RaveThe Washington PostThat Ernaux can do so much — The Young Man tackles love, aging, desire, loss, misogyny, class and death — in such a small space is clearly the hallmark of a writer who has honed her craft to be razor sharp. It cuts to the bone.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe work as a whole finds Shapland determined to reckon with the biggest challenges that face us as a society ... Shapland’s use of the queer experience is deeply empowering.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWith the precision of a historian, Funder cobbles together scant details to reconstruct a life. And with the imaginative force of a novelist, she speculates in clearly sign-posted moments on what that life was like ... Considering how little information Funder has to work with, Wifedom is a spectacular achievement of both scholarship and pure feeling
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesMuch of Ingalls’ fiction deals with the depressive realities of marriage and the frightening disregard, ambivalence or pure hatred husbands have for wives. In the Act is a funny story, well in line with the rest of the author’s vision.
RaveThe Washington PostAble to spin memories into literary gold, Hull’s warmth and sadness call to mind the grotesqueries of Flannery O’Connor ... Through the Groves hits that perfect place between pain and love, and Hull makes it look easy.
PositiveThe Washington PostNguyen puts these experiences into writing, a healing recognition occurs, most movingly through her children, who are able to see and validate things she cannot.
RaveThe Washington PostPurposefully. aimless ... A book about loss, the daily minuscule cuts that come from raising a child ... An achingly rendered experience of parenthood.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesNot for the faint of heart ... Uses Frankenstein as its foundation to conclude with a science fiction story of its own, but what is more powerful about the book is how it captures the life-changing experience of pregnancy and birth.
RaveThe Washington PostIt feels weird to say that Leg is hilarious, but it’s true. The exploits of the Marshalls are those of a family that refuses to be buried by hardship and instead develops a great sense of humor ... Marshall’s memoir is also a gay coming-of-age story ... Never slows in its energy, hope and warmth.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThere are some misguided statements in the memoir ... Initially, I wondered why this couldn’t have been a personal essay rather than a memoir. But the more I read, the more I realized how important Patrick’s message is ... Life B is obviously a huge part of Patrick’s healing process, which ultimately makes this memoir a compelling read — not because her illness is so unusual but because her experience of it, her fight to get back to herself and her desires, is so frustratingly common, particularly for women of middle age who have spent their lives putting others first.
RaveThe Washington PostThe past isn’t past, of course, and Auder does good work of describing the world from a child’s point of view ... In addition to the moving portrayal of a sisterly bond, Don’t Call Me Home is also a portrait of New York City in the ′70s and ′80s ... Part of the book’s appeal is Auder’s ability to simultaneously worship Viva while she fantasizes about wringing her neck, making this book relatable to anyone, even for those without Warhol superstars for parents ... Not to say this is a sad book. Don’t Call Me Home is very funny. Auder has the sense of humor of a person who became an adult as soon as they were born.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesA welcome new display of [Moore\'s] masterful approach to the undercurrent of violence that she believes runs beneath all human behavior ... Moore is a master of smallness. Her deceptively simple sentences are like geysers. The churning energy underneath is violent, animal and sexual.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times\"...in its boldness of premise and execution, Biography of X goes above and beyond, under the river and through the woods. It flaunts world-building skills that the writers of HBO’s Game of Thrones wish they’d had ... At first read, Lacey’s dedication to the bizarro-world reality of this novel was irksome. I was more interested in her sentences...I found myself yearning for more of X and Lucca. I didn’t care about the fact that X may have been a spy for the Northern Territory or that she had collaborated with David Bowie ... But the ending of this novel changed my thinking and confirmed that Lacey is one of the most fearless novelists writing today ... The climax of the book, what Lucca discovers, is not to be shared in this review. But it is the recognizable nightmare of anyone who has loved an art monster. More terrifying and tantalizing is the message such parallel worlds send to art monsters themselves. Lacey asks, what happens when we don’t choose love?\
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesAfter my review copy of Still Pictures arrived in my mailbox, I jumped right in and started gulping it down. But suddenly, I couldn’t continue. I went to my bookshelves and found myself pulling down Malcolm’s other book ... While I relished the Malcolm of books past, Still Pictures languished on my nightstand ... Still Pictures is deeply personal, and Malcolm is not afraid to say that this kind of writing does not come naturally to her ... The most affecting of these pieces cover the experience of other Czech refugees making new lives in New York ... A sense of paralyzing agony runs through every piece — if not physical then cerebral ... The failures of this book are what give it its weight ... Readers looking for the cutting and flinty Malcolm of earlier books will not find her here. There is something else, more subtle but perhaps more important, about our inability to capture our own \'still pictures\' of our lives.
RaveLos Angeles TimesMcBride is a card-carrying member of the Acker cult. But he’s also ready to acknowledge her problematic moments, of which there were more than a few ... It’s shocking to learn that this is McBride’s first book. He’s magnanimous when it comes to Acker’s critics, and he can paint a picture of New York’s queer art scene almost as vividly as Cynthia Carr in Fire in the Belly, her biography of the artist David Wojnarowicz. But Carr was one of Wojnarowicz’s friends. McBride never knew Acker. Eat Your Mind effectively interlaces Acker’s books with the events in her life. Even more crucially, it places her in the grand scheme of letters ... Eat Your Mind does everything a good biography should and more.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesKadlec has a PhD and it shows, with copious footnotes and citations, but she is also a friendly narrator, sharing revelations in the tone of a close friend, so that the points of her argument seem to emerge organically alongside the research. Anecdotes don’t make data, but both happily coexist here. Kadlec’s account is so relatable that one begins to see the ties that bind us to evangelical philosophy even if we are not members of that church ... Where Kadlec departs from Machado is that her cultural sidebars — including on She-Ra and Dungeons and Dragons — are less gripping for the reader. She is strongest as an academic, writing from not only personal but scholarly experience; she knows her way around Christian texts ... These scriptural deep cuts are fascinating. Though Kadlec writes that she has no interest in returning to the Christian faith, one wonders if perhaps there are other, more expansive readings still available to her ... Following in the footsteps of scholars such as Elaine Pagels, what Kadlec suggests is something more exciting — not a revision but a restoration of the Christian faith. Is Kadlec a heretic? Or is she the true believer?
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesInterest in her personal life persists through Pinckney’s book, although he is determined to show Hardwick the writer and genius ... Pinckney’s portrait is exhaustive and exhausting. Even the most avid literary rubberneckers on all manner of topics...will be worn out by the detail and sprawl of Pinckney’s memories ... Pinckney is a sly writer, with the impressionistic brush of a poet but the dedication of a historian. He gets his own one-liners in there too ... It says something about Hardwick’s brilliance that even after reading nearly 500 pages about her, I wanted more.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesYou could toss off a description of the book as \'the portrait of the artist as a young woman,\' but life is short and that’s awfully reductive. Martin’s book is too complicated, too messy, too specifically entangled with the sheer impossibility of art for art’s sake under capitalism, for that kind of catalog copy to apply ... Readers might find something of an even more youthful Sally Rooney in these things. But their patience will be tested ... It’s a feather in Martin’s cap that her humor and nuance keep the reader going ... There is more to this \'portrait of the artist\' than meets the eye, luckily. Superseding the struggle to complete a project premised on the unknown is the struggle simply to survive ... A direct rebuttal to the notion that novelists must ignore precarity if they want to be marketable ... Joey’s story unfolds through short vignettes. Some pages are only a few lines long. Others include lists and venn diagrams ... If Martin has set out to complete a \'self-portrait\' of what it means to be a young person today in graduate school with artistic aspirations, she has done so.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... was written before Roe v. Wade was overturned, and reading it now feels a bit like an exercise in self-punishment. We know that hetero-patriarchy is all about power and control. But what to do about it? Bassist’s self-deprecating style masks an unwieldy thesis, and both author and reader are left overwhelmed by its lack of focus.
Alice Sedgwick Wohl
PositiveLos Angeles TimesWohl’s book is not a recollection or a mere revision but rather an attempt to understand the intense attention, even obsession, with Edie and Andy, and how their pairing anticipated the age of the influencer ... A phenomenon is unknowable, perhaps.
RaveLos Angeles Times... is revelatory not only for its honest discussion of this thankless task, but also for Tillman’s candor about having her life drip away in service to someone she cares for more than she cares about ... forces us to question our assumptions about what is owed to us and about our responsibility to our family members ... Not only does Tillman now know the exhausting labor of caregiving and the demographics of the people who do it, she recognizes the total denial of those who look away ... So many of the revelations of this book — and indeed the predicament that we find ourselves in when caring for others — come down to, as Tillman puts it, learning what we never wanted to know. But it seems unlikely that conditions will improve unless we approach the crisis, as Tillman has done in this book, with unsparing honesty.
RaveLos Angeles TimesMean Baby is on one level a charming and disarming \'memoir of growing up,\' as its subtitle puts it. Blair is a talented writer. Her portrait of her formidable mother, Molly, is beautiful, disturbing and acutely readable ... But this is no frothy celebrity memoir. Pain is at the heart of Mean Baby ... There are plenty of celebrity memoirs that tell stories about recovery. While Blair’s is well-written and self-accountable, it stands out because it asks the right questions. Many understand that substance abuse is self-medication. As to what it is we’re medicating against — well, that’s the real story.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesOn the surface, Michelle Hart’s debut novel might fall into the category of a book in which nothing happens. But that’s part of its subterfuge. This story lives up to its title; its meaning lies in its shadows ... While the theme of mothers and daughters overlays this book, it is a camouflage. This is a novel about the specific breed of crippling loneliness that often accompanies burgeoning queer desire ... In the end, this book is not an erotic thriller, nor a comment on #MeToo, nor an elegiac coming-of-age story about surviving a parent’s death. It’s more interesting. We Do What We Do in the Dark is a novel of coming out — not just as a queer woman but as a person. Mallory is sharing her story, embracing her desire and, in doing so, embracing herself.
RaveLos Angeles TimesWalking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, a newly expanded collection of her complete stories (some true, some not, some in between), provides many opportunities to fall in love with Mueller ... Many have stumbled onto wildness and never written anything of consequence. But Mueller was always writing, putting one foot in front of the other toward a horizon with no beginning and no end ... The evidence of her talent and wit bubbles off the page. Mueller writes with all the charm and warmth of Eve Babitz ... Walking Through Clear Water is an important recovery of the work she did manage to get down ... The water might be clear but the pool is painted black. The newly collected writings...bolster the evidence Mueller is much more than an It Girl. She is a writer.
Yuko Tsushima, trans. by Geraldine Harcourt
PositiveLos Angeles TimesWoman Running in the Mountains captures not only Takiko’s struggle but the unbearable loneliness of being a single parent of any gender ... What makes this rerelease feel so urgent? Forty years have removed some of the stigma from single parenthood but little of the difficulty ... Takiko is certain she will be able to go on as she was before her pregnancy, to live her life and set goals for herself as a parent. Her mystical confidence is what gives the novel its unique strength ... Tsushima expresses Takiko’s confidence through her appreciation of nature ... Tsushima’s work is grounded in her social consciousness, making Woman Running in the Mountains both a timely and a timeless read.
MixedLos Angeles TimesI appreciate the provocation ... There is much to unpack in the \'Vile Bodies\' chapter: a discussion of BDE; the downfalls of Anthony Weiner and Jeffrey Toobin; the policing of out-of-office behavior...Asia Argento; and \'sexually liminal\' behaviors like \'innuendos, come-ons, banter, \"stolen kisses\"\' ... \'For many women,\' Kipnis writes, \'especially of the heterosexual persuasion, these in-between zones are what makes life worth living\' ... The passage is a good example of where Kipnis can take a step forward and another back: An indictment of capitalism’s totalizing intrusion into our lives quickly followed by the assertion that a similar encroachment, in the form of unprovoked sexual intrusions, simply \'makes life worth living\' ... The book’s other chapters...feel hollow, especially in comparison to the verve with which Kipnis attacks the giant wagging finger over sexual misbehavior ... Entertaining the intent of the majority of this book, which is to investigate how the pandemic has affected our relationships, is a big ask, especially when Kipnis excludes the experience of parents, caregivers and those who have suffered enormous losses ... Ultimately, I’m not convinced that being in isolation (partnered or not) has had much of an effect on our understanding of love. It’s Kipnis’ questions about monogamy, and in particular heterosexuality, that seem worth asking. They existed before the pandemic — and during. Here’s hoping that by the end of all this, we’re not too exhausted to keep asking them.
Julia May Jonas
PositiveLos Angeles Times... energetic ... Jonas, with a potent, pumping voice, has drawn a character so powerfully candid that when she does things that are malicious, dangerous and, yes, predatory, we only want her to do them again ... Jonas is obviously keyed-in to the waxing and waning of the #MeToo movement ... The climax of the book is expectedly dramatic, and the symbolism of what happens to our narrator and her husband is a bit heavy-handed ... Though it intimates an opportunity for redemption, even contrition, the narrator’s interest in the accuser (and potential victim) is, in the end, purely literary.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesHustvedt brings a surprisingly scientific approach to her artistic and literary subjects ... Here is Hustvedt’s unique contribution and genius: By bringing a placenta into a fight about misogyny, she fortifies her argument with physical evidence ... Other pieces in the collection don’t fall short, exactly; it’s more that they fall out of place ... When Hustvedt returns to the idea of what’s missing, her writing takes off ... \'A Walk With My Mother\' could easily be an entire book, one I would eagerly devour.
MixedLos Angeles TimesA succinct and clear writer, Srinivasan defines her terms in helpful and revealing ways ... Another key concept for Srinivasan is intersectional Marxist feminism. She is at her strongest when demystifying it as a framework that attacks the system rather than \'men\' as a group. Her most provocative arguments stem from the notion that sexual politics cannot be fully examined without speaking truth on race and class ... Porn is everywhere, but the argument that it has poisoned an entire generation, making it impossible for them to think about sex for themselves, feels too broad and poorly supported ... Some of Srinivasan’s assertions about pornography are rattlingly obtuse ... It’s obvious that Srinivasan is a thinker whose ideas can evolve, as they must.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... a revelation, proof that a great biography has little to do with the greatness of its subject ... One of the most compelling parts of Burning Man is Wilson’s appreciation for Lawrence’s out-of-print memoir of his friend Maurice Magnus.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesNothing is comfortable in these essays, which labor through the muddy waters of intergenerational trauma, imperialism, capitalism and misogyny, using popular culture ... But this book is not about despair; it’s about sifting through the broken shards of culture, looking for messages to restore one’s spirit ... Instagram psychologists encourage people to take active ownership of their problems, but White Magic rightly recognizes the weight of historical trauma on those living today — violence that is embedded, like a poison, in bodies and land ... Though White Magic is a book of essays, it reads like a single piece, as circuitous and ambiguous as special agent Dale Cooper’s journey through the Black Lodge ... Washuta is capable of something more powerful: making sense of hard realities through deep rumination — a sort of magic ... In consumer culture, where alcohol abuse is not only accepted but also actively encouraged, Washuta’s recovery is deeply powerful ... With that knowledge and power behind her, it will be exciting to see what this talented writer turns her attention to next.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesFierce Poise focuses on the artist in an unconventional way: It covers the years 1950-60 in 11 chapters, each jumping off a specific date during one of those years. The resulting book is lively but short, skimming the surface of Frankenthaler’s work ... The conceit is that the early days capture the essence of her work, but the constraint only shortchanges her contested legacy by eliding the rest of her long career ... The book ends with a Coda the reader a ghostly witness to Frankenthaler’s coming into her celebrity in 1969 with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum. Nemerov describes the artist’s \'radiance\' in this moment, but without context the conclusion rings a bit hollow. We are missing what it was truly like for Frankenthaler to be \'the artist alone before her picture,\' standing in front of those epic canvases, fatigued but thrilled, looking in. Perhaps a sequel is in order.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, tr. Martin Aitken
PositiveLos Angeles TimesBetween the slings and arrows born and the writer’s already well established tendency toward fruitful self-absorption, it is not surprising that Knausgaard spends too much time playing defense in In the Land of the Cyclops ... But when the veil of self-preservation lifts, the fine criticism is impossible to overlook ... His review of Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel Submission is exquisitely done ... When he gets out of his own way, Knausgaard’s passion for interiority and the detail of the individual experience, the most brilliant elements of his fiction, come through.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... a beautifully written bildungsroman, a \'portrait of the artist\' as a young woman. It is also, more uniquely, a powerful resource for artists who face the dueling responsibilities of creation and caregiving. You don’t have to be a woman or a mother to feel this friction.
RaveLos Angeles TimesWith Heather Clark’s new biography, Red Comet,, clocking in at more than 1,100 pages, the Plath cup runneth over ... Clark is the first biographer able to scan pages from the archive rather than take \'hastily scribbled\' notes on site, and it shows ... Where Clark treads familiar ground, she amplifies what we already know in compelling and painful ways ... Clark masterfully analyzes the poetry with intelligent incorporation of the biography ... Red Comet shows that the achievement of Sylvia Plath was miraculous — but it wasn’t spasmodic, or rare. It was hard-won, every single day.
RaveLos Angeles TimesMaggie Doherty’s brilliant new book, The Equivalents, tells the story of the institute by focusing on the five fellows who called themselves \'The Equivalents\' ... Doherty’s rigorous history is an empowering reminder that to change ourselves, we must have systemic support outside ourselves — institutional structures that reinforce the belief that all people are created equal, not just equivalent.
RaveLos Angeles TimesWhat Is the Grass may be the definitive book on Whitman’s life, afterlife and poetry. But it’s the moments in Doty’s own life—his first marriage to a woman, who had a son his age; his joy in his first love affairs with men—that the book truly glistens ... Doty’s vision of Whitman’s face might seem kookily metaphysical, but it crystallizes the aims of [the book]: searching, seeing and recognizing ... Doty is comfortable looking back to Whitman for solace and recognition. But there are surprises in this kind of book.
MixedLos Angeles TimesThough her book is composed of vignettes that read like entries in an archive...Shapland is led more by feeling and response ... Shapland’s intimate admissions are, like her subject...elusive ... I so wished for more [confessional] moments ... the aim of [the book]: searching, seeing and recognizing ... Shapland yearns to recognize Carson and Mary’s relationship for what it is, and then to extend the validation to herself and then all women who love women.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewJulian Barnes’s Levels of Life is a strange book about loving someone and losing them. Barnes’s wife, Pat, to whom the book is dedicated, died in 2008. A photo of her, embracing Barnes, appears as the author photo on the back flap. But the first two sections of this short book have little to do with Barnes — they are a whimsical history of ballooning, and a related story about the romance between Sarah Bernhardt and Fred Burnaby, a soldier who crossed the English Channel in a hot-air balloon in 1882 … Though there can be no greater meaning for his loss (as he puts it, ‘What is ‘success’ in mourning?’), Barnes succeeds in transmitting to those lucky readers who have never lost someone, this experience of grief as one among many ‘levels of life,’ utterly subject to change, without reason, at any moment.
PositiveNPRTea Obreht shows how shared mythology (where history meets speculation) is essential, particularly in times of war and loss … Man or myth, all of the characters in The Tiger\'s Wife are lovingly rendered. They could be the subject of their own novels — from the Deathless Man to the apothecary down the street … Natalia\'s conclusion at the end of the novel explains that the truth of these stories is less important than the symbolism they provide.