PositiveThe Brooklyn RailShukri Mabkhout, in a first novel steeped in the Tunisian blend, dramatizes [Tunisia\'s] volatility and toxicity ... Despite this historical focus, the novel casts light on both future and past...dramatizing a sweeping change that doesn’t appear to make much difference ... It’s a young person’s novel, in other words, one in which the turmoil spills over into the bedroom—mostly outside matrimonial norms ... His narrative is also a portrait of a failed marriage, the collapse of its promise; it recalls the highly sexed domestic burnouts of John Updike, and more than that sketches an intimate correlation with the lie of a \'new Tunisia\' ... The drama rises to a few great moments, such as a first kiss under police truncheons, a vivid emblem of the lovers’ quandary ... In the process, the novel exposes how the status of Tunisian women has the same tangled roots as its cuisine, owing something to both conservative Islam and capitalist Euro-America. Most importantly, The Italian doesn’t neglect the toll taken on men ... [some] material takes the story dangerously close to bildungsroman ... Still, if Mabkhout suffers a few missteps, by and large he shows us great moves.
RaveThe Boston Globe... the second chapter, \'Primal Loss,\' offers a profound meditation that ends with Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus ... a rich and sensitive overview that wrapped up what I found the book’s best essay. Between the discussions of Monteverdi and Birtwistle, Aucoin looked at the late 17th century Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and the triptych struck me as no less than revelatory, a fresh illumination of a potent ancient story ... Between the discussions of Monteverdi and Birtwistle, Aucoin looked at the late 17th century Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and the triptych struck me as no less than revelatory, a fresh illumination of a potent ancient story ... Nearly as ravishing was the chapter on Verdi ... for a text that ranks ultimately as a magnificent blend of criticism and rapture, his scrutiny of the work revels again in paradox, even as it struggles for an analysis equal to a masterpiece.
Domenico Starnone, Tr. Jhumpa Lahiri
PositiveThe Washington PostIndirection like that, stirring up terrific curiosity, proves one of the novel’s best gambits. Certainly, the text makes room for explicit ugly business. A few scenes throw the rigidity of Italian life into harsh relief, and Nadia has a fine instinct for the jugular ... at his best, Starnone calls attention to that growl even in quiet moments. At the novel’s close, when Pietro’s grown old and appears to have found peace, others take over the storytelling — an astonishing late feint in so brief a book, and one that again makes the skin crawl ... works like a half-remembered nightmare, its shadows more frightening than its monsters ... the best of his recent creative surge.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksMost memoirists would shy away from such a horror show, but Sorrentino foregrounds the ugly display, then returns to it in the closing chapters, sinking further into the stench and wretchedness ... the memoir’s glimpses of tattered 1970s New York, the demimonde of early Scorsese, count among its pleasures. The same goes for the peeks into his parents’ halcyon days, 20 years earlier ... It’s a tricky balance, keeping a foot in the past and present at once, but Sorrentino pulls it off so well you would think he was (to choose a reference from his parents’ era) one of the Flying Wallendas ... a memoir out of Job, and some might grow weary of the wailing. Not me, however; my reservations have to do, instead, with how little Sorrentino grants his parents a physical presence. There’s nothing about, say, the feel of his father’s beard; there’s no startling photo of his mother as a young hottie. Material like that would have added dimension to the son’s developing insights. Nevertheless, he achieves remarkable penetration into a damaged personality, and pores knowledgeably over the wreckage left in its wake ... The rueful wit is typical, another of the book’s rewards, and most quips have the snap of the street ... With excoriating candor, with empathy enough to give you gooseflesh, he gleans exciting new clues in that never-ending mystery, the lives of the artists.
PositiveVol. 1 BrooklynOver a month that simmers with a strange tension—a plot device like nothing I’ve seen before—a few New Yorkers struggle for greater connection and permanence, whisked in and out of turning points as if on the R train, Cooley’s nervy choice for where to set her climax ... wit percolates throughout the dialog, despite its many rueful touches; Cooley works without quotation marks, so that pages unfold in brief paragraphs that suggest a musical score ... conversations come alive with counterpoint ... fresh proof of how small wins may be easier to live with than the jackpot.
RaveThe Brooklyn RailIn Bewilderment his mastery strikes a new vein, and while the takeaway by no means lacks in smarts or artistry, it makes a swift and easy read, glittering with timeless story elements; it raises goosebumps and breaks our hearts ... the dramatic elements all emerge in poignant two- and three-page snapshots, with a few chapters even briefer. Such quick turnover is a fresh move for this writer, and so too is playing a two-hander, largely the case here ... Bewilderment’s unearthly populations remind us eventually that, on this planet, humanity is the problem ... It’s a dark fable, all in all. There’s no denying the intellect at work ... Whether the subject’s harmless and invertebrate or venal and in the Senate, the author’s on top of it, knowing and pithy. Yet that’s not what’s most impressive about Bewilderment. Rather, it’s how every moment reveals the instincts of a master: an unerring touch with development and cutoff, with bearing down and easing off, and with where to put the punctuation ... I daresay Richard Powers has brought off something more than two exemplary and superb fictions of the climate crisis. He’s also unearthed and refurbished the timeless link between artist and shaman, a voice crying in the wilderness.
RaveThe Boston GlobeAppleseed achieves a...breadth of vision, taking in America’s wilderness genesis as well as looming nightmares of environmental collapse. Events range across centuries and continents, shifting points of view, upending ancient myth, and busting through genre conventions, in particular sci-fi. Yet it’s all laid out clearly, in strata that bookmark every turning point, and one way or another, the central setting remains the woods of Ohio ... just as Bell keeps Ohio as narrative landmark, he follows chronology. Readers can sort matters out even when changes snap the head back, often in terrifying ways ... Plot matters for Appleseed as it does in few other novels of such subtlety or imagination ... what sets the new novel apart—sets it above, as his greatest accomplishment—is how effectively it brings together all his gifts ... The drama’s elemental, in short, and so my few misgivings had to do with those times when the scaffolding of cause and effect got in the way. One or two of the near-future episodes felt overcareful, connecting the dots between Earthtrust’s science and the rebels’ sabotage. But then again, that plotline may offer the greatest thrills ... Matt Bell has brought off a novel as exciting as any in recent years.
PositiveBrooklyn RailIn the original Arabic, the prose of Hoda Barakat must glitter with sharply cut gems, carefully positioned, their corners drawing blood ... An astonishing passage, part revulsion and part sweetness⎯but like the first I cited, just one tool from the author’s kit. The metaphor is all about the intimate, but Barakat also works up vivifying new expressions for larger issues, with historical wallop ... This alone places the novel outside the norms, substituting a chain of coincidence for plot. Plots indeed emerge, in these openers, everything from amour fou to homicidal mania. The most gripping may be the third, the confession of a refugee Raskolnikov, and then his discarded text prompts one almost as hair-raising, featuring a sex worker and her kidnapped daughter. Yet while both dramas reach climax, like the other four, none quite get to denouement. They all break off, as I say, and then after the last of those letters, Voices of the Lost gets really strange ... Those in Part Two may no longer work through correspondence, but they remain part of a greater call and response. The counterpoint winds up more moving than hearing just the one melody. Significantly, too, the novel awards the final word to a postman. Another player from out of left field, the narrator of Part Three is left as nameless as everyone else, yet he embodies a stubborn hope.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesHijinks erupt even from the title, which one character reveals is the name of the township that encompasses most of Las Vegas. Its more common nickname is Sin City, and Diofebi’s hectic spectacular makes room for all its carrying on ... Mary Ann’s journey to wholeness may be the most moving, the richest ... But the ride’s wild for the entire quartet and some of Diofebi’s finest surprises are saved for the climax ... Paradise feels encyclopedic, rife with the arcana of casino operations as well as the entire region ... Now, a hyper-realistic funhouse ride doesn’t necessarily make for a convincing novel. This one intends a teeming human comedy, but it roves so widely among so many minor figures, that at times the spectacle flattens into farce. A lot of energy goes into pointing out the smoke and mirrors, always drawing the same moral ... is it a criticism to say that Diofebi risks doing too much, too brilliantly? To say he recalls David Foster Wallace? His sharp eye for the flimflam renews our enchantment ... Trick by trick and hand after hand, Diofebi proves a gifted young maximalist.
RaveThe Star Tribune[Merullo\'s] delivered a terrific read, a World War II story told with a skillful, narrow focus ... Altogether it\'s a halcyon sequence, a kaleidoscope — something like a long, rewarding night in Naples.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveThe Brooklyn RailIs this novel a comedy or a tragedy? It’s a rare page that doesn’t prompt a chuckle, and the plot often tumbles into staples of farce, the rowdy stuff of bed and bathroom ... In this middle passage, the author picks so assiduously at the scabs of racism and usury, you could also call it a novel of ideas.
A lot of the jokes, like the excrement bearing traces of Conrad and Henry James, toy with cultural reference points. These don’t always take us to the classics, but the resonance usually conveys a chill ... Nguyen notices the most revealing accessories: the watch flourished by a politician in a brothel, the music preferred by a thug in a park. I admired especially how he caught the nuances surrounding a US jazz band in Paris ... Since Nguyen’s dialog does without quotation marks, the citations packed extra punch, like bulletins from another world. A similar vitality imbued the ghost characters, though like the living, most of them lacked a name ... I could call The Committed a distinctive experimental amalgam. But it seems more fitting to say that I never heard Caliban bellow so sweetly.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeA slow stroll through entrancing capitals, a tender remembrance of rare old films, a fresh contemplation of Modernist literary giants—this describes the material of André Aciman’s new assortment of essays, but not the magic. The opening pieces in Homo Irrealis for instance, meander through fascinating old downtowns: Alexandria, Rome, and New York. Reading each takes no more time than a small pot of tea—brevity counts among the book’s charms—but none would prove much use as a guidebook. Even a landmark like Rome’s Forum provokes Aciman to meditations more far-reaching, more profound ... Naturally, there’s a risk in honoring that \'other\' full of possibility but also awfully vague. A blurry passage or two, fogged by abstractions, broke the spell of the reading. Happily, such cases were infrequent indeed, and more than that—paradoxically—Homo Irrealis stands on a bedrock reality. It develops as a kind of memoir, whether walking the streets, watching the flicks, or opening a book. Alexandria and Rome, after all, are the cities of Aciman’s youth, and incidents out of early experience inform his writing on both places. Something similar deepens the pleasures of the Rohmer essays, as they return repeatedly to his thwarted desires for a certain girl, and recapture the lost enchantment of an afternoon at the movies. These recurring elements create a figure-eight design, a pattern significant in the book, but it’s an artifice composed by passions.
RaveLos Angeles Times... what sets this novel apart, what stamps it as extraordinary, is the way it interweaves the grimly familiar with elements of fantasy, thereby illuminating both present and past ... Hobson’s style is colloquial throughout; he works in American plainsong even when summoning voices from beyond. If Tsala seems to trace a hero’s journey, it’s because of his subject matter, not any grandiose rhetoric, and the same applies for Maria’s deepest bouts of melancholy ... The whole comes together convincingly, the narratives attaining cosmic balance. Still, Hobson’s outstanding creations are the two women, their drama so rich you almost wonder why he bothered with the more bizarre business ... when I call The Removed his finest accomplishment, I mean that it best harnesses his complete sensibility. Pulling out all the stops, he’s carved a striking new benchmark for fiction about Native Americans.
Scholastique Mukasonga, Trans. by Jordan Stump
RaveThe Brooklyn RailBrief as the text is, it conveys overwhelming loss ... That is, Mukasonga keeps the work at arm’s length from autobiography. There are dream passages, comic exaggerations, and decade-skipping chronological leaps ... this is an author who goes well beyond recollection; she’s alert to the signals of other people’s nerve-endings ... The shifting perspectives contribute to...success as something other than narrative, rather a meditation, chilling but hard to set down ... The ruins from which this author escaped cast a shadow over everything to which she turns her hand—but to shape those shadows demands a terrific dexterity, and an imagination to match. Both of those, happily, are also part of Mukasonga’s inheritance.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Kurt Beals
RaveThe Washington Post... the reminiscences have a crackling vitality ... memories are expressed with masterful touches of repetition, achieving a telegraphic poetry. Nevertheless, the section comes to no more than a handful of pieces, a number of them only a couple of pages. Meatier by far is the group that follows, \'Literature and Music.\' These investigations into Erpenbeck’s joint calling (she directs opera, as well as writing novels) bristle with erudite allusion, not to mention sheer smarts. Repetition remains a hallmark of her style, but here it turns canny, yielding aphoristic gems ... the impact is of a master at work, someone who ought to be considered for the Nobel ... \'Society,\' just two essays...pack a terrific punch...as they confront one of our moment’s most pressing issues, namely, the untold millions of displaced people seeking asylum ... Not a Novel cannot claim to be a coherent whole. Nevertheless, its pig-in-a-python ungainliness contributes to the fascination. Variety proves its own reward, since in every guise this artist makes virtuosic adjustments, changes of tone or rhetoric.
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailSuch unconventional teaching deserves better than dry academic treatment, and happily, this author is also a poet. He locates the vitality in his sojourns: now a transportation mishap, now a close look at a worker’s hands ... this text has little room for the delicacy of, say, Wallace Stevens. On the contrary, it relies on a structure of square-built simplicity. After defining his project, the author steps back, investigating its predecessors, and then once the history is in place he sketches his own learning curve. As he stumbles through trial and error, Nowak again keeps things lively, for instance with a devastating list of all the folks who never got back to him ... With teaching in mind, too, Social Poetics observes all the academic protocol. The passage that defines the pantoum could serve as a lecture in Intro to Poetry ... Such scholarly apparatus, happily, almost never interferes with Nowak’s gift for teasing out the human element. He may not have been present for the history he discusses in the early chapters, but he brings to life the turmoil of the late ’60s workshops in Watts and elsewhere ... Every now and then, as it raises another complaint about \'the MFA industrial complex\' and its brand of poetry, the text comes close to insisting on a purity\'“proletarian civilization or culture.\' The phrase is Gramsci’s, but Nowak assigns it special weight.
PositiveThe Star TribuneA swift-moving mystery that expands into subtler sorts of narratives ... Its primary players are a busy family of five, their secrets generating a natural volatility, but the drama zips among them like a game of Quidditch ... The narrative risks more than one startling coincidence, and though Livesey makes these convincing, they underscore the uniqueness of these hothouse flowers ... The novel could be accused of dwelling in Pleasantville, with so many kind gestures and million- dollar smiles. Under these cute thatched roofs, however, there huddle abused and unwanted children. More than that, Livesey grasps how each novel must find its own register.
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books... moments of clear emotional connection are rare, as this Knott proves too bizarre, its rhetoric too baroque, to function as some potboiler ripped from the headlines ... Butler’s concern is with the nature and value of art, and the related mystery of individual identity ... the reading never feels like lab work. Rather, sentence after anfractuous sentence comes alive ... For me the style packed a delicious wallop. I was seduced by touches like Alice’s meditation on her lonesome childhood ... I was wowed by Alice’s recognition that she’s less a self than an amalgam ... a remarkable accomplishment; still, I shouldn’t overlook a more accessible pleasure of the text ... the narrative both fascinates and confounds ... Butler...revels in abstraction, his Not-Alice on a ramble through Nebulous-Land. Therein lies the great challenge for a reader, the feeling that we’re getting nowhere, that whatever is achieved in one paragraph goes to pieces in the next. Yet this quicksand of story, its glimmers lovely but slippery, manages improbably to generate suspense. A plot emerges, a classic: the protagonist goes on a quest for her origins.
RaveThe Brooklyn Rail... a novel never less than propulsive ... A \'violent\' intensity might erupt at any minute, an adolescent mood swing might hit like a tsunami, and yet the story maintains a canny and scrupulous realism. This author couldn’t be more alert to psychology’s delusions and society’s con games. She’s both a cool cat and a bleeding heart, combining both in passage after passage that, just for starters, speak volumes about the skill and vitality Ann Goldstein brings to her translation. More than that, the pairing reasserts bedrock novelistic values, recalling Tolstoy and the 19th-century masters ... some elements feel familiar, like the commitment to reading and what it can accomplish, yet everything is given some unexpected spin ... the reading feels vivid and various, dappled with rich ambiguity ... Ferrante has hatched another beautiful monster.
Laura van den Berg
RaveThe Washington Post... includes a few smart touches of metafiction, as the teacher of stories comments on the one she’s telling. On top of that—check out those verbs! \'Wept\' and \'eavesdropped\' throw off fresh glimmers, given the spin van den Berg puts on them ... A similar richness of reading pleasures brims in every one of these 11 tales ... offers the greatest distillation of [van den Ber\'s] talents to date. To pick a best story is beyond me; now I favor \'Volcano House,\' now \'Karolina,\' and now the closer, also the title piece ... The voice is just part of the excitement, with its pyrotechnic verbs ... Eye-popping description, however, is far from the only form of liveliness in these narratives ... magic often flits around the edges of Hold a Wolf, yet I count only two stories which entail something truly surreal.
RaveThe Brooklyn RailThe first pages pull off an impressive act, juggling the stuff of dreams with the all too real ... passages risk being congenial to flat repetition and hand-me-down phrasing (\'in the blink of an eye\'), and a few times I fretted about the translation. Yet by and large the fabulist business proves delightful. I especially enjoyed the metamorphosis of Bahar’s sister, who ends up a mermaid. Better still, such materials always reveal their roots in the loam built up over millennia of Persian storytelling ... Azar\'s...work stands as another of the terrific fictions, a number of them by women, out of this tormented region and moment. It affirms again the adaptability, the veracity, the sheer power of the novel form.
RaveThe Washington PostEvery story pulls off a convincing blend of the ordinary and the surreal, and altogether they offer an eye-popping range. One piece will tumble along full of event, and the next will stretch the mind, bit by bit. A single page may erupt in a cornucopia of feeling: groans of heartache, yips of delight, a fine wisecrack or two and the rage of a woman wronged ... As a reader, I was so won over I pressed the book on strangers on public transportation ... These little dramas set you laughing even when the subject is downtrodden. Harsh economics often supply the punchline, so that the wit has a tinge of rueful sympathy ... Just about all these assemblages wouldn’t look out of place in an Escher exhibition. One way or another, they subvert our expectations for fiction ... Sparks forges a rhetoric of such warmth and swagger, it may be the single most potent strain in her magic. Even when casting a cold eye on our current anomie, she’s never less than lyrical, concocting mash-ups of outrage and celebration, archaic decorum and unbuttoned plainness.
Johannes Anyuru, Trans by. Saskia Vogel
RaveThe Washington PostLately, novels from Sweden have sunk into deep noir...But the English debut from Johannes Anyuru offers more, a double helping of nasty business ... Overall, the novel sets up a classic conceit, hate for hate, and both extremes erupt with bruising force ... This potent structure, a therapeutic bridge between two infernos, feels like the work of a novelist hitting his stride. Anyuru turned 40 this year, and though he has published earlier fiction and poetry, as well as working in theater and radio, this book has been a breakthrough. It has won a major Swedish award, and there’s a movie in the works. If there’s any justice, some of this success will cross the Atlantic. It’s a rare author who has such sensitivity with explosive materials ... The connection between the girl’s bad dream and the writer’s actual experience feels belabored at times, and it isn’t the only misstep. The role of Annika’s parents in an unexpected tragedy goes conspicuously undeveloped. By and large, though, Saskia Vogel’s translation achieves a difficult balance, nimble yet compassionate. She captures Annika’s mash-up of Western slang and Koranic Arabic, its humor often a relief, and also the more complex contemplations of the writer, poetic and touching when he considers his daughter ... I came away thinking of the book as an attempt to forge a more humane means of expression, one that could surmount all our fears and failures.
RaveThe Brooklyn Rail[A] rambunctious and hydra-headed creation ... I was at once won over by its fast and loose way with the English sentence, quasi-colloquial, with minimal punctuation and capitalization, sometimes breaking down into short stacks of single lines. Yet it doesn’t take an aesthete to find the prose accessible. Anyone can appreciate Evaristo’s sensitivity to the passions in her people ... Overall this novel asserts a classic mastery, equal to the best of Zadie Smith and Elena Ferrante, authors themselves out of pariah groups and difficult upbringings. I daresay such artists are creating, in rare new colors, the great social canvas of the century’s first half.
PositiveVol. 1 BrooklynThe title of his bleak yet bubbly Pax Americana smacks of satire, but also sketches a power structure that doesn’t quite match up with our own ... As the novel works out its answers, it relies a bit much on dialogue, sometimes getting redundant when it strives to be snappy, and it falters a couple of times in its attempts to deepen character. By and large, however, Baumeister succeeds in delivering the deep chill he intends.
Nabarun Bhattacharya, Trans. by Sunandini Banerjee
RaveThe Washington Post... lean and sumptuous ... at once comic and tragic, raucous and dreary ... the grim milieu is graced with something gentler, more playful ... There are even echoes of T.S. Eliot. Such effects attest to the care and sensitivity of the translation by Sunandini Banerjee ... This first U.S. publication brings off a remarkable resurrection [for Bhattacharya], one that erupts full-blooded, alive with laughter, stink and rage.
Donatella Di Pietrantonio, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveThe Washington PostA Girl Returned caroms from one side of the [Italian economic] divide to the other. The zig and zag is always eye-catching, and before long we care deeply about where every shot will land ... The brief, bumptious chapters cover roughly a year, and the lead player doesn’t come of age so much as rip away childhood’s masks ... Di Pietrantonio never allows her story to wallow in despair. She has more spunk than that and not just in her lively way with a phrase (the translator, Ann Goldstein, shows the same sensitivity she does with Elena Ferrante). She also has a fine instinct for detail ... Better yet, she knows how to mix things up, scene after scene ... Tragedy shadows every move, even if overall the novel feels a tad rosy ... Still, A Girl Returned doesn’t gloss over the nasty by-products of living out beyond the last bus stop ... [Di Pietrantonio] has worked up impressive narrative craft. She knows just when and where to slip the pieces of her jigsaw into place—all while leaving emotional gaps, psychic wounds that can never heal.
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailSciFi materials turn up often in Unraveling, setting it apart not just from Lovecraft, but also from Evenson\'s previous work ... Insofar as the setting is new, it allows the author more room for his sense of humor. Sisters slays me in part because of its nutty misinterpretations of the mundane ... As usual, Evenson reins in his style, even in the lone piece you\'d call \'experimental\' ... The endings—unravelings?—reveal the same light touch ... terrific.
Jokha Alharthi, trans. by Marilyn Booth
RaveThe Brooklyn RailCelestial Bodies delivers a cornucopia, the drama tasty whether it concerns a long day of overwrought celebration, scented with incense and envy, or a midnight tryst in the desert, mixing torment and ecstasy. Juggling multiple perspectives, eschewing straightforward chronology, the narrative coheres nevertheless ... Overall, as in some sprawling canvas by Brueghel, tragedy strikes a balance with better, and both outcomes bear out Khalid’s discovery: the shocking power of old-country ties, buried but bristling with life.
Brueghel however makes a less illuminating comparison than Alharthi’s contemporary Elena Ferrante. Both women explore tensions expressed in the best title of the Neapolitan Quartet ... An extraordinary range of female sensibility, from sisterhood to sheer hate, enlivens the narrative throughout, and Alharthi’s frankness about her women’s uglier moments in no way lessens her profound sympathy for how their status remains, under the Omani monarchy, second-class. Their subjugation triggers fascinating strategies in each of the three sister protagonists ... A novel with the sock of Celestial Bodies puts a reader face to face with the complex humanity everywhere—even in the lower depths, the shithole countries.
Jean Frémon, Trans. by Cole Swensen
PositiveThe Washington PostThis dismal view of my gender pervades the novel, and in all objectivity, I’d say it is a flaw. Bourgeois had better men in her life, most especially her husband, Robert Goldwater, a distinguished art scholar, faithful lover and good father. Yet neither he nor the children — three sons — get nearly as much attention as the monstrous Papa ... The novel lacks a conventional climax, to be sure, but it hits a high point of another kind, a spiritual affirmation as well as an aesthetic manifesto, when Bourgeois affirms her core principles ... As Bourgeois pores over the junk from nearly a century ago, she plucks from it a new lease on her own life.
RaveThe Washington PostHe conveys a world in a detail. Scibona can also take us into the broken heart of a child lost in a foreign airport, the shattering chaos of a night assault during the Vietnam War and the quiet intensity of a working-class New York neighborhood. Throughout, his ear-perfect dialogue percolates. Still, the moments of ecstasy are what most distinguish this book, one that trots the globe yet misses nothing ... The scope is far grander than in Scibona’s 2008 debut, The End (a National Book Award finalist), though the style remains jewel-like ... It’s teeming, brilliantly.
MixedBrooklyn Rail...demands self-exposure at a level few writers have risked ... the first chapter of the five here calls itself, though tentatively, a \'love letter.\' Yet when other authors gush in similar ways, in second person, the adoration seems untrammeled; see Vladimir Nabokov, the close of Speak, Memory. In Shields, however, the cuddles hide a claw, and spur him to what some would call TMI ... The many references to film complicate every image with which they’re paired, and the effect overall is of a stream of consciousness so jagged and rushed, it might be in sexual frenzy. No small feat— the book’s a wild ride full of unforgettable glimpses, really— but I do wish the stream did less meandering ... \'Is sex really that awful?\' Shields asks...The question implies we’re going to get an answer, get somewhere, but page after page all we encounter is still more evidence that the human act of love is a helpless flailing between damaged puppets. Every one of the long essays, or whatever you’d call them, feels at times like just another puppet-whuppin\' ... This sameness seems to me the great challenge, going forward, for this author. To reinvent the essay, even so brilliantly as he does, isn’t to rob the form of its search for meaning.
PositiveThe Brooklyn Rail\"Novakovich recalls de Maupassant, as he unpacks another swift, dark comedy of war or exile ... Indeed, all the players are unsettled, hustled around sharp corners, recalling the way a fable prizes moral over character. A more useful comparison, however, would be to the Nobel winner Isaac Bashevis Singer ... terrific ...\
PositiveThe Sewanee Review\"... the phantasmagoria had me entranced. I’d be surprised if I’m not in for the [series\'] long haul ... The novel’s a wild rumpus, with wild things of all kinds galumphing through multiple storylines ... Despite the African focus, the writing’s energy and subtlety calls to mind the great European sojourners, like Conrad or Lessing, struck by the country’s blend of vitality and menace ... The author shows endless sophistication, whether his players are making love or going for the kill. And James’ imaginative deftness with sub-Saharan culture sets his novel alongside other significant revisionism out of the African Diaspora.\
PositiveThe Washington PostThe carnage erupts on the opening pages and threatens to continue throughout. Yet Jackson keeps us wondering how the horror will go down. Once or twice the ugly business feels a tad familiar, but far more often the author delivers canny surprises ... Importantly, the violence isn’t political. The novel isn’t cautionary like The Handmaid’s Tale; rather, its rampages could be punk-rock. The killers weasel around security the same way anyone else would, and, if they survive the melee, they linger on the crime scene ... A mere gimmick in lesser hands, Jackson’s twice-told tales \'each absorb and expand the narrative\' ... Questions concerning art hang over everything no matter which direction you’re reading ... Even the ecstatic promise of rock winds up another delusion, a monster that someone ought to destroy.
PositiveThe Brooklyn Rail\"
This woman [Dangarembga] has weathered all the upheavals of her country’s last forty years, forging them into a teeming yet tragic feminist trilogy ... Not that old, she [protagonist \'Tambu\'] appears nonetheless to have aged into a monstrosity, and such animistic metaphor provides much of what’s best about This Mournable Body ... Mournable Body is more a picaresque, its episodes entertaining as much as disturbing, its humanity a crazy quilt. The knocking about can result, now and again, in bogging down. A few scenes use a neon highlighter to outline basic conflicts, and one or two do the same for male wickedness. But the occasional heavy-handedness isn’t so bad as to muddy the movement overall. The plot allows for just one coincidence, and this makes just the right difference for Tambu ... Otherwise this woman’s closed heart looks like the worst legacy of colonialism and machismo—and the scariest discovery brought to light by this gifted author’s prolonged excavations of the contemporary African soul.\
RaveThe Brooklyn Rail...as Bouanani parses out his disturbing material, the brief chapters feel as much bumptious as grim, and even sometimes laughable ... The oxymoron makes a terrific fit for a narrative that has fun—in its own rumpled blue way—with Hell ... Such stuff recalls Beckett ... By and large I found The Hospital a singular experience, one of those that locates a new hook on which to hang a story. The text’s joy and melancholy works up an unlikely narrative momentum—suspense ... For The Hospital they found the award-winning translator Lara Vergnaud; between her thoughtful afterword and the introduction by Anna Della Subin, a biography and more, the text in hand glows a like a double-miracle, in its provenance as well as in how it sets its skeletons dancing ... with The Hospital he made it, demonstrating, again, how the best work can run any gantlet, even one lined with devils.
Laura Van Den Berg
PositiveThe Sewanee Review\"In spite of these genre trappings, The Third Hotel amounts to more than thrills and chills. Van den Berg has swapped out the stages of grief for an alternative recovery process, one that refreshes old notions of female power and identity ... Van den Berg’s knack for turning expectation on its head is one of the novel’s many pleasures ... By catching and seducing her zombie—and then finally letting him go—Clare’s stages of grief deliver her not to Zen-like acceptance, but to a place of potent new monsters.\
Dubravka Ugrešić, Trans. by Ellen Elias-Bursać
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailRising action, climax, and such plainly don’t interest Ugrešić, no more than they did W.G. Sebald, an obvious model for these accumulating drifts of meditation. The displaced Croatian, however, has a more spritely feel than the displaced German; she allows for more dialog, some of it crackling ... it shows the care taken by translators Ellen Elias-Bursać and David Williams. The novel’s feminist jabs all deliver a decent poke, and at times I thought of Dorothy Parker with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature ... clever as the reiterations can be, their consistency can wear you out. How many times do we need to be shown that the artist’s lot is moil and that the powerful would rather see her or him dead? Thus a crucial element to this text’s success—it’s a startling and seductive piece of work, overall—is the one section that refrains from constantly refracting experience through the prism of high culture.
PositiveThe Washington PostLea’s vanishing provides The Good Mothers with a suspenseful kickoff, her last days alive as observed by a teenage Denise. The mystery’s solution waits till the closing chapters. Thus human drama shapes the narrative; it ends with the daughter’s tearful farewell at a massive 2013 rally in the mother’s memory. Still, The Good Mothers is casting a wider net, indicting an entire pestilent culture ... it’s good to go step by step, as Perry does, through the destruction of these clans. It’s good to linger over the women’s triumph, since theirs is but one battle in the war against what Perry calls a \'global mafia.\' So his book celebrates how a few heroes made a significant change for the better—in a \'display of adamant and unyielding femininity.\'
PositiveThe Washington PostNo doubt many of those who read The Unfinished Palazzo will also know Guggenheim’s palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal, which, since 1980, has been one of the world’s great modern art museums....investigates not just Guggenheim’s remarkable life but also the electrifying adventures of the two women who preceded her in that canal-front property. The result is a breathtaking social portrait, peeling the glitter from privileged lives even as it fleshes out the spectacle they created ...a page-turner but alert to emotional minutiae. She takes the same care throughout with these complicated women ... Overall, despite the burnouts and bad sex, this triptych presents an uplifting portrait ...far from its most eye-popping, but the way it gladdens the heart makes for a terrific finish.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveBookforumGo, Went, Gone tackles an issue that’s made headlines — namely, the plight of African refugees in Europe. Also the author presents the material in a straightforward fashion unusual for her ...meditates on how surface misleads us; it posits \'language as a skin\' ... Making that journey — initiating a conversation between comfortable North and indigent South — provides the core drama... Legal arcana like Dublin II, drawn up without public oversight and ever more draconian, would hamstring most novelists ...a couple of passages strain, rhetorically or dramatically, but by and large, the law’s deepening chill is well rendered; we suffer with its victims ... A woman [Erpenbeck] who’d previously played fast and loose with time and space tethered herself to real-world research, to interviews and fieldwork, outside her comfort zone.
RaveThe Washington PostExploding with violence and seething with arousal, the third novel by Marlon James cuts a swath across recent Jamaican history. It leaves its Kingston ghettos strewn with victims, a few of them lovers, all of them spattered with blood … Whether ghost politicos or CIA spooks, all concur on Marley’s real-life good fortune: The Singer survived — a miracle and, in a book rife with secret murders, a stinging irony … The epic sweep of Seven Killings never feels cartoonish. James takes us deep into his criminal power dynamics, in monologues laced with breathtaking obscenities … What most distinguishes A Brief History of Seven Killings isn’t the outrages, but rather the odyssey.
RaveBookforum...when I term Borne the author’s best work yet, it’s precisely for this untrammeled inventiveness. VanderMeer has brought off a fiction that takes him again and again to his strength, namely, imaginative spectacle. Better yet, while the freak show tends to horrors like the factory massacre, the violence isn’t unrelenting. Rather the plot alternates between fireworks and stillness, and many of the quiet moments might be called romantic interludes ... insofar as I had misgivings, they arose from a sense of overflow, of too much. In the final chapters, I was glad to learn just what Borne was, but I could’ve done without the additional backstory for Wick and Rachel. Still, I’d never argue the end was less than thrilling—or that thrills are the whole point. VanderMeer never stints on the humanity of his players, not even the one who isn’t human.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Frankel’s fresh understanding, to be sure, owes a lot to plain old digging. A former Washington Post reporter, he unearthed Kramer’s confession of helplessness, for instance, in a taped conversation that had languished for decades. The provenance is clarified in one of the text’s many hundreds of endnotes — and his bibliography is equally exhaustive. The heaps of research, however, never snuff out what’s entertaining about scenes such as the culture clash around the émigré’s piano. Frankel’s grasp of cinema’s \'collaborative effort\' leads to a juggling act, switching points of view among the film’s chief contributors ... Although the Red Scare’s trail of betrayal and ruin looks as heartbreaking as ever, the story can’t help but feel a tad rehashed. Frankel’s chapters on the hearings and their consequences rely on the same intense research as the rest (including material never published before), but they lack the warmth of the biographical passages ... Though Frankel began this sumptuous history long before the latest election, he ends up reminding us that 2016 was far from the first time politicians trafficked in lies and fear, and showing us how, nonetheless, people of integrity came together to do exemplary work.\
RaveThe Washington PostI can’t help but think of his new Shadowbahn as the best kind of experiment: provocative throughout, alive with laughter and surprising in the ways it stirs the heart ... If Shadowbahn weren’t such an outlier, plot summary wouldn’t present such a conundrum. Although there are suspenseful stretches, by and large the story is driven by sheer invention. Each imaginative leap lands on the twinned themes of American music and history ... much of the book’s second half is spent, as one character puts it, 'waxing philosophical.' But if this is Erickson’s most meditative novel, it’s also his most hilarious.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerAlive with the poetry of a shaken pubescent girl walking on eggshells at home ... Rewarding passages crop up again and again, altogether outweighing the disappointments.
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerAlmost six decades into publishing fiction, this author has put up a fresh career landmark...In this it also illuminates the change that's come over DeLillo since his last longer work, Underworld (1997). Symphonic density like that no longer interests him. He seeks instead a few resonant notes - a fable. He has brought off something simple but disturbing, revealing both the perils of faith and the power of Gospel.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerHis first novel in a decade indeed delivers comedy. There's romance, too, though the rating would be a hard X, and things often drop into gloom. Yet the downbeats never drag. The narrative tumbles along like a snowball, picking up a casino heist, murder after murder, and perhaps a ghost story.
PositiveBookforumFascinating in its serendipity, yet alert to pangs of the ordinary, The Unfinished World succeeds well beyond the author’s debut, May We Shed These Human Bodies (2012), turning up 'magic in every corner.'
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerHotels often brings off paradoxes: a sweet stay that turns to a bitter memory, or a farce that tumbles into an abyss of grief. Most of the funny business derives from an unsparing honesty about the American hardscrabble.