PositivePloughsharesThough Bellacosa’s longing for his deceased wife and daughter lures him toward death and to the trufflepig’s promise of sweet dreams, he doesn’t enter this underworld so much as drop into it. He follows one eccentric story after another, landing in situations that, in Flores’ vivid settings, blend noir with magical realism ... Holding on to the many, many threads Flores winds around Bellacosa can, however, be a big job for the reader. Intricacy runs close alongside chaos ... His quest may be meandering and bizarre, nightmarish and heart-rending, but the journey is well worth taking.
MixedThe MillionsAutumn and Winter worked: the pieces fit. Spring’s pieces, however, feel like bits and bobs pulled out of Smith’s trunk of favorite props ... As bits and bobs go, they’re not bad. They’re Ali Smith bits and bobs. But they don’t come together to form an innovative novel, and Smith’s care in constructing them precludes the graceful chaos of an assemblage ... Had the Richard book been given more room to stretch its wings it might have worked. Sturdier threads connecting it to the Brit book would have helped, too ... the real problem with the Richard book is that its characters are a bit shopworn. Richard plays Smith’s Eternally Young but Thirsty for Enlightenment Male. Paddy and, later, Alda—and Florence, for that matter—play the Nurturing and Sage Females ... too prescriptive to be illuminating. Richard’s story has brilliant moments, but its somewhat patronizing, at times waggish tone eclipses Richard’s voice and diminishes the poignancy of his situation. Bound together with Brit’s book, his book is simply outdone, outshone.
PositiveThe Millions\"The novella’s plot moves in a straight line, event after event rolling along day by day. But The Parade can’t be reduced to its plot any more than life (individual or collective) can be reduced to bare events ... The inconsistencies in terrain distract, but overall Eggers succeeds in evoking a fractured Anyland, through which two men of opposing temperaments and views (mash them together and it’s Everyman) are tasked to pave a perfectly straight and level road ... Allegories don’t generally supply juicy psychological backstory, a complex plot, lush language. Even lacking such beloved elements of literary fiction, The Parade bestows in straightforward prose what only literary fiction can offer: a handful of time in which the reader can be embedded in another person, not to escape but to understand a part of our world that our own lives cannot reveal.\
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
MixedThe MillionsSummer falls more or less back in step with essays followed by diary entries, per month ... Summer I put down and picked up at leisure. This is the way to do it. A forced march through the essays is not recommended. Even avoiding surfeit by taking them three or four texts at a time, I pondered if these books [Summer and the others in the Seasons Quartet] would have been better, more honest, with the dreck trimmed out, published as a single, longish book ... In Summer, Knausgaard’s diary segues in and out of a fiction whose narrator is an old woman looking back on a disastrous love affair ... The old woman’s story never goes far; it’s like an abandoned novel whose ending I didn’t particularly regret missing, though I enjoyed reading what there was of it. The problem was, after the first entry, the transition began to seem gimmicky, a clever device—should the old woman story have been deleted? ... No. Leave them in, just as they are. The story and the way it’s told share the writer’s process ... The spirit of Knausgaard’s seasons quartet lies in its process and its flaws, its moments of physical loveliness, the hapless insights, emotions joyful and big-hearted, petty and bitter.
RaveThe MillionsAutumn and Winter are no more neatly plotted than life itself; like human life, they are constructed of stories. Ali Smith’s seasons are chockfull of other bookish treats and tricks: wordplay in a myriad of forms; luscious, textured prose; allusions galore; shifting points of view; characters who seem to jump right out of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare and our own circles of friends and family ... For in Winter, in winter, under the force of family dead, living or absent, masks slip on and masks slip off. Memory reveals and conceals the past ... Smith’s skill is to make us realize how much we miss the seasonal treasures cherished by the children of autumn and winter: the ponds and canals that used to freeze over and we’d get out our skates, the balmy gift of an Indian summer interrupting late fall’s death-grip chill.
RaveThe MillionsAli Smith’s seasons are chockfull of other bookish treats and tricks: wordplay in a myriad of forms; luscious, textured prose; allusions galore; shifting points of view; characters who seem to jump right out of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare and our own circles of friends and family. At times, all these goodies threaten to tumble us into a literary junk shop, but Smith exerts a literary master’s superb confidence in her readers; she trusts us to make of her glorious mess the novels she wants us to read.