RaveThe Washington PostIt’s rare to come across a young writer with a voice whose uniqueness, power and resonance are evident from the very first page, or even the very first paragraph ... a slender, tightly wound debut novel by a remarkable young talent ... readers, even those who don’t go on to love everything about the book, will have little choice but to conclude that they are hearing something new, something strong and something very self-assured ... Without the benefit of a plot’s forward momentum, Torres must ask his prose and characterization to do the heavy lifting. He has a special talent for instilling banal events with epic import ... Justin Torres is a tremendously gifted writer whose highly personal voice should excite us in much the same way that Raymond Carver’s or Jeffrey Eugenides’s voice did when we first heard it.
RaveThe Washington PostInto this psychological briar patch strolls Amber, a blonde, brazen Rorschach blot of a houseguest who will profoundly shake up each family member before wearing out her welcome. She arrives one day, unannounced and very much uninvited, and immediately makes herself at home … Amber is flippant, caustic and conniving, traits that make her recognizably, albeit unattractively, human. But throughout The Accidental , up until the very last words, Smith drops subtle and tantalizing hints that Amber may in fact be a projection of the Smarts' damaged psyches, a shared delusion whose purpose is to rattle them out of their torpor and compel them to act … Though The Accidental is not a conventionally funny novel, readers may find themselves laughing — in surprise and delight — at the way Smith takes a literary trope and riffs on it until she's turned it inside out.
RaveThe Washington PostIn these dozen stories, Klay draws from his own experience as a U.S. Marine captain to give us one of the most compelling depictions to date of the Iraq war, and especially of the psychic toll it continues to exact on those who fought in it … Although they hail from different generations and fought in different battles, O’Brien and Klay share a burden that the fiction-writing chroniclers of World War II didn’t have to endure: serious doubts about the legitimacy of their war’s underlying casus belli … Klay’s graphic but concise depictions of firefights and IED attacks are terrifically tense. His ear for the poetically profane language of gun-toting grunts, high on adrenaline and their government’s permission to take out the bad guys, is unerring.
RaveThe Washington PostWith his characteristic grace and skill, Barnes manages to turn this cat-and-mouse game into something genuinely suspenseful, as Veronica reveals just enough information to make Tony desperate for more. A single page from the diary, which suggests a highly unusual suicide note structured along the lines of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, is all Veronica will allow him to see … Tony — now a doting grandfather who’s amicably divorced from his wife and spends his days volunteering at a hospital library — is either too dense, or too something else, to connect the dots. And here, finally, is the central question Barnes poses in his novel: If it’s not mere thick-headedness that’s keeping Tony from seeing what actually happened back then, what is it?
RaveThe Washington PostIn one way or another, all the tales in Tenth of December, his amazing new collection of stories, are about the tragedy of separation. What distinguishes it from the three equally fine collections that have preceded it is the added pinch of semi-sweet salvation, an ingredient most other satirists diligently avoid for fear of ruining their sour-by-design recipes … When he’s in his satirical mode, Saunders prefers to set his critique in the degraded world we’re heading toward rather than the merely compromised one we’re living in … Each one of these is as funny and off-kilter and formally ingenious as you want a Saunders story to be, but each one is also something else: unabashedly tender.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesJeffrey Eugenides has only two books to his name; nevertheless, he's well on his way to becoming a spectacular mythologist, attacking some of our most enduring riddles with heroic energy, keen wit and genuine compassion … [Middlesex is] a novel that's as warm, expansive and generous as its predecessor wasn't … Eugenides has taken the greatest mystery of all –
What are we, exactly, and where do we come from? – and crafted a story that manages to be both illuminating and transcendent. Middlesex isn't just a respectable sophomore effort; it's a towering achievement.
David Foster Wallace
MixedThe Washington PostChapters that may have been little more than extended character studies vary, unsurprisingly, in their effectiveness. The best of them tend to be self-contained vignettes that are, mostly, untethered to the underdeveloped main plot … Broadly comic chapters are haunted by a poignant refrain, what must surely qualify as the whole point of this whole sadly unfinished business. Each of these characters operates in a workday universe of almost unbearable monotony; they are awash in a never-ending flood of data whose ultimate meaning is never made clear to them. Despair is an occupational hazard.
RaveThe Washington PostThe brief exchange between naive grunts and a grizzled veteran of Tinseltown is an obvious homage to Joseph Heller. But it’s also a bold announcement that Catch-22 is about to be updated for a new era … In Fountain’s razor-sharp, darkly comic novel the focus has shifted from bureaucracy to publicity, reflecting corresponding shifts in our culture … As they’re being shuttled from one staged event to another, Billy is subjected to the gauche iconography of the country he’s been fighting for: draft-dodging, platitude-mouthing millionaires and their trophy wives, holding court in owners’ skyboxes; a scantily clad Beyonce entertaining football fans with a ridiculous military-themed halftime show; the surreal presence of pom-pom-shaking Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders at a news conference in which Billy and the other Bravos are asked to describe the hell of war … There’s hardly a false note, or even a slightly off-pitch one, in Fountain’s sympathetic, damning and structurally ambitious novel.
RaveThe Washington PostHopscotching over centuries, Cloud Atlas likewise jumps in and out of half a dozen different styles, all of which display the author's astonishing talent for ventriloquism, and end up fitting together to make this a highly satisfying, and unusually thoughtful, addition to the expanding ‘puzzle book’ genre...but the puzzle of Cloud Atlas isn't in the book, it is the book … What all these stories have in common is that each draws its lifeblood from the same heart of darkness. Cloud Atlas is a work of fiction, ultimately, about the myriad misuses of fiction: the seductive lies told by grifters, CEOs, politicians and others in the service of expanding empires and maintaining power.
PanThe Washington PostHaving successfully mined his youth and early adulthood for seriocomic ore in previous books, Burroughs, 50, now seems reluctant to hand in his autobiographical pickax for fear of disappearing into the tedium of the life undocumented. But the downside of such diligence is that he may have dug himself into a narrative hole. The canary has collapsed; the storytelling oxygen that has sustained him over the past 15 years is in dangerously short supply.
PositiveThe Washington PostIt’s formally daring, often very funny and surprisingly moving. It should earn Moody new fans from a millennial cohort that was still in diapers back when he was basking in his early critical acclaim. It should also help him win back those who felt his last two novels were sprawling, messy misfires.