RavePortland Press-HeraldA model of storytelling ... Masterful ... Kidder has humanized a sprawling, thorny subject by focusing on people, not policy. Nor does it hurt to have the likes of Jim O’Connell, a certified mensch, at the heart of the story.
RaveThe National Book ReviewThis is McCracken at her finest — incisive, playful, and wise, as she portrays the extraordinary life that her mother led, their relationship, and the loss that has followed ... Ultimately, the book’s genre is a guessing game, a ploy, of sorts, that raises intriguing moral and philosophical questions. But McCracken has addressed all that for herself, and moved on. In the process, she has given us a terrific story, a tribute to her mother that’s gorgeously written, smart, witty, loving, and tart.
RaveThe Portland Press Herald\"Among the many pleasures of this book is the sense that Strout had a ball writing it. In Lucy, we have a novelist who talks about her writing, and describes how she creates characters – not unlike Strout herself, in interviews. So many layers of metafiction can’t help but entertain. Then, too, Strout seeds the story with nods to her earlier iconic books and characters – Olive Kitteridge and Bob Burgess, chief among them – and she lets drop key details that may surprise some readers. For newcomers, this book is effectively a primer for Strout’s other works.\
RaveThe National Book ReviewWhat one senses from early on is the centrality of Patchett’s moral compass and the tenacity of her approach to anything she takes on ... Knowing that Patchett built this book around a core essay, one might view many of its companion pieces as a preface, of sorts—narratives that map the author’s trajectory to the central story. Two essays, in particular, do that quite directly, displaying the author’s penchant for embracing ideas and causes with passion and purpose ... Ever the novelist, Patchett sees the world in terms of story—what is the basic story, where does it go, how does it end? ... As essays collections go, this one is exceptional not only for its title piece, but for its scope and eloquence. One could read this book, having known nothing of its author, and come away with a vivid sense of who she is. It’s a foundational text—smart, funny, reflective, generous, and kind.
RaveThe Portland Press Herald... as compelling and accomplished as anything you’re likely to read in the genre ... If humans were inclined to express love freely or easily, without hindrance or doubt, Lily King might be out of business. Instead she proves to be a deft chronicler of human emotion, registering shifts both large and small ... Most striking, perhaps, is the richness and complexity of stories that seem to be about one thing, then reveal themselves to be much more. In each story, King creates a world with its own rules and rhythms. There’s a nimbleness and ease to all of it – the small intimate moments and sense of longing, the jarring detours and atmospherics. Story for story, this collection is simply a knockout.
RaveThe Portland Press HeraldOh William! is, at once, breezy and consequential, in the way that Strout can mention something in passing and also leave a mark ... Lucy narrates in this confiding, conversational style, so it feels like she’s talking directly to each reader...Strout makes it hard to put the book down.
RavePortland Press-HeraldEllen Cooney has created a small wonder of a book with its mix of everyday life, mystical longing and practical truth. One Night Two Souls Went Walking informs readers, right from the top, that we’re leaving the material world for something less earthbound. And yet, thanks to her storytelling skill, Cooney easily straddles the line where those two spheres co-exist ... At the heart of this gently searching novel, Cooney [...] poses a large existential question: What is a soul? Cooney presents a series of vignettes, of deathbed vigils and confessions of the living, that suggest a range of possible answers ... With its evocation of souls and ghosts, this book might well have derailed into queasy terrain. Yet Cooney manages to pull off this balancing act with more than a modicum of humor and charm.
PositivePortland Press-HeraldWhy I Don’t Write: And Other Stories, her first in some 30 years, showcases her versatility. Its 10 stories range from mainstream to experimental, with sundry stops in between ... She has an unmistakable knack for distilling things, and gorgeously, at that ... In this collection, Minot also flirts with suspense, as well as surreal humor ... Taken as a whole, Minot’s collection is, by turns, spiky and intimate, adventurous, stark and lyrical ... few story collections shine as brightly.
RavePortland Press Herald... one of those hybrid affairs, but with a definite upside. It’s more like a twofer: We expect short stories, only to find a couple of novellas tucked in, which nearly steal the show ... Considering the generally dark palette of his themes, there’s a strange joy to this book. Perhaps it emanates from the nearly kinetic ruminations of his characters, who are forever observing their inner climate. And, in the process, they illuminate pieces of themselves for their own use and ours. If many of his characters seem to be sorting out their lives, Ford assigns a clarity to the process that one could only wish for in real life. There’s no muddling through the troubles that beset these folks. They may feel anguish or loss, but they do it with such precision and finesse! All of which makes for an incisive and satisfying read.
RaveThe National Book Review...Trick Mirror is a gem. The thirty-year-old New Yorker staff writer has produced nine long-form essays that are, at once, erudite and visceral, sharp, witty, and very much her own. She proves to be equal parts cultural critic, memoirist, and political pundit. Her targets include, among others, the wedding industry, generational scams, difficult women, reality TV, and the business of \'optimization.\' Tolentino is a cynic, with an explorer’s curiosity and zeal. She writes not because she has answers, but in search of them ... What distinguishes Tolentino’s writing is, in part, her skill at the balancing act that is the hybrid essay. Many of these pieces are data-driven accounts interwoven with personal narratives. Tolentino shines in these settings, often admitting her own complicity in the issues at hand ... Only time will tell if Tolentino will be the next Didion or Sontag. For now, readers can defer such speculation, and focus on the teeming intelligence of her book. At the least, she is an astute chronicler of our time.
PositivePortland Press Herald\"Glimpsing Chabon’s evolution as both reader and writer is one of many pleasures to be found in his latest offering, Bookends: Collected Intros and Outros ... What the book’s title doesn’t reveal is that these are entrees into the world of geekdom — the author as fanboy, rhapsodizing over his idols. Frankly, a book that celebrates other books requires a certain amount of fawning ... As always, [Chabon’s] prose is deliciously exuberant ... a lovely, quirky if, at times, esoteric, hodgepodge of essays. Accordingly the natural readers for this book are true devotees of Chabon’s work. Either way, this is an array of mash notes to various authors from a most eloquent book lover.\
PositivePortland Press Herald\"Sometimes the structure of a novel so suits its content, so fully allows characters to inhabit the page, that it’s hard to imagine any other arrangement. So it is with Susan Conley’s twisty, absorbing new novel, with its brief urgent chapters that read like dispatches from near and far ... Readers may come away from this book marveling at the small miracle they’ve just witnessed – this feisty blur of a woman, caught in the grip of her many demons, hellbent on pushing everyone, and everything, away. Still, she – and her marriage – manage to emerge, like the pieces of a broken self, reassembled into a recognizable whole. Elsey is that rare creation that evokes real life, defies predictability and disarms us at every turn. Conley has taken a jittery pile of loose ends and made a thing of beauty.\
PositivePortland Press Herald...the author manages to instill both humor and heart in the bleakness he creates ... Above all, Marcus weaponizes language for maximum assault ... Throughout these stories, Marcus creates linguistic mash-ups that are dissonant, estranged and heartbreaking ... Marcus walks a fine line, at times, between the mainstream and the surreal ... Notes from the Fog is an intense, vividly written book, filled with nightmarish scenarios and leavened by wit. Few writers possess Marcus’s agility with language or his controlled flights of imagination.
PositiveThe National Book ReviewWhile the subject of death preoccupied much of his later work, Hall’s sense of humor also came prominently to the fore ... From this patchwork of shards and vignettes, most only a page or two apiece, emerges the image of a singular rebel, a literary icon ... Much of the book has a breezy, meandering quality, as Hall roams through his vast personal and poetic archive ... The result is a gathering of meticulous, if at times indecorous, prose on topics large and small, funny, sad, outspoken — a liberating last hurrah.
PositiveThe National Book ReviewThe subject of death preoccupied much of Hall’s later work, Hall’s sense of humor also came prominently to the fore. Several years ago, Hall (mistakenly) thought he was dying, and announced his imminent death to anyone who called. When he managed to survive his sundry ailments, he turned the scenario into an occasion for self-mockery … This blend of melodrama, comedy, and despair offers a fitting preview of his new memoir, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. In these essays, Hall laments the insults of old age and exploits their humor. He ruminates, tells stories, relates family history, and circles back to the great love and loss of his life, the late poet Jane Kenyon, his wife of two decades … Much of the book has a breezy, meandering quality, as Hall roams through his vast personal and poetic archive … As a collection, this book consists largely of episodes and oddments — the ‘notes’ of the book’s subtitle. Yet as we learn, Hall’s notes are not just impromptu musings; his work famously went through dozens of drafts and revisions. The result is a gathering of meticulous, if at times indecorous, prose on topics large and small, funny, sad, outspoken — a liberating last hurrah.
PositiveThe Portland Press Herald...droll, tender and shrewd ... They’re [the essays] stand-alones with a common nucleus. The resulting book is a joyful, unidealized salute to the ties between fathers and their kids. If it feels, at times, like a medley of side dishes more than an actual meal, it’s due largely to the modest portions. With this sage, witty, undersized collection, Chabon leaves us wanting more.
RaveThe Portland Press HeraldIn The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life, Russo proves to be a familiar presence – thoughtful, funny, endearing – and surprising, as well ... Russo opines on the themes of ambition and talent, and the often dicey relationship between the two ... Unplugged from fictional characters and reporting on his own behalf, Russo is a genial narrator, meandering, poking fun at himself. If a joke or gag can be found, he’ll milk it for all it’s worth – even if it requires an apology after the fact. Still, a thread of sadness permeates this book, with more than a few references to the central longing in Russo’s life – for a steady father and an intact family. Readers who come to this book in search of the storyteller they know from Russo’s fiction will be well-rewarded. The strongest pieces here are stories that emanate from the author’s life – about writing, teaching and friendship ... In the end, some readers may prefer the more well-rounded author-teacher-critic version of Russo, while others will favor the undiluted storyteller. Either way, Russo delivers the cozy intelligence and comic savvy that readers have come to admire.
RaveThe Portland Press Herald\"...[a] gorgeous, dense, provocative book ... The effect is both profound and incremental, of stories that stand alone and work together to unveil a life ... The book is operatic in its range, reflecting the author’s life as an outsider not only to the culture, but at times, to his family and himself. The resulting narrative makes for some powerful, lyrical prose.\
RaveThe Portland Press Herald\"Several of the stories are miniatures, almost vignettes. What they all have in common is a visceral, unsettling clarity that makes them stick ... While Schutt is known as a stylist, she’s also a purveyor of suspense this time around. The result is that these moody, often prickly, stories can veer into unexpected territory, keeping us on our toes ... Surely, contentment is not the standard recipe for narratives that explore its opposite, especially stories that are so complex and nuanced. But whatever brings such stories to the page, readers can only hope for more of it.\
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldIn her absorbing new memoir, The Wine Lover’s Daughter, the award-winning author and essayist takes on perhaps her most personal and challenging subject to date – namely, her late father and their relationship ... Alternating between the lives of the two principals, Fadiman explores her father’s divergent selves – the diminished child, aspiring WASP and famed literary maven – with grace and humor. She reflects on her own role as an 'oakling,' long eclipsed by her father’s shadow, and their naturally shifting balance over time ... The Wine Lover’s Daughter pays tribute to a man who enlivened language and literature for the better part of a century, until his death at the age of 95 ...a study of class and family; of anti-Semitism and immigrants as outsiders; and of the pursuit of excellence. Above all, it’s a story of wine as conduit and holy grail, as the centerpiece of a life ...daughter’s memoir decants a narrative that’s spirited, full-bodied and complex.
RaveThe Portland Press Herald\"...[an] irresistible novel ... The power of Zevin’s book lies in its main characters, a quirky estrogen-laced tribe; the book’s multi-layered structure; and the big-heartedness at its core. Zevin has divided the book into five sections, each representing a key player, and the story gains depth as it moves back and forth in time ... Young Jane Young is a testament to second chances and reclaiming one’s own narrative. It’s a feminist anthem – triumphant, earthy and hopeful. And it’s a terrific read. One can’t help wondering whether and how it may reshape the public perception of Monica Lewinsky.\
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldWhile there’s plenty of shop talk, including analysis of his own work, McPhee dispenses an ample dose of literary gossip and lore from his 50-plus years on staff at The New Yorker. In other words, this is a book for writers, editors and readers of all stripes ... Perhaps most entertaining are the sections devoted to The New Yorker, which detail McPhee’s ties to legendary editor William Shawn, and others. He describes policies at the magazine, notably a former longstanding refusal to incorporate vulgar slang in its pages – a section that’s both fascinating and funny ... The beauty of Draft No. 4 lies partly in our watching a master deconstruct the nearly invisible habits of his work. The result celebrates a life – probing, colorful, singular – devoted to writing.
PositiveThe Portland Press Herald\"Perrotta draws heavily from the news of the day, including such hot-button issues as body shaming, consent and hook-up culture; transgender identity, entitlement and bullying. His assault on political correctness is scathing and relentless, a running theme throughout the book ... But Brendan’s bro-dude-frat boy persona is so over the top that his growing self-awareness seems, at times, less convincing. As the book’s title suggests, however, Eve is the star of this show. Her inner monologue is the very meaning of vacillation with all its droll and dire missteps. Her shenanigans make for a rich stew of desire and conflict, and their inevitable consequences.\
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldCurrie has been likened to Swift and Vonnegut, among other revered satirists. No doubt, the timeliness of this sendup will appeal to readers suffering from the whiplash of our new administration, especially those who prefer vibrant prose to boastful tweets. Yet there’s more here than meets the eye. Hijinks and parody aside, Currie has written a tale whose backstory about the final months of K’s marriage may be even more compelling than the book’s political follies ... Currie navigates the funny-sad axis of human relations as well as anyone writing today. He writes eloquently on the complexity of marriage, conveying the gravity and humor at its core. He’s a consummate performer – engaging and generous, filled with provocative ideas and gorgeous language to express them.
Christina Baker Kline
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldTheir scenes together, just talking, and the scenes of Andy working, figuring the angles and details of his portraits and landscapes, are among the most appealing in the book. Through his eyes, Christina sees ordinary tools and objects in a new way. The rote familiarity of the farm becomes transformed. Yet it’s Andy’s acceptance of things as they are that Christina finds so heartening ... This book about hardship and pride, friendship and empathy, starts slowly before finding its pace. Once there, the story moves briskly. In the hands of a lesser writer, Christina’s plight might seem unwieldy or mawkish. Yet Kline has a graceful, arresting style that lifts the narrative, and her portrayal of Andy leavens the entire story. For as much as we learn about the life and times of Christina Olson, it’s Kline’s rendering of Andrew Wyeth – decent, charming, wise – that leaves us wanting more.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldTracy Kidder’s achievement in this biography is matched by the ease of his storytelling. Kidder takes on a hugely complicated man – brilliant, troubled, obsessive, a charismatic team leader, dutiful son and 'monster coder,' as English might say – and he paints a rich, three-dimensional portrait. He also gives a sense of the wild start-up culture in which English thrived. That Paul English comes across as a shrewd, appealing character, not a saint, reflects Kidder’s success.
RaveThe Portland Press Herald...[a] fascinating book, Joe Gould’s Teeth, is a tragicomic tale of a madman at the intersection of history, fame and fiction ... Lepore’s book is not only a work of scholarship, but a layered gem of storytelling. It’s a puzzle, mystery and archaeological dig rolled into one ... It’s easy to imagine Lepore’s vivid, unsettling book listed on a syllabus of some future course on biography. As she trains her lens on Joe Gould, and widens out to his broader circle of prominent friends and abettors, she offers a cautionary tale for us all.