PositiveBookforumWe learn a lot about E in Participation’s spare 191 pages, many of which are marked by white space ... Outside of this central consciousness, though, the novel is mostly schematic. Characters, scenarios, and settings are lightly sketched, corresponding to types if they correspond to anything at all ... [The novel] is studded with direct, often apologetic, address to the reader ... Participation makes use of a host of literary devices not typically associated with fiction: lists, citation, erasure, enjambment, to name a few. Characters suddenly and permanently drop out of view, only for their disappearance to be regretfully noted by the narrator ... Moschovakis uses them nimbly ... This is, ultimately, the kind of book that’s more pleasurable to think about than actually read. But then, isn’t that the point?
PanNew RepublicThe events it documents take place \'hundreds of years\' after the birth of Christ, but Moshfegh’s prose style makes few concessions to historical verisimilitude—bewilderingly, some of the only affected words she uses are “sheath” (meaning vagina) and \'pubis\' ...These events are only a prelude to the greater brutality to come. Misery, in Moshfegh’s novel, is as ubiquitous as it is arbitrary ... These scenes are nauseating on their own, and all the more so for how inert they feel: The suffering accrues, but to no real end. By the time Jude belches up an old man’s undigested pinky toe, the effect of such outrageous images is more tiresome than provoking: almost adolescent ... The degradation in Lapvona is notable not just for its intensity but for how contrived it feels—as if Moshfegh has populated an entire medieval world just to subject her own creations to monstrous experiments. It is only late in the novel that she gestures toward justifying this sadism, voicing a kind of defense of authorial cruelty through the elderly Grigor ... Rather than pulling off a theory of inhumanity, Lapvona makes an unconvincing scapegoat of organized religion ... Any critique of the role religion plays in justifying barbarism and oppression, however, is muddled by the fact that those who can sense the ruling class’s worldliness and corruption hardly come off better. Most of the characters in the book simply disdain other people, period ... Moshfegh doesn’t owe us a tidy sermon in the shape of a novel. But in the absence of anything fresh or even particularly coherent to say about human cruelty, spiritual poverty, or the hypocrisy of the church, there is little else to recommend Lapvona, a grim slog to a conclusion even more obscene than the one that polarized readers of My Year of Rest and Relaxation.
PositiveThe NationLasley’s project...quickly abandons any pretense of being an objective study of a masculine industry in decline. What Sea State becomes instead is a blistering account of self-destruction—that of the men who work offshore, yes, but mostly Lasley’s own ... how precisely their tryst becomes a full-blown affair is left off the page. This omission is of a piece with Lasley’s refreshing disdain for the reader’s desire to know exactly what is going on at all times, who is speaking which lines, what is truth and what’s a fabrication. As in real life, key details are only revealed in their full context long after they’ve been introduced ... Lasley’s interviewees appear at the start of each chapter. A few read almost like punchlines ... Many others, though, are poignant, or at least revealing of the double life that so many offshore workers feel the job forces them to live ... Lasley is perceptive, too, about the uneasy class position of the offshore workers, many of whom come from working-class backgrounds but whose occupation allows them a level of material comfort that eludes many bourgeois, city-dwelling professionals today ... Sea State’s slide into the personal doesn’t wind up feeling like a loss. Lasley’s writing is energetic and occasionally impressionistic. She is prone to self-indulgent disquisitions on the beauty of dance music like UK garage and seems nimbler with details than structures. All of this makes for a fresh and unpredictable prose style but would be an obvious liability in any bird’s-eye view of the oil industry. And perhaps most crucially, Lasley makes for as compelling a character as any of the men she speaks to.
MixedBookforumIn Elvira...Swiv has a soothing vision of adulthood ... Her irrepressibility is remarkable for all that she has lived through, but the hijinks of an effervescent senior, rendered in the voice of a wisecracking child, can verge on the too-cute ... it’s Elvira’s determination to crawl back from the abyss that Toews stresses most: \'She had to ask herself how she would survive grief and her answer was Who can I help?\' However admirable a creed, this hints at a cloying tendency in Fight Night that threatens to undermine the novel’s subtler explorations of family dysfunction ... Fight Night is littered with imperatives ... Occasionally they are electrifying ... But the novel’s many lines about fighting more often have the ring of a truism, or a self-help affirmation taped to a bathroom mirror ... The Fresno scenes are some of Fight Night’s strongest, so it’s a shame the trip proves to be a short-lived diversion ... nearly all tenderness. The uncompromising forces that typically counterbalance Toews’s softness—melancholia, the violence of men’s wills—are relegated to the background or too easily surmounted. Still, there’s great pathos in watching a writer as gifted as Toews turn the same losses over and over as if looking for some way to redeem them on the page, knowing all the while that there isn’t.
PositiveThe New Republic...these works serve as reminders that the line between online and off is eminently permeable ... both darker and more ironic than other entries in the genre ... . In A Touch of Jen, however, Remy seems to have no inner life at all—a point underscored by the fact that people are always asking what his \'deal\' is—while Alicia is incapable of relaying her genuinely upsetting personal history in anything other than the cadence of a standup comic ... Morgan’s novel is flush with tactile language ... As depictions of a phenomenon that exists largely on the internet and ultimately concerns an unrepresentative if not insignificant portion of the world’s population, there comes a point in all of these works where it’s tempting to ask: Does any of this really matter? Is a photo-sharing app where people post images of their pets and their breakfasts really worthy of so much scrutiny? In the real world, the answer is unfortunately yes ... What’s harder to determine is whether it matters for the purposes of literature ... The operative question is whether the social forms fostered by the internet are genuinely novel enough to offset the risk of immediate obsolescence that any work taking social media as its subject incurs ... A Touch of Jen concerns itself with the same morass but concludes with a smirk rather than a shiver. Ultimately, Morgan suggests that authenticity can be just as hideous as its opposite. The book may date itself with perishable references to Instagram captions and New Age fads, but it succeeds where similar works have faltered by deflating the fantasy of the real.
Natalia Ginzburg trans. by D. M. Low
PositiveJewish Currents\" In Ginzburg’s oeuvre, suffering is less an event than an atmosphere. This emotional monotony adheres to the overriding logic of her fiction, in which everything is part of a pattern ... the same stories are told and retold, the same meals eaten ad nauseum, and, as in children’s cartoons, some figures only ever appear in a single set of clothes ... concerned less with narrative than with routines and their temporary disruptions ... even if Voices in the Evening emphasizes the futility of Tommasino’s wish for a fresh start somewhere new, it allows that his and Elsa’s relationship is fatally imperiled the moment it’s brought out of the shadows and into the formal structure of engagement, transformed from choice into obligation. The point is not exactly cheerful, suggesting the only way to escape the web of the childhood home is to become just as entangled elsewhere ... It is the peculiar effect of Ginzburg’s oblique style that [a] roving look more clearly expresses Elsa’s love and disappointed hopes than her explicit admission of both.
PositiveJewish CurrentsDivorcing is an elliptical experiment; its autobiographical aspects reveal themselves only by degrees ... A disorienting, imagistic recollection of various rooms gives way to Sophie’s matter-of-fact description of her own decapitation-by-automobile on Paris’s Avenue George V. This graphic accident would be more jarring had the novel not immediately primed our skepticism ... Divorcing’s structural slipperiness earns Taubes comparisons to Renata Adler and Elizabeth Hardwick in the novel’s new publicity copy, but the book’s closest analogue might be the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann’s 1971 novel Malina, another nightmare-haunted portrait of a woman unmoored ... If Jacob occasionally made a fool of Taubes in life, she had her revenge in fiction. Divorcing is unsparing in its emphasis on Ezra’s scorekeeping, his potbelly, his intellectual fraudulence ... Ultimately, Divorcing is a compendium of severance: not just a wife from her husband, but a family from their homeland, and a people from their God ... Beneath the surface, the calamity of the Holocaust runs through this fragmented novel like shrapnel ... In one of many linkages of the personal and world-historical, Divorcing also provides a more pedestrian image of disintegration in the form of objects that Sophie and Ezra have misplaced over the course of their peripatetic marriage ... Consider the novel’s final scene: Sophie wakes from a dream of an imagined journey to embark on an actual one. Or does she? It’s difficult to tell. But Sophie isn’t bothered by the ambiguity of her circumstances ... That the simplicity of this conclusion eluded Taubes outside fiction is a tragedy. But she made a life’s work from its absence.
MixedJewish CurrentsA stranger in a strange land, [Wiener] defamiliarizes the new norms of the tech industry unquestioningly swallowed by her peers, restoring friction to a milieu devoted to eliminating it ... These salient details accrue like layers of paint, and ultimately the effect is impressionistic rather than schematic ... Earlier this year, Wiener told an interviewer at The Guardian that she wants Uncanny Valley \'to be politically useful,\' but that desire isn’t always borne out by the text. Wiener is an unsparing observer of tech-exacerbated gentrification, for example, but the unsettling images she conjures tend to be registered more than interrogated. The anecdotal approach can only take her so far, and occasionally it constrains the aperture of Uncanny Valley’s critique, leaving Wiener with little to say about aspects of the tech industry that have been rendered deliberately invisible, like its reliance on a permanent underclass of gig workers, or the scandalous conditions of the factories in which its thousand-dollar gadgets are made. This cloistered point of view can lead to shallow diagnoses ... This oversimplification isn’t so much a failing of the book as a reflection of its form—ironic, perhaps, considering that Wiener’s choice of genre was influenced by that aforementioned political ambition...Though the book is nonfiction, Uncanny Valley is not a polemic; it’s a memoir with palpable literary aspirations, the strength of which rests largely on Wiener’s elegantly disaffected style. Her restraint proves incompatible with the prospect of a structural critique of the tech industry, which has done much worse than imbue our lives with the tinge of unreality ... the quality of Wiener’s noticing yields pleasures far beyond the analytical. But there are moments that suggest she knows more than she’s letting on ... uspended somewhere between life writing and commentary, and Wiener’s apparent reticence cuts across both modes—most glaringly in the book’s final section, which is hamstrung by a lack of narrative momentum as it approaches the present day ... is in some ways a record of complicity—hers and our own ... It would have been interesting to see [Wiener] wrestle with everything the Valley gave her.
Kristen R. Ghodsee
MixedJewish Currents\"... the book is a straightforward account of how capitalism harms women—including, yes, in our intimate lives—and why women (and men) are comparatively better off \'in nations where state revenues support greater levels of redistribution and larger social safety nets\' ... Ghodsee’s reclamation of this socialist history is timely, particularly as capitalism’s defenders attempt once again to wield it like a cudgel ... After starkly outlining the degree to which women suffer under capitalism and stressing that not only is another world possible, but it has already, at least partially, existed (and continues to exist in the social democratic countries of Northern Europe), Ghodsee’s prescription for contemporary American women feels anemic ... This points to the limits of Ghodsee’s political imagination: by her own admission, she’s no advocate of revolution ... Reading these limp prescriptions, I found my thoughts returning again to Kollontai, and what she had written back in 1909 about \'the bourgeois women\'s movement...\'
PositiveJewish Currents\"As Milkman’s predations intensify, Burns’s compulsively maximalist prose careens like the speech of someone as sure of themselves as they are unsure of what’s about to come out of their mouth. In their contortions, repetitions, and evasions, her sentences come to resemble the avoidant behaviors of middle sister herself ... In Milkman, Burns’s canniest trick might be reversing the logic that so alienates her narrator, whose private, indefinite pain is subsumed by the public violence of the Troubles.\