s allegory of the cave, Klara and her fellow AF Rosa first come to know the world through the sharp limits of their storefront window frame ... Yet for all these science-fictional trappings, Klara feels strangely realistic in its everyday descriptions. It presents a world of rural imagery, drenched with an uncanny lack of action, filled with anxious adults, listless children, and friendly robots ... There’s an initial learning curve to reading Klara and the Sun, as Klara herself struggles in adapting to the brave new world of humans ... it ends the way that all Ishiguro novels do: with its protagonist dreaming of a sunnier past ... Like all his novels, Klara is ultimately a story about the art of losing.
José Esteban Muñoz
RaveBookforumThe Sense of Brown [...] contains thirteen essays written over the course of fifteen years, from 1998 until Muñoz’s death. Like his prior work, this collection ranges across fields—from performance studies and queer theory to Black and Asian American studies—as its individual essays concatenate into something like Muñoz’s theory of brownness. Or, perhaps it would be better to say, Muñoz’s sense of brownness ... Almost all the essays in The Sense of Brown are still in draft form. The editors acknowledge their introduction to be a strange placeholder for the one Muñoz himself would have liked to have written ... If what animated Muñoz’s criticism was his singular ability to combine praxis and theory in examining specific artworks, then a question arises now about how to continue his work. For despite the real gifts that The Sense of Brown gives us—its startling moments of insight and its profound intellectual generosity—what it leaves the reader with is Muñoz’s afterburn.
RaveNew York Times Book ReviewThe author rewrites the official record by way of fiction. Evans is particularly gifted at depicting character, especially female protagonists ... Evans’s Black female characters often start out on the periphery: The worker at the Titanic hotel muses that \'she was backdrop.\' Literature offers a kind of corrective to history by drawing these figures into the foreground ... Evans’s propulsive narratives read as though they’re getting away with something, building what feel like novelistic plots onto the short story’s modest real estate.
Aoko Matsuda, Trans. by Polly Barton
PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewEach story in Where the Wild Ladies Are updates a traditional Japanese folk tale for our contemporary world. The result is delightfully uncanny ... Matsuda’s retellings are feminist with a vengeance ... Yet just as this brave new world allows these women to grow wild, it also castrates out-of-work men. These stories, deftly translated by Barton, touch on a recession specific to Japan, though the language of neoliberal precarity and gig work will be familiar to many.
Scholastique Mukasonga, Trans. by Jordan Stump
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewMukasonga’s language, in Stump’s translation from the French, is at once intimate and impersonal. Her stories are almost all narrated by children, whose early exile from home and family heightens their disorientation in the world while denying them ways to cope ... The devastation in Mukasonga’s stories is only amplified by the short story form. Igifu is notably slim, as though to suggest all that still hasn’t been told.
Cathy Park Hong
PositiveThe Nation... bracing ... Her book is ultimately less a definitive document of the Asian American experience than it is a document of Hong’s attempts (and frequent failures) to articulate its contradictions ... as one moves through Minor Feelings, one begins to see how, beside her rejection of white affirmation, there exists a more affirmative story of Asian American collectivity: A minor plot of the book, scattered across its chapters, is one of racial solidarity ... Rather than advance any theses about contemporary Asian America, [the chapter] \'Bad English\' offers a searching and introspective examination of the very language that makes Minor Feelings possible—the literary forms that enable Hong to speak to and on behalf of the contradictions of being Asian American ... Throughout \'An Education,\' Hong renders...friendship—while often volatile and sometimes even violent—in a way that feels crucially vital ... Minor Feelings begins with intraracial antagonism, but it ends by trying to envision something closer to a form of intraracial solidarity.
RaveSlateAt 472 pages, it’s not quite a tome, perhaps, but it recalls the dreamy pacing of Henry James or Elizabeth Bowen ... Necessary Errors is a bildungsroman, but it’s about the coming of age of these friends as well as Jacob, who needs them badly ... There is, in fact, a general haze that surrounds the novel (and perhaps your early 20s as well). If nothing really happens, it does so deliberately ... Crain’s ability to keep our interest without an obvious narrative arc, to make us care, intensely, about his characters without any cat-saving or cliffhangers, is what makes the novel feel like a new sort of model for contemporary fiction ... Crain has managed to write a moving and involving story about someone trying to find not just his own story, but his own voice as well. There are no dramatic flashes, no so-called twist endings ... Crain does end—no spoilers—on a cliffhanger of sorts. This, another kind of reader might think, is where the real story begins. We, though, for having read Necessary Errors, understand that the realness of a story should not be judged by \'what happened.\' Plot cannot be the most crucial element to storytelling, when the ways of telling a story are infinite.
PositiveBookforumThe narrative of Overthrow might itself be described as a competition of data versus poetry, information versus secrecy, knowing versus not knowing. For while Crain takes up the contemporary subjects of digital surveillance and technological terrorism, the novel itself sides with uncertainty and unknowing ... Crain’s prose sparkles most when it returns to scenes of private interiority, of personal anguish and emotional attunement. Even as the book conjures the dystopian potential of twenty-first-century techno-capitalism, its best scenes remain its more textured intimate moments. If the state seeks to conquer by force, then the kind of revolution Overthrow proposes—however cautiously—is one that rests in forms of unspoken, telepathic consent. It’s the kind of affective connection we might find, for instance, in a novel.
RaveThe New Republic\"Is it possible to imagine a future that isn’t at least somewhat tinged by the feverish traces of our collective past? It certainly becomes difficult to do so while reading Ma’s novel, in which all of life—whether before or after the apocalypse, in America or in China—is rendered through the same devastatingly lyrical prose ... Severance is the most gorgeously written novel I’ve read all year; when I finished it, I immediately picked it up and read it all over again.\
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksMantel condemns her readers to live in the mind (and witness the psychological acrobatics) of Henry VIII’s most notorious hit man. Seeing history through Cromwell’s eyes gives the reader privileged access to certain secrets, to the conflict behind his silence, behind his famously reticent and impassive mien. Like Robert Browning’s dramatic monologists and Joseph Conrad’s anti-heroes, we’re not meant to judge Cromwell, but to empathize with him … Mantel’s use of historical fiction is also a critique of it. Bring Up the Bodies gets at the idea that our faith in a country’s history — in a kingdom’s icons — are ultimately retrospective effects of national feeling. One’s idea of the nation, like one’s portrait of the past, is just a story, and likely punctured with gaps, scattered with half-truths, if not full-out lies.
RaveThe New RepublicFor any fanatic reader of Shirley Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life might give you vertigo. It is a biography in which the writer’s understanding of her subject feels, at times, eerily intuitive ... When reading Franklin’s masterful account of Jackson’s life, one senses how profoundly Jackson’s fiction draws from personal experience ... Franklin’s book reminds us that whether something actually happened or not is not necessarily what differentiates fiction from non-fiction.