MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewVollmann gives a documentary accounting of life on the margins, riffing on such themes as bigotry, idolatry, gender fluidity, vulnerability, consent, resilience and love ... what’s driving this train? Vollmann writes in an afterword of his aspiration to give hope to \'anyone who suffers the shame and isolation associated with nonconforming sexual identity\', and says that with this novel, he’s tried to portray the \'beautiful female strength\' exhibited by the \'trannies, lesbians, showgirls\' who provided so much of his source material. Noble goals, for sure. But his narrative strategy threatens to derail them ... is gilded with the signature Vollmann brew of erudition, irony, mysticism and banality ... Yet in this novel pain is omnipresent, and only orgasmic pleasure (sometimes in the form of more pain) can turn things, fleetingly, right-side up. So we are also given a torrent of sex — sex that is often deadeningly unsexy, an exercise in desensitization through repetition ... Vollmann’s prose can be evocative and deliciously incisive. But it is just as often clunky, flat, absurdly ornate or plain bad ... With each passing page, I was more likely to groan not from pleasure but from boredom. This applied to the climaxing, but also to the chatter: the gossip, the confessions, the barside bromides, the characters’ ceaseless whining and rehearsals of anxieties and slights ... Vollmann seems to want to restore balance, assign dignity, to those hobbled by a toxic standard. Maybe he would argue he has empowered his feminine characters by giving them voice, by rendering them in all their magnificent pathos. But this is a difficult idea to swallow in a novel where femininity is inextricably, exuberantly linked with miserable yearning and sexual objectification ... If Vollmann’s vérité portraits are meant to stand alone as critique he has drowned himself out in an avalanche of piteousness and porn.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Farm may be an \'issue\' book, but it wears the mantle lightly. It’s a breezy novel full of types (the Shark, the Dreamer, the Rebel, the Saint), and veers, not always successfully, from earnestness into satire. That shift in voice can obscure the novel’s intent — though to be fair, ambiguity may be the point ... Ramos’s characters articulate both sides of the surrogacy argument ... Some of its sharpest scenes are those skewering the rich ... Yet Ramos also lingers indulgently over the trappings of the wealthy, to the point where reading this novel felt a bit like watching several hours of reality-TV luxury porn. So The Farm isn’t not a critique, but it’s also not an indictment ... The novel’s too-neat ending won’t provide satisfying answers. But the stage is set for lively book chat.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"... brilliant ... The novel brims with plot. Yet plot is almost beside the point. More interesting are Apostol’s many women, stand-ins and doppelgängers whose stories intercut and complicate ... Apostol is a magician with language (think Borges, think Nabokov) who can swing from slang and mockery to the stodgy argot of critical theory. She puns with gusto, potently and unabashedly, until one begins reading double meanings, allusions and ulterior motives into everything ... Embedded in all this violence, Insurrecto suggests, is absurdity. Balangiga, no matter how you count the bodies, was “a crime of history that no single vision can redeem.” In confronting that crime, Apostol has written a novel of multitudinous vision, one that dares to ask: In the face of so much tragedy, what can one do after the crying … but laugh?\
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewErens registers this without preaching and without judgment, creating one of the most realistic and harrowing portrayals of birth you are likely to encounter in fiction. She has also written an indelible portrait of two women coming to terms with the desire, fear, crushing losses and fragile joys that have carved their lives, and who know what it means to fight every hour, every minute, to take another breath.