PositiveThe MillionsAs a book that dwells with children in a way that is almost always compassionate and never condescending, The Light Room returns readers to a kindergarten of the senses—to the basic contours of time, the colors of home and public space—and unravels the relationship between labor and the obscurely fascinating objects it produces, around which life, work, and family subsequently orbit ... Her discussions of the aesthetic value of toys function similarly as portals, this time between the subjectivities of children and the world of adults ... Zambreno’s compassion for her young daughters arcs across a terrible and frightening chasm of knowledge: Zambreno must somehow, while preserving the simple beauty and joy of everyday life, prepare her children for survival on the earth they are to inherit.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe book catalogues the highs and lows of the literary life, turning over, at length, the joys of acceptance, the ache of rejection, the ecstasy of professional recognition and the sting of casual racism in the field ... Wong has a sharp eye for detail, irony and metaphor ... While...particular citations feel at times redundant, like a second self brought in to lend authority to the discursive throughline, they showcase the literary prowess and commitment to craft that Wong has nourished over the course of her career.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewCinematic and confessional ... Daphne’s narration is riddled with omissions and reversals that intensify the mystery of the broken window ... The sensuality of Setton’s prose and the electric atmosphere of suspense that envelops Daphne’s Berlin undermine the novel’s important critique, however ... Setton risks casting these issues as costs of freedom for women living and traveling alone, rather than illuminating the ways in which they limit the scope of said freedom ... Daphne hungers for human connection even as she physically deteriorates. A look inside her mind reveals the force of danger thinly veiled behind the romantic glow of youth.
RaveThe MillionsThe Guest’s internal contradictions are precisely what make it so galvanizing and so utterly readable. The reader, who ingests the novel’s sumptuous atmosphere and the thrill of trespass captured in Cline’s sharp, tense prose, is implicated alongside the protagonist.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksThere are a number of ways to read the story of this relationship ... Brimming with negative capability, intrigue, and erudition, Biography of X is at once a tense, tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale for the United States and a robustly supported argument for the idea that biographical knowledge alters the reading of an artwork. At the intersection of both of these vectors sits the figure of the verbally dexterous artist who, for better or worse, says what most dare not say ... Reading Biography of X sharpens one’s skepticism and criticality in the face of individuals and institutions that bend the truth in accordance with their worldviews ... Lacey curates a reading experience that is active and self-aware, proof that, despite the rampant disinformation and short supply of negative capability that characterize our contemporary moment, readers have the ability to discern fact from fiction—and we’d better start doing so now.
RaveThe Washington PostCai’s novel takes a different approach toward the city-girl-country-boy trope. With prose that flies at a breakneck speed, Central Places digs deeper than the average romantic comedy into the social anxieties that underlie the characters who populate such stories ... Cai unpacks each layer of complexity with intelligence and sensitivity. In doing so, she paints a sobering portrait of small-town America, not as a place the ambitious and conscientious must flee but as a site of reckoning — between past and present, stereotype and reality, and the differences between those who call it home.
RavePloughsharesJettisons conventions of genre and humorously combines the cadences of memoir with claims of fictionality ... Readers who delight in forthright and fearless stories of complicated women, told through the eyes of other complicated women, are sure to find joy in McCracken’s new book. Those who have walked with the memory of a loved one will find solace in the narrator’s final revelation—that the hero of the book and the storyteller remain forever connected, as neither will let the other go.
MixedThe MillionsDeploying her signature sarcasm and wit, Martin utilizes what author Sharma Shields calls the \'portrait of the artist as a work in progress\' to frame a host of interpersonal dilemmas that extend beyond the frame of Joey’s affluent San Francisco art school ... Through a succession of fast-paced, interlaced plot threads, we watch our narrator outgrow—in fits and starts—her family’s codependency and her peers’ superficial artspeak. This growth is nonlinear; it oscillates, just as time in each modular section of the book shuttles between past and present. The effect is one of vertigo and fragmentation ... Erratic gestures toward broader critical discourse are made throughout the book, but ultimately, due to Joey’s narrow point of view, the novel focuses more on individual works of art in the context of Joey’s art school than it does on contemporary art in any larger context. Even the city of San Francisco is depicted in broad strokes, owing to the narrator’s tendency to live inside her head. Discussions of contemporary art—that is, discussions with a foot in reality—are largely stilted and superficial ... It seems...a lost opportunity to have such a sharp and opinionated narrator withhold, elide, or halfheartedly allude to her thoughts on art, rather than state them frankly on the page ... Conflict does not come to a head, nor does Joey experience a moment of revelation. Instead, anger fizzles out, and dissatisfying social interactions repeat themselves. As a result, the narrator’s interiority does little to drive the plot, and the novel’s first 200 pages or so read as exposition ... In a way, Joey presents the same frustrating enigma that bad art does. Art, for instance, is criticized for being too opaque as much as it is for being too transparent. Likewise, Joey gives the reader at once very little introspection and a barrage of unfiltered confessions.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... on a deeper level, these stories are bound by a subconscious connective tissue. Characters and images reappear across stories, bridging time and space, reality and make-believe. Friends and lovers leap in and out of guises, revealing trap doors in their personalities, inexplicable quirks in their daily habits. Nothing stays constant except the desire to transform ... Ma writes as if the past can be re-scripted, people reborn, as easily as a story is spun on the page. And indeed her stylistic versatility makes it appear that way ... In all of these stories, Ma keenly captures the fantasies of young and not-so-young adults whose lives have plateaued, who feel estranged from their bodies, who think less about the person they married than about their joint assets. Never quite passionate in their love, secure in their finances, or successful in their careers, these characters find novel ways to rewrite their decisions ... To my mind, Ma reprises and retells the most important moments in Bliss Montage in order to depict the transformative effects of time. In the first instance of reflection, the true subject of the story is elided. The second iteration returns to the heart of the matter and tries to confront it. In a way, time passes in the white space between stories. Characters fall asleep and wake up. Like the husband who buries himself in order to change his life, Ma’s characters grow each time they reemerge.
Caio Abreu tr. Bruna Dantas Lobato
RavePloughsharesAbreu’s roving eye diverts and directs the reader toward secret knowledge and emotional revelation ... Abreu’s stories lie somewhere between fables with wry moral lessons and diary entries full of emotional impasses. Often, his detached prose serves as protection for unconscious or coded desires ... Elsewhere, Abreu uses the language of distraction to excavate characters’ complicated memories ... By telescoping from the lips of a man to the inside of a cut fig, Abreu redirects the reader’s eye, allowing erotic desire an interval of privacy in which to blossom. Here, beauty, violence, and eros form a conceptual triangle—one defers to another, until each is deeply felt but never punctured by a direct, analytic gaze ... That Moldy Strawberries can embody the ambivalence of pleasant despair is a testament to its characters’ complexity, their ability to simultaneously navigate multiple lines of thought—some trivial, others profound—and multiple versions of the self—some public and performative, others private or reserved for a kindred spirit. To witness their distracted impulses, their tendencies to veer from one thought or self to another, is to witness these characters’ humanity.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksThroughout the text Zambreno weaves in her personal obsessions, pointing out striking and sometimes tenuous parallels between consciousnesses—hers, Guibert’s, and Alex Suzuki’s—all grasping for connection within an ether of intertextual references, mazy interior monologues, and quotations that speak of one thing but point behind their backs at another ... Rightly or wrongly, Zambreno’s books have always evoked—and entrapped me in—an interior ... A house with a history, but one that is so well wrought that you cannot, from the outside, locate its seams or its disjunctions. Perhaps what I’m referring to is the feeling of occupying a space, one that has been marked by countless others, either with love or with petty and sinister intent ... Reading To Write As If Already Dead is at once like biting into a bitter seed and like commiserating with an old friend. The speaker’s critical discernment—turned on herself and her own situation—reminds me of the speaker in Heroines, who writes from within a house, first in Akron, Ohio, then in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, trapped in the role of the wife who follows her husband from job to job. However, reading To Write As If Already Dead does not, for some reason, enrage me to the point where I unconsciously (consciously) pick fights with my partner and plot escape routes out the window to avoid ending up like the speaker of Zambreno’s books: angry, wilted, and charred from attempting to live the life of the mind in the body of a woman.
João Gilberto Noll, tr. Edgar Garbelotto
PositiveAsymptote...reads like a surreal reenactment of Les Misérables set in an imagined city ... Highly erotic and full of such gems, Noll’s novel explores the powerlessness of feeling both disoriented and aroused ... The novel itself shifts and morphs on every page; its occasional extended scenes comprised either of monologues that circumnavigate the world in one breath, or stretches of witty banter between two characters reminiscent of bunraku puppet plays ... Identifying this figure as the city’s founder, Brazilian literary scholar Idelber Avelar suggests that the conclusion of Harmada serves as a meeting between myth and history. Readers, however, are not privy to what is myth and what is history. All they know by the end is that causality does not direct this novel ... What remains with the reader of this novel, in which anything could have happened, is precisely this sense of unknowability.