RaveThe Harvard ReviewThis intimate self-awareness is such a heightened presence in Whereabouts that it might be considered the book’s protagonist, separate from the middle-aged woman embodying that consciousness who moves about an unnamed European town over the course of a year in the novel’s pages ... Reading more like a series of encounters—vignette-windows through which we observe snapshots of a life—than what we traditionally consider a novel, the book is a formal embodiment of the person it introduces us to ... Despite the casual nature of these encounters, the prose reads with a painstaking precision, somehow requiring as much energy from its reader as a book three times its length. We are invited to share in the narrator’s vigilance, no easy task given the ungraspable nature of her mind. With such attention to language and craft, it’s hard to not contemplate the authorial mind behind these sentences, too, as it was Lahiri’s mind that made formal decisions about the book’s structure. Its chapters are no longer than six pages each, and all of their titles are prepositional phrases. These are scenes of motion, in motion, refusing to land or feel the weight of full attention for too long ... Dropping into such a life naturally invites a kind of disorientation into the reading experience, which at times makes the novel hard to fix one’s attention to. But it also offers a relatable, and perhaps strangely comforting, accompaniment to the life of stagnation and forced self-awareness that many readers are currently living ... At the same time, the narrator’s ability to act—to move away from her familiar streets, albeit off the page, at the end of the year we spend with her—is also a provocative counterbalance to our present state. Whereabouts reminds us that a state of melancholy and restlessness can be acted upon, indeed translated into another language. It offers a reassurance: that the changes we dread and desire, that upend and thrill us, are inevitable and universal—including the change that might define our age.
PositiveThe Harvard ReviewCasey tells us her story in a desperate first person that results in the kind of sentences one might scoff at in a book about writers...But in the context of the whole package, Casey’s story is anything but scoffable; her point of view, her struggles, and her ambitions come off as delightfully sincere ... I often thought while reading, maybe I could write like this someday—in order to mollify the bad things that feel even worse when I don’t write—or that I could at least give myself the pleasure of dipping into more books that make me feel like this ... On the surface, there’s nothing exactly special about King’s fifth novel ... The meta qualities of this novel about writing are what redeem her, as well as the man-boys she alternately desires and repels ... Each time I’ve read Writers & Lovers—first in a world where I felt almost too connected and then one where I physically ached for the people I took for granted—I was reminded of the power stories have in keeping us together. It’s writing like King’s that makes these days and nights of solitude feel okay.
PositiveThe RumpusMaum has not reinvented the centuries-old marriage plot that’s the cornerstone of both real and fictional societies. Her novel, though, does explore something new, and perhaps unique to our modern condition: our inability to withstand the quotidian, the mundane, the average ... It’s hard at times to sympathize with this man, who has clearly upended up his own fairytale world. But we do, inevitably, and as a result we take away from the book the notion that exerting one’s own agency is an ends unto itself. If the outcome happens to make one happy, that’s icing on the cake ... Maum...has a gift for mapping the emotional and psychological terrain of a man, much like Maggie Shipstead did in her debut Seating Arrangements. And like Shipstead, she crafts her sentences in a way that catches the reader off-guard: for every note of chick-lit melodrama there are full measures played in darker, daringly honest, minor keys. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is an awkward first novel, but if it weren’t it would somehow be disingenuous to its own literary ambitions of embracing the mess of our lives and welcoming it into our homes, calling the mess a work of art.
Dubravka Ugrešić, Trans. by Ellen Elias-Bursać
RaveThe Harvard ReviewLong stretches of introspective narrative are punctuated by lively travelogues that span from Italy to England, alongside picaresque anecdotes of real icons of the Russian canon. For example, Ugrešić chronicles butterfly-hunting journeys taken by Nabokov, his wife, and their largely unknown driver (Dorothy, a Russian-language student of the master who volunteered to take them cross-country in the trip that was precursor to Lolita), and whose embarrassing self-exposure at the Grand Canyon resulted in one of Nabokov’s greatest discoveries. Ugrešić also writes about the complicated histories of revolutionary minds like Boris Pilnyak and Doivber Levin and their connections to her own ancestry. If these figures’ names do not ring even the faintest of bells from your literature classes, you’re not alone—\'footnotes\' to literary history they are, and Ugrešić (and her narrator) are on a quest in Fox to exhume them from their historical catacombs and understand their forgotten legacies. These stories are inherently fox-y in disposition, for much of the chaos and suffering endured by the narrator on her escapades is the result of deceit and betrayal, both political and artistic ... By the end of Fox, Ugrešić has convinced us that the act of navel-gazing can be universe-gazing; the stories she presents with such uncanny self-awareness are not a curse on her tribe, but rather the thing that allows us to better see the ur-story of our collective tribe, wherein the chronicles of our deceitful ways can be both unnerving and enlightening.