PanThe Times (UK)I just saved you the excruciating experience of reading Sandra Newman’s The Men, the most ill-conceived and badly executed novel of the year, if our God is a merciful one ... This is the kind of circular logic that drives The Men, and you think surely not, surely we’re not just going to spin endlessly around this one dumb idea until we puke from dizziness, but we are and we do ... A book that could be about how women would build a different world becomes a rumination on all the bad things men have done. Things happen, but we don’t see much of it ... \'The world would get better if only this one specific demographic could be eradicated from the face of the Earth\' is an extremely weird thought to have, and it’s even weirder not only to write it down but to prattle on about it for a couple of hundred pages. I guess we’re just lucky Newman decided to use \'men\' and not \'the Jews\' or whatever ... She is not a thoughtful writer and she stumbles over stereotypes and clichés. Here, she doesn’t just trip over the stereotype of men bad/women good, she builds a house with it as her foundation. She only makes it worse by trying to wokeify the text, sprinkling in mentions of trans and nonbinary people in the clumsiest way possible as if she remembered in the final draft that trans people existed and had to be accounted for in her scheme of damnation.
MixedThe Times (UK)The book doesn’t really have a plot, although the characters do indulge in the familiar post-apocalyptic activities of scavenging for supplies and growing food. Rather it wallows in the horror of this human urge to dominate and spread and destroy ... There is a real disgust with humankind working in The Doloriad. Williams uses a lot of insect language to describe her characters, comparing them to maggots, cockroaches and moths. They are an invasive species, worming their way around the earth. There is no epiphany about hope, no memory of what was good about people and civilisation. The question is whether Williams’s corrective to the cosy apocalyptic trend is good enough to stand on its own merits rather than as simply a reaction to a trend. The answer is, sadly, no. The novel is more interesting than successful and doesn’t hold together well enough to make sense of its author’s more idiosyncratic choices ... There is the odd provocative moment, some memorable prose and a refreshingly abrasive tone, but it doesn’t cohere. It aspires to be darker than it is. The body horror is ultimately more Human Centipede than the pure abjection of Clarice Lispector, who supplies the epigraph ... even if all The Doloriad ultimately does is show the naivety and silliness of all of the other dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction on the market, I’m still glad it exists.
PanThe BafflerBefore long the novel reveals itself: It’s not a book set in Kansas, but against it. It is not a book that a Kansan would want to read, it is a book for New Yorkers who want to think they understand the red states ... This Kansas is instantly identifiable as red state culture, an easy mix of stereotypes of the uneducated, the working class, and the bigoted. What Lerner eliminates are the inconvenient details ... Darren is not allowed to narrate his own thoughts; somehow, despite being mostly illiterate, the narration of his sections sounds a lot like Adam’s ... But how could someone like Darren speak for himself? He is only a representative of the horde. He is not an individual but a tragic archetype running headlong into his red-capped fate ... With his novel and his media positioning, Lerner was well-placed to deliver up red state culture as source material for the entertainment of the cultural elite, which he then legitimated with extra-novel commentary. What was lost was any sense that there might be a market for artistic work that comes from and speaks to fly-over country.
PanThe BafflerNeither book considers the possibility, even for the length of a sentence fragment, that one thing making some women angry might have been the insistence by a certain segment of elite women leaders that Hillary Clinton was the feminist choice despite her having made the lives of an entirely other segment of women unlivable ... Neither book tells us what to do with our anger ... Nor does either Good and Mad or Rage Becomes Her come to terms with the often selfish and self-righteous nature of anger ... I wonder how long we’re going to have books like this for women, books in which we sing only a song of our own oppression and tell ourselves we are special and brave for having suffered for so long ... Those good girls who want to sell books that insist women have the right to be angry right now ironically erase those of us who have been here, absolutely fucking incandescent, the whole time.
PanThe BafflerReal anger, the kind that contorts the face and bends the body, still makes women as ugly as it ever did. But someone figured out there would be a market for books telling the kind of women who knitted pink hats for the Women’s March, posted a couple Facebook entries about their experience, and then went back to their cozy suburban lives that they were brave to do all of that ... another example of the classic publishing trend of market pandering, or else there is literally an algorithm that creates books like these, desperate to speak to a moment but not of a moment. Perhaps it simply lets writers enter in a topic and then spits out all of the studies, statistics, uplifting quotations, and anecdotes they could need to fill 300 pages ... [this book does not consider] the possibility, even for the length of a sentence fragment, that one thing making some women angry might have been the insistence by a certain segment of elite women leaders that Hillary Clinton was the feminist choice despite her having made the lives of an entirely other segment of women unlivable ... Chemaly would never guess that a majority of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016. When a woman is angry in these tracts, she is Elizabeth Warren, not Marine Le Pen ... I wonder how long we’re going to have books like this for women, books in which we sing only a song of our own oppression and tell ourselves we are special and brave for having suffered for so long.
RaveThe GuardianLaRose is excellent. It is heartbreaking; it is nuanced; the prose is as strong and stark as the wintry western landscape it describes. The story is both simple and incredibly complex ... Erdrich has tapped into contemporary American culture, from the disappearance of the middle class, to the senseless deaths of children by gunfire, and to the way a personal trauma can reverberate through a community for generations.