John Freeman is the editor of Freeman’s, a literary biannual published in seven countries around the world. His books include How to Read a Novelist, Tales of Two Cities, and Tales of Two Americas. Maps, his debut collection of poems, was recently published by Copper Canyon Press. The former editor of Granta, he is now executive editor at Literary Hub and teaches at the New School and New York University. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Tin House, and been translated into more than twenty languages. Follow him on Twitter @FreemanReads
RaveThe Boston Globe... wonderful ... Sleep Donation is her most cutting lens yet. In its pages, Russell meditates on how market worship has warped health care; she shows America’s desire to plunder resources leading back to our final resource, our bodies; and most impressively, she traces the fine, cracked line that divides what is genuine from what is synthetic ... Russell’s description of this process is less impressive than how she evokes the burlesque Trish does to secure donors ... Sleep Donation glows with eerie-fine phrases ... Russell has a keen sense of dramatic timing and an even sharper ability to turn an internal state into its own weather system.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... a brilliant study of the mundane, full of unexpected detours and driving prose. It is also the best post office novel ever written ... Hjorth’s novel, lucidly translated by Charlotte Barslund, ingeniously orbits the intimate stories that are possible only when a character has put words on paper and sent them through the post.
RaveThe Boston GlobeAs a writer, one of Pinckney’s illuminating qualities has been the probing respect and curiosity with which he engages his elders and tradition ... Pinckney is a companionable guide to this difficult era — like Baldwin, a fabulously erudite insider’s outsider: black and queer and thus always on guard for the way a situation will turn, surely his safety has depended on the maintenance of such sense ... As a reporter, on the ground, he is brisk, and leads with his hometown wits ... There wasn’t a critic in America who could speak with equal measures of warmth and intelligence like Baldwin until Pinckney emerged in his full power in the 1990s...Yet Pinckney\'s critical acuity never wavers before the pulse of biography ... Maintaining this level is one of Pinckney\'s other great skills. It’s not that he will not be rifled, or that he has a critic’s cold powers of isolation; rather, he remains committed to what Baldwin found in his life and work, a path between the poles of Washington and Du Bois, or Dr. King and Malcolm X, one of clear-eyed yet hopeful struggle and self-determination ... Looping from past to present, the sine-curve of Busted in New York is still heartbreaking. From Pinckney’s petty arrest in the East Village for marijuana possession to Freddie Gray — killed in a rough ride to a Baltimore jail, the kind that merely banged up Pinckney — there is a direct line. Yet if you refuse to see the struggle as linear, Pinckney’s essays argue, if you work backward to see ahead, that line is — if not broken — certainly not inevitable. Along the way, you might just meet the man you’ve been prevented from meeting for four hundred years.
RaveThe Independent (UK)This life-and-death brand of jealousy is everywhere in Love, the title of which grows more layered as one reads deeper. The love Morrison writes of both warms and devours, and her characters have yet to find the balance between the two. As a result, the language is taut, but passionate, full of spoken idioms and the whirl and whoosh of hurricane weather, which ravages the part of Florida where the novel unfolds ... Rife with flashbacks and L\'s teeth-sucking voiceovers, Love has a structure to match its complex language. Information leaks out like clues in a murder case; it\'s not until some time into the book that the characters\' precise roles come clear, a deliberate strategy.
RaveThe Boston GlobeNot since Adrienne Rich\'s early work has a collection thought so deeply about the permeable barrier between the spirit and the body, and motherhood ... Incarnadine reads like the book of a woman searching for something more. Szybist listens and watches, feels the signs of something greater ... Syzbist writes lucid, delicately precise lines that grow more steeply enjambed as she falls into her subject. Several poems here brilliantly evoke the vertigo of dropping from on high ... Incarnadine achieves its greatest intimacy in private spaces. How and what we receive — the ways we deal with experience — shapes identity. Incarnadine dramatizes the poet rejecting faith, failing at it, and then worrying what this says about her as she tries again ... In this extraordinary book, Mary Syzbist shows that if she were merely a woman, who lived once, that would have been more than enough.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... in [Hendrickson\'s] hands Wright’s life emerges with new clarity as a Shakespearean-scale drama—beginning as Hamlet, ending as Lear ... a vast, sweeping book, one that, along the way, corrects some of the canards told by Wright himself ... As fine as Mr. Hendrickson is on the buildings, the book truly soars when he returns to the fire that haunted Wright ... Mr. Hendrickson makes it impossible to leave this book without a bigger thought about structures and the dramas that play out within them: that creating a building can be an act of love but also of risk—more for some than for others.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...Boy’s story draws some striking parallels between the way we mythologize stars and the way we look at terrorists ... Both are often outsiders, and both require pathological amounts of attention to fully achieve their status in the public sphere. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant slices through these tropes, using Boy’s pure improbability as the skewering blade ... Gilvarry is a better dialogue spinner than a narrative writer. The conversations here are so hilarious and quotable it’s a bit odd that Gilvarry never gets complete control over Boy’s voice ... The female characters here are also desperately thin, and not just because so many of them are models ... In order to squeeze in the whole arc of Boy’s rise and fall, the book needs to keep moving. And yet it also seems to want to move us. It can’t do both, and so in the book’s slightly baggy middle section it does neither ... The last hundred pages of this book are very difficult to stop reading.
PositiveNPRIt\'s much easier to laugh at a nudist colony than at death itself — which is essentially what Sedaris is doing in his latest collection, When You Are Engulfed in Flames ... Eventually, Sedaris does what every death-o-phobe ought to do: He quits smoking. It\'s a final goodbye in a book full of farewells, always funny, occasionally bittersweet ... Sedaris survived his mortifying childhood, of course — using his diary and sense of humor as crutches. They will probably carry him right to the end, too.
RaveThe Boston GlobeHarjo’s warm oracular voice so lends itself to being out there in the world — spoken, placarded, among people — it would seem the most unusual place for it would be in something so lonely as a book ... forms a powerful reminder as to why Harjo’s voice is so at home everywhere. It is an exile’s voice, the home of a woman whose home was taken from her and her ancestors, Mvskoke people, years ago ... One of the great pleasures of reading Harjo\'s work on the page is to feel one\'s mind carol again. To feel it sing along with the poet. Using repetitions, call outs to the reader, and lines so bent and true they sometimes sound like a country western song, Harjo is one of our most sonically pleasing poets ... When a poet scales her gaze so grandly, something strange and miraculous happens to poetry. It opens up and becomes more than a mere literary device, it becomes a delivery system of wonder. It turns into a unit of delight that, like power, must be shared ... Only Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the 100-year-old bookseller, publisher and poet, has written verse this wondrous at the source of all life. Like him, Harjo’s goal as a poet has been to wake us up, to talk to us as if there is nothing so natural as singing. It is impossible to read this beautiful book and not wonder if our world would be a little better if more of us remembered how.
Emmanuel Carrère, trans. by Linda Coverdale
RaveNPRNo matter how often you\'ve heard the cliche about how redemptive telling one\'s story can be, Lives Other Than My Own will make you feel, as if for the first time, how costly it can be to learn this wisdom firsthand ... Carrere is such a beguiling writer that he lulls you into forgetting what lies in wait for Juliette. In simple declarative sentences he reconstructs her life — her judicial aims, the arrival of her new baby, her husband\'s sudden flourishing as a caretaker for their kid — with unfussy immediacy. Then the cancer comes back with a vengeance, and Carrere tells the story of its devastation and Juliette\'s death with a faithfulness that is ferocious in its power.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh-Post GazetteThe tone throughout is cozy and colloquial, with flourishes of whisper-in-your-ear lyricism ... The New York of Whitehead\'s imagination is an occult world made up of tall tales and legends, of hand-to-mouth wisdom. It\'s hard to call this kind of writing prose; it would be stretching to label it poetry. Composed against the city\'s back-beat, grooved by the melody of its voices, Whitehead\'s style is best described as Duke Ellington crossed with Run DMC, with the occasional sampling of Frank Sinatra. From sentence to sentence, a-ha moments are many. It\'s as if Whitehead scooped his pen into the collective unconscious of everyone who\'s ever visited New York -- and borrowed some overheard stories, too -- and came up with a voice that\'s everyone and no one ... He has tapped into some primal part of the brain where New York lives. He will lead people out onto the city\'s steel and concrete dance-floor, whether they want to be there or not. Not half bad at all, indeed.
RaveThe Boston Globe\"...a rewriting of the Western that somehow comes closer to the loneliness, desperation and terror described in early accounts of that time ... It would be easy for a book like this to linger on solemnities of grit, but Obreht is too lively a writer to paint only in shades of grey muslin. This is a vigorous, funny and energetic novel ... Toggling between these two yarns, Obreht weaves a beautiful meditation on the way resilience engenders — requires, sometimes — a crushing sort of invisibility ... She has a gift for using the absurd to see the deformed qualities of reality anew ... in this big story — about a man stranded on the back of a camel, and a woman beached on a dying homestead — Téa Obreht has resurrected some of the hardest truth about America and its Western expansion. (She’s also laid the groundwork for what could someday be a great Coen Bros. film.) That its landscape gouged by movement, deformed by violence, was taken over by people often haunted by ghosts. The greatest danger, in many cases, was not what came over the horizon at them: but each other.\
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... [a] closely observed, touching and at times amusing chronicle...Drawing both from daily life and from interviews with highly placed political figures, the book is an extraordinary work of reportage, on a par with Anthony Shadid’s Night Draws Near (2005), which was itself built from tales of everyday Iraqis during the early days of the American occupation. Part of the power of these works surely comes from the simple but important fact that both reporters speak Arabic ... Sensitive and perceptive, Mr. Hessler is a superb literary archaeologist, one who handles what he sees with a bit of wonder that he gets to watch the history of this grand city unfold, one day at a time.
RaveThe Boston GlobeSomething is, however, not right in each of these worlds. Usually two things — one private, the other bigger, in one way or another environmental. Russell’s gift is how she braids these together, letting the private un-right-ness bob to the surface like a beacon ... With each story Russell pitches a pup tent in each new universe so rapidly you almost don’t feel its assumptions getting to their dark work ... These tales are not short, but they feel even roomier owing to the way Russell cracks open narrative space with humor ... Russell is also the greatest user of verbs in American fiction since Annie Dillard. Dogs \'dervish\' around kitchens. A man is \'turtled\' into his hoody in a rain storm ... The precision of Russell’s writing makes it that much easier to accept how she is tilting reality.
MixedThe Boston Globe\"As Gingerbread proceeds, its fairy-tale texture cools, and the book hardens into the kind of story its elaborate misdirection is meant to cloak: a tale of economic migration ... In a world in which we feel based on what we see, novels that address migration need to scramble preconceived emotions to produce something more complicated than drive-by empathy. Gingerbread works hard to do this, sometimes too hard: It has four asides and winks to the reader when one would do, and it’s stuffed with literate references, which clog the enchantment machine on which a tale — any tale — ought to rely. It takes 70 pages to take flight. That’s too long ... Oyeyemi can’t help, though, but inscribe intimacy into a tale in ways that defy the difficulty she creates. Gingerbread is a novel that recognizes the way relationships can grow out hardship and being stuck in places one wishes to leave. She also understands that to generations in new lands the old ones are so far away as to be theoretical. Page by page, Oyeyemi brings such territory nearer for Perdita, and for us. Uncomfortably close. And then, like all fairy tales, she promises it was just a dream — leaving behind the mist, an aftertaste, a gnat in the throat.\
RaveThe Boston Globe\"Operating [with a third-person perspective] Eggers proves it is not, in fact, a handicap at all. Alan feels like Eggers’s most fully-realized character to date ... If A Hologram for the King merely showed us this [setting within the context of conducting business] it would be a stylish, good book. But narrating in discrete paragraphs, some as finely spun as prose poems, Eggers drags three layers of story forward ... The true genius of this book is that as we careen toward its final pages, these stories all collapse into one complex tale: the point at which a man’s need for love from home and his need to be effective in business meet ... in A Hologram for the King, Eggers has given us a sad and beautiful story...\
PositiveThe Boston GlobeHome is a short, swift, and luminescent book. It also resembles nothing [Morrison] has ever written ... It is in fact a remarkable thing: proof that Toni Morrison is at once America’s most deliberate and flexible writer. She has almost entirely retooled her style to tell a story that demands speed, brevity, the threat of a looming curtain call ... There is one false note in the book: Frank’s war memories. On the page, as Morrison has rendered them, they sound luridly war-filmic ... Home is, in this book, a place within a place. It is the people who help, rather than divide; it is the tie of blood that does not curdle.
RaveThe Boston Globe\"This book pivots so many times around glances and mirrors and reaction shots that a reader will likely feel not tugged but hurled through Alice’s looking glass ... On occasion, Oyeyemi’s restlessness has worked against itself — consuming and deconstructing a story faster than it can be made. Boy, Snow, Bird is the first where that never happens. The splintering of this story creates exactly the kind of prism Oyeyemi seeks to illuminate ... [Oyeyemi\'s ability to turn the malevolence of a reflecting gaze upon itself, and make it, possibly, amazingly, a positive thing]— more than her narrative special effects — is the extraordinary feat of Boy, Snow, Bird ... With this book [Oyeyemi] proves an even great ability: she can thaw a heart.\
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveThe Boston Globe\"These 20 stories display the full range of Schweblin’s tone and effects. These are funny stories and terribly sad ones; there are some that feel gleaned from outtakes to \'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,\' while others would make Stephen King tip his hat in appreciation ... This is an extraordinarily well-ordered collection ... Here at last is why Schweblin’s tales are so piercing and make such a lasting mark. Throughout the book people question their actions. They wonder about whether what they’re doing is right. If the order in which they tell their story is accurate. It’s hard to think of a story collection this strange that feels so much like life.\
RaveThe Boston Globe\"No American story writer uses the senses quite like [Berlin]. The colors of the Southwest wash over her sketches. The sounds of labor, of talk. Even a glimpse from a moving train of a woman on a Texas prairie town has a Walker Evans quality ... Berlin’s sketches are suggestive, moving, matter-of-fact in some places, and completely devoid of self-pity. Reading them is like having someone tell you the stories of her life over your shoulder as you look at pictures from that time.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeStripping key details from the scrim of her prose allows Burns an enormous degree of freedom in her narration. It re-centers this book away from a chronicle of the heavily debated and squarely onto her narrator ... Burns instantly captures the many unnerving ways the times made it hard for the narrator to speak back. How she was trapped within a system of social queues that stoppered her mouth ... Page by page, its narrator takes in a big lungful of narrative air and spins out one gorgeous, syntactically perfect loop of story after another. This a dense, musical book that sounds in the head like a symphony played by a soloist whose dazzling energy and elliptical progression create the unusual feeling of there being a crowd of musicians producing its rich sound ... Nowhere is the book more powerful on this topic than when it deals with shame ... And yet...this book is also bursting with energy, with tiny apertures of kindness, and a youthful kind of joy ... On that, too, perhaps especially so, Milkman is a triumph of resistance.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"So skillful and imaginative is [Johnson’s] tale of time and fate that it earned her the distinction of being named the youngest Man Booker Prize finalist ... Sometimes it’s hard not to wish sometimes Johnson had let metaphor do its own patient work ... For every section that feels overly serpentine, however, there are several so neatly dammed they feel as contained and beautiful as prose poems ... It takes a bold mind to steer so many elements through one tale, and an even stronger stylist to render them in a narrative that heeds, but seems not to, the laws of nature. Johnson has done all this in a book that will probably be read, like Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, for years to come as a part of the reclaiming of narrative territory...\
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"... marvelous, weird, and vividly imagined ... One of the pleasures of gothic is how it abuses us for our hope — making it perhaps the most current of all the genres now. Carey plays these roller-coasters of emotion masterfully ... If there’s any criticism one can apply to Little, it’s that it keeps its heroine little for too long. Marie lived to be nearly 90, but 90 percent of this book takes place in the early stages of her life ... Still, this is a fantastic winter tale, a big, patient read full of reversals of fortune and fabulous glimpses of a time not unlike our own...\
RaveThe Boston Globe\"To read Evening in Paradise, however, feels like living through the periods yourself. Like Chekhov, Berlin was a beautiful framer of stories. She knows how to draw an incident around a place and period ... Beat by beat, these stories etch a circle around a time and then fill up the inside with the sensation of lived experience, of conscious thought — loves and regrets ... The stories in Evening in Paradise frequently tilt on this ever-present pivot between what is hidden and obvious, and how in dramatic situations the two things trade places back and forth ... Reading Berlin is like watching [a] building burn and realizing it is our lives.\
Laura Van Den Berg
RaveThe Boston Globe\"Laura van den Berg is an artist of the uncanny. As with some surrealist painting, devour her work quickly and the trick will not snag ... Clare’s eerie perceptional wobbles are conjured beautifully by van den Berg, who sees like a painter and narrates like a crime reporter. To read The Third Hotel sometimes feels like following a character based on Joan Didion sinking deeper into a universe whose laws were written by Patricia Highsmith ... The other writer who comes to mind reading The Third Hotel is Gertrude Stein, sometimes reduced to Hemingway’s patron, but whose cubist rendering of consciousness in prose is a lost footbridge between visual modernism and literary modernism ... We are anchored by loss, set free by love, clichés tell us. What, this exquisitely written book asks, if it’s the opposite? In doing so van den Berg drives home an inversion far scarier than any zombie film: The truth is odd. That ringing bell in our minds isn’t the tinnitus of pop culture, the sign of something wrong. It’s the part that knows how to survive saying: You’re awake.\
Layli Long Soldier
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWriters who live between two languages face an extra challenge in their role as lexicographers of metaphor. They must create a mythology through language that acts like double-pane glass. As in, they must correct for the distortion of the words they are translating from one language to another...Layli Long Soldier manages this double-ness with the precision of a master glassblower ... You do not slip into this book on silken bolts of easy beauty, but scratch yourself raw on language disassembled into glittering shards ... Two of Long Soldier's great strengths are the use of repetition like a hammer on concepts she believes need breaking, and lyricism when she believes a reader needs to feel wonder.
Luis Alberto Urrea
RaveThe Boston GlobeEntering a party after it has begun is disorienting. It is a testament to Urrea’s swift and lucid characterizations one does not want to leave this one ... From the love of marriages to the love of siblings, The House of Broken Angels shows how that the only reason people fight over stories is they want to connect, to be loved. They need to be loved. Some are starved for love. In a world that reduces human complexity to phrases like anchor baby or in-migration, a novel like The House of Broken Angels is a radical act. It is a big, epic story about how hard it is to love with all of your heart, and all of your family — regardless of which side of the border they live on. After all, as this novel keenly reminds us, all of us will one day wind up on the other side.
Leila Slimani, Trans. by Sam Taylor
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"We begin The Perfect Nanny in horror, and then miraculously, swiftly, Slimani creates a person out of that powerful spectacle. In this fashion the novel functions like an extended Maupassant story turned inside out … Narrating from a dazzling array of viewpoints, Slimani produces an ever-turning love triangle of possession and resentment … The result is a book that provokes horror only to slide it aside and challenge us to forget it.\
PositiveThe Boston Globe Ferris's tale begins as a satiric manifesto for the overpaid but understimulated white-collar worker ... Anxiety, like office life, is a daily fact of American living, but it presents challenges for a story teller. How hard do you tweak it? Do you use it to turn some characters wild, or keep it at a low, sonorous hum, as in Ann Beattie's work? Ferris wisely knows there is only so much ha-ha and hee-hee to squeeze for amusing cruelty, so, as the bodies begin to pile up and the lay off ax chops faster, the humor is increasingly mediated by moments of touching solidarity.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesIt's an uneven and grimly literal collection of fiction that reprises — and repraises — the author's childhood, chronicles the indignities of old age, describes in nearly guidebook fashion far-off travels and lingers over detritus found in a home that sounds very much like the one Updike occupied until his death … My Father's Tears feels like a coming clean. It revolves — guiltily, it must be said — around occasions in which a narrator shows a lack of courage, a failure of understanding, a cruelness in refusing to let go of women. The whiff of confession, however, does not generate the heat of fiction's more mysterious properties. And there are other reasons this is a demoralizing book. White characters are described in full description; the rest are dark threatening smudges on the sideline.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThis is grim reading, and it doesn't require an epic for us to understand the Beckett-like bargain of forced choice — of being asked to kill while having a gun pointed at one's head. Nor does the author bring redemptive uplift into a story where the rivers of blood prove the pointlessness of such gestures. In fact, the only redemptive thing about this story is the fact that is being told at all … The novel is an act of pure imagination.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe kids' names give you a clue of how wanted they are at home. There's a Bastard and Godknows. One girl is pregnant at 11. They wear cast-off T-shirts given to them by aid workers, advertising brands they can't afford and colleges they'll never attend. Poignantly, they know their dreams of escape are lined with tin … Chapter by chapter, Bulawayo ticks off the issues that a state-of-the-nation novel by an African should cover — the hypocrisies of the church, elections, the AIDS epidemic, political violence — and beats some subtlety back into them with the hard true sound of Darling's voice … With fury and tenderness, she has made a linguistic bridge between here and there, a journey her heroine charts in this phenomenal tale with the gallows humor of a girl who knows how far down it is when things fall apart.
RaveThe Boston Globe...[a] swift and devastating tale ... Has anyone written as beautifully as Doyle on how love and violence lean right up against each other in childhood? From the Booker Prize winning Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha to Smile, Doyle’s books bruise and cheer at the same time ... In the present, at the pub, Victor gets to know a group of men like him, a little restless as they enter into what Richard Ford called the Permanent Period. They spend their time drinking, and when they begin slagging him off, Victor knows he’s OK. 'I was still one of them — just about.' It’s those last words, so masterfully deployed, which give you a clue as to the dark place this book will visit. The evolution is so swift you feel pushed along by a ghostly hand. In its closing pages, Smile — which has given us a life, fully lived, a life of love and music, and warmth — rips that life straight from our hands. Would that it felt more like fiction.
PositiveThe Cleveland Plain DealerThis is one of the least romantic novels about combat ever published. Soldiers and interpreters die sudden, violent deaths, and moments later the ones who survive are munching on the contents of home-sent care packages … In its best moments, The Yellow Birds trains its gaze away from Bartle's murmured introspection and discovers that soldiers are not alone in feeling this way.
RaveThe Boston GlobeWithin a few pages of the book’s opening, The Cat’s Table’ has done a miraculous thing — it has ceased to be a book, or even a piece of art. It is merely a story, unfolding before the reader’s eyes, its churning motor a mystery about what it is exactly that happened on this boat … This is a book about how the passage of time and distance makes one choose a narrative to his or her own life. Told in short bursts of exposition so beautiful one actually feels the urge to slow the reading down, the novel shows us how the boy assembles the man.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn the first 100 pages of The Power, women with the Power tear down repressive governments, force sex traffickers in Moldova to plead for their lives, and make men everywhere physically afraid of women, upending one of the givens around which society has evolved. This revolution in gender norms unfolds in the background as Alderman shuttles rapidly through the lives of the main characters ... The Power is at once as streamlined as a 90-minute action film and as weirdly resonate as one of Atwood’s own early fictions ... Jumping from one character to the next, writing in a propulsive unfussy style, Alderman has conducted a brilliant thought experiment in the nature of power itself.
RaveThe Boston GlobeWhat is more remarkable, Julian Barnes asks in his brief but deeply stirring new memoir, Levels of Life, the vessel born aloft by gas or heated air or the shadow it leaves on the landscape? Both are potential metaphors for this book’s focus, which is grief … There is a great dignity in how little Barnes reveals about his own life in Levels of Life, and how late it becomes a study of grief — about two-thirds through this slim book in the third and final section. He does not, ever, use his wife’s name. Still, the metaphoric intensity of what has come before gives Barnes’s account of his grief a fierce and fiery kind of momentum. Within a few pages it is aloft.
RaveThe Boston GlobeOn one level, An Odyssey elegantly retells the story of that course, complete with all the gags, competition, and good cheer of an intragenerational bromance ... Chapter by chapter, An Odyssey dives deeper and excavates a complex and moving portrait of Mendelsohn’s special student. Drawing on the concepts within Homer’s book, from the proem — the short prelude, or synopsis, to the poem — to the many-layered meaning of some translations, Mendelsohn uses Homer’s guidance for how to tell Jay’s story ... a remarkable feat of narration that such a forbiddingly erudite writer can show us how necessary this education is, how provisional, how frightening, how comforting.
MixedThe Boston GlobeA Constellation of Vital Phenomena is densely imagined, and yet cinematic in the after-image … There are perhaps too many coincidences to be sustained. The novel also zigzags needlessly across time. Every other chapter unfolds in 1994 or 2004, and in those same chapters are flashbacks. War indeed ruptures time; in fact, Marra reminds that when Chechnya broke away it established its own time zone … There are many reasons to read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena...but the one I kept returning to, the best reason to read this novel, is that this story reminds us how senseless killing often wrenches kindness through extreme circumstances.
RaveThe Boston GlobeSeiffert is such a patient and poised storyteller that, even though history tells us otherwise, like all the characters in the book, we read toward its terrible climax believing — perhaps it will not happen ... Seiffert packs a great deal into a small amount of space. Her prose style resembles a cello onstage played in the pitch dark. Sonorous and somber and yet what use it makes of just a few notes ... One of the many great things about A Boy in Winter is how deftly Seiffert strings these moments of not-knowing from one to the next, then circles back upon them as they are replaced with new forms of not-knowing ... As we shuttle from character to character, Seiffert gives us nowhere to hide: All of her cast thinks or says such things. All of them contemplate doing unthinkable things. Bravery, she reveals, is a kind of fantasy, until it is not — it becomes a choice. Eventually, what this book has been building toward happens, and there are few passages in modern literature as harrowing and as necessary to read.
RaveThe Houston ChronicleVernon God Little might be the most vicious satire of American life to come out of England since Martin Amis' 1985 Money. Set in a small Texas town where residents' dependence on fried food and television has transformed them into oversize lemmings, the book puts an astute if needling finger on the scary collusion between entertainment and law enforcement in American culture … Martirio is a town painted with cartoonish stereotypes and scatological broad strokes....In the process of ranting about his town and family, Vernon beautifully mangles language into his own crude idiom. He complains about becoming a ‘scate-goat’ for a crime he did not commit, and worries that the ‘paradime’ shift that a sketchy TV producer promises him will actually put him behind bars. Mexicans are ‘Meskins,’ Timberland boots become ‘Tumbledowns.’ Even funnier, however, are the metaphors Vernon uses, most of which are too colorful to cite.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn How to Be Both Smith puts her rebellious theory to its most intense test yet. Told in two long stories, the book is a tale about time and gender. Brilliant and cheeky, but also profoundly mournful, it will one day join Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as a key text in understanding the fluidity of human life … George’s and Francesco’s tales mirror each other like two ice skaters slicing a perfect routine. Both begin with a member of the dead, speaking into the present. They are love stories, and they are tales of grief. They also pivot neatly around notions of watching and the watched.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteHeaving into peacetime with a numb heart and an eye for conspiracy, Hazzard's hero falls desperately in love with the young daughter of a British brigadier. Touring Japan, he notes how a defeated nation gathers itself in peacetime, secretly aware that to endure peacetime he must do the same thing … For all its spine-tingling finery, the novel is an often dense read. Hazzard's characters speak to another of the global theater in tones so formal you'd think they were sitting at a Council on Foreign Relations roundtable, rather than chatting over a gin and tonic. Even more baffling, she will often switch between two characters in one chapter, so that it's hard to tell who is speaking. Given the subtleties of their conversations, it's important to know where Leith and Exley stand.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHalwai, we learn right away, has climbed his way out of this environment and now runs a successful start-up corporation, but he is wanted by the law for a murder. Over the course of seven days, he describes his miraculous journey to Chinese politician Wen Jiabao in a series of letters that veer between acid sarcasm and shaky remorse. This gambit is hardly the work of a finesse writer, but it allows Adiga, who formerly worked as a business journalist, to report on his country to an outsider without needing to apologize for the constant sweep and scope of his narrative lens … Sarcasm is Adiga's sledgehammer, morality his anvil. It's not a subtle tale, but there's a beaten, beveled perfection to its fury.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
RaveThe Boston GlobeAlexievich’s introduction is worth the book’s cost alone. Anyone who has ever elicited important stories or traumatic remembrances ought to read it ... Like all soldiers, they lost limbs; sanity fled their minds like messenger pigeons. They also buried brothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, and in some cases, lovers, all this recorded beautifully by Alexievich, who guides us from interview to interview in brief italicized sections. Layering the quotations, and then moving on to a new theme: fear, love, victory, remembrance ... Thousands upon thousands of them came home, and in this frightening and lacerating book — as beautiful as a ruined cathedral — Alexievich has turned their voices into history’s psalm.
RaveNPRThere are few perfect debut American novels...To this list ought to be added Paul Harding's devastating first book, Tinkers, the story of a dying man drifting back in time to his hardscrabble New England childhood, growing up the son of his clockmaking father. The mystery and machinery of these ticking timepieces appear and reappear throughout this beautiful book, which cycles backward and forward in time, capturing with awful grace the unwinding of a life … Harding has written a masterpiece around the truism that all of us, even surrounded by family, die alone.
William T. Vollmann
RaveThe Boston GlobeVollmann's [novel] is a hall of mirrors – each tale getting a kind of sister story that forms its opposite image. Enter the book, take a twirl around, and you are presented with a kind of kaleidoscopic portrait of life in Europe around the dawn of World War II, when totalitarianism was on the rise. Try to find your way out and you will become, well, a little lost. This sense of claustrophobia and confusion is, one imagines, purposeful, as Europe Central aims to show how totalitarianism occurred and how it felt on the inside, and to bring us up close and personal with the nubbly texture of history.
RaveThe Orlando SentinelMartin bravely and honestly explores a somewhat overlooked perspective on life in the antebellum South – that of the wives of plantation owners … With swift and deliberate plotting, Property pits Manon in competition against her house slave Sarah, even though neither much cares for the prize. Manon orders Sarah to perform menial tasks just to prove that she can, while all Sarah has to do to crush her mistress's heart is nurse her mixed-blood baby in plain sight. Although Manon's cruelty is abominable, Martin does not judge her for it, instead portraying her as a woman caught in the grip of a system – slavery – that degrades all it touches … As Manon's monologue progresses, it becomes clear that Sarah is not just her erotic competitor but a benchmark for how paltry her mistress's freedom is.
RaveThe Cleveland Plain DealerThis book manipulates. It wheedles and churns for our affection. It sounds the right notes. But then, slowly, it dawns on the reader that its teller is not as in control of the facts as he first appears … It is a chilling and potent moment the instant one realizes that Tony, in spite of having lived it, is not an expert in his own life … His agitations for closure progress from the plangent to the comical to the downright rude, giving this short, unlikely novel the even unlikelier distinction of being a page-turner. You arrive at its conclusion breathless and befuddled, duped into the idea that a life's conclusion brings some kind of wisdom. Not always.
RaveThe Hartford Courant...a tale that is plangent and funny and perfectly written … The pressure and fizz of all this social collusion makes The Line of Beauty an intoxicating read … As Nick evolves from a virgin naif to a coke-addled party boy with a millionaire Lebanese boyfriend, The Line of Beauty becomes less a study of class than one about how those on the margins of Thatcherite London were tainted by that period's ecstatic vacuity … Hollinghurst has always been compared with the world's best stylists, but he truly enters a category all his own with The Line of Beauty. It takes a delicate hand to poke fun at the fetishizing of style while being stylish oneself, but Hollinghurst pulls it off. Each sentence in this book rings as perfect and true as a Schubert sonata.
RaveThe Houston ChronicleIn Mariam and Laila, Hosseini has created two enormously winning female characters, women born into very different circumstances … As in The Kite Runner, there's a miniature history lesson embedded in A Thousand Splendid Suns. But Hosseini never belabors it. Nor does the book feel merely like a conveniently framed window onto a human rights issue … Hosseini may not be a lyrical writer but he marshals details well, which helps render his characters' plight — so foreign to us — in human terms … The texture of the women's journey will be familiar to those who read international news. But rendered as fiction it devastates in a new way.
PositiveThe Denver PostLike White Teeth, this novel squeezes a great deal of contemporary life between two covers. It is packed with tangents on the I-pod, the seepage of pornography into sex life and glimpses of life in America under President George W. Bush ... The Kippses are a righteous, shiny, successful and attractive clan. They also are fervent opponents of affirmative action; and they are black ... Mixed-race and politically liberal, the Belseys are utterly baffled by them ... If these paintings feel somewhat tacked onto the novel, like future reading group guide discussion points, what doesn’t feel forced are the portraits Smith paints of her main cast – particularly of Kiki...the book’s loveliest character ... a novel that is rich and entertaining, and in spite of the ugly truths it uncovers, often quite beautiful.
MixedThe Boston GlobeThe history here feels researched, rather than felt. This would make sense were it being presented from Subhash’s point of view. Indeed, as a teenager, he leaves Calcutta and travels to Rhode Island to study maritime biology. But the history is by and large simply dumped into the novel … Lahiri allows Gauri’s dilemma — being beholden to a man she does not love — to do most of the work here. Her writing is pitched downward. The sentences are crisp and short, unadorned … Lahiri tells a quietly devastating story about the nature of kindness. How it is never pure and often goes largely unrewarded. It simply is, and then the floodwaters rise and obscure its role in the landscape for a time.
David Foster Wallace
MixedThe Boston GlobeHow Wallace planned to steer us through these richly imagined lives, if he did at all, shall remain a mystery. It seems possible he would have had it both ways — a deep panoply of lives and the post-modern awareness of how this was all constructed, both the work and the vortex of current life … The Pale King gives us, at its best, a glimpse of a writer wrestling with these questions. How do you imagine the texture of boredom without being boring? Where do you acknowledge your reader without breaking the spell that defines a reader’s existence? At its worst, the book reminds us that Wallace would have given this novel a shape that turned such interrogatives into a system of its own.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewIn Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay the heroine’s exorcism of her demons becomes an interesting part of the story’s sweep, not a cute metafiction. It is now the 1960s, and student movements are beginning to sweep across Europe, meaning that while the conservatism of Naples still gnaws at Elena, universities are becoming receptive to her modern attitudes about sex and power. All the while the tale of her friend Lila lingers in her mind, even after Lila makes her promise not to tell it … Narrating in Elena’s voice, which cascades from sensual reactions to reflections and an inner intelligence, Ferrante describes the watchfulness and atavistic needs that her heroine oscillates between.
RaveThe Boston Globe...a fierce and fabulously disobedient novel, a book as fearless as her essays on the environment, nuclear proliferation, and Kashmiri independence are bold ... announces itself page by page in noisy, foul-mouthed, and staggeringly beautiful sentences. In moments it reads like a feminist version of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, only in Delhi instead of Bombay, 70 years after the partition of India and Pakistan, the event that sits at the heart of both books ... Roy shows how sectarian hatred and violence shapes lives in a series of interlocking stories so fully realized they both feel intimate yet vibrate with the tragicomedy of myth ... Once a decade, if we are lucky, a novel emerges from the cinder pit of living that asks what increasingly appears to be the urgent question of our global era. How do you write fiction in an era when states are deformed by the violence they do in the name of nationalism and power? Roy’s novel is this decade’s ecstatic and necessary answer.
RaveThe Seattle TimesUnlike so many young writers, who herald the loser as a kind of everyman, this is a book full of winners. Who are losing. Baseball stars, sought-after academics, beautiful young women and talented students all fall flat on their face across this novel. And bless him, Harbach doesn't indulge an ounce of schadenfreude … One-by-one this book's entire cast suffers some setback or another, and Harbach shows them doing that most American thing: Improvising … This is an absorbing and autumnal novel set in a place — the academy — and about a game — baseball — that have both been written to death. That Harbach makes it feel brand new feels like talent.
RaveThe Hartford CourantThere are just six narratives in this story, but they fold in on one another with dazzling elegance … One of the biggest joys of Cloud Atlas is to watch Mitchell sashay from genre to genre without a hitch in his dance step. Whether you are a fantasy-book reader or a thriller reader, a fan of epistolary novels or a reader of journals, you will find Cloud Atlas maintains a startling level of authenticity throughout … there is more to Mitchell's act than pyrotechnics – there is an intense and serious moral core, one that sees not just individuals but a galaxy of humans trying, and often failing, to live mindfully. Watching Mitchell's characters act, and then seeing how their actions reverberate across time, it's hard not to agree that causality may be one of the thorniest moral issues in existence.
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelLike many autistics, Christopher's goal each day is to preserve order in his routine. So when he discovers that his neighbor's dog has been murdered with a garden fork, this unlikely hero who is initially blamed for the crime immediately sets out to uncover what exactly happened, just as his favorite literary hero, Sherlock Holmes, would … Told in Christopher's stiff, almost robotic voice, The Curious Incident depicts how investigating this petty crime forces our hero to participate in the world around him, a world whose chaos he's feared his entire life … [Haddon] has crafted a tale full of cheeky surprises and tender humor.
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe neat symmetry of Marie-Laure and Werner’s childhoods — one spent in darkness, the other exploring sound — would seem too obvious a mirror in another writer’s hands. Doerr, however, has packed each of his scenes with such refractory material that All the Light We Cannot See reflects a dazzling array of themes … As far as World War II novels go, All the Light You Can See follows some of the usual pathways — love and greed are the magnetizing poles of its compass — but its language feels startlingly fresh. Doerr has retooled his sentences into short bursts of sensory information. He has also turned his skill at compression and miniaturization to creating metaphorical pivot points.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIn Colm Tóibín’s extraordinary new novel, The House of Names, it feels as if that night watchman has finally been allowed to speak. Drawing upon Greek tragedy as deftly as he borrowed the story of the Virgin mother in his 2013 Booker Prize finalist novel, The Testament of Mary, Tóibín has found the gaps in the myth, reimagining all as a profoundly gripping and human tale ... Here he has found yet another register, a language which is declarative and figurative at once. It feels entirely believable as of its time. There is no space between things and their representation, and as such there are almost no similes in the book. As a result, the prose creates enormous velocity ... What is truly miraculous, though, is how Tóibín has made us sympathize with people who do terrible, unthinkable things.
RaveThe Boston Globe...one of the strangest and most remarkable books about love, loss, and the afterlife ... Fans of Saunders’s stories — some of the most original work in American history — have craved this book for a long time, and he has not disappointed. Saunders has disassembled the novel as a form and put it back together in a fascinating shape. Dozens of voices spread out across the page like floating spirits ... Saunders veers compellingly between high and low, hideous and heartbreaking. Raped slaves run into the racist generals who fought against their freedom. Two men enraptured by each other’s flattery conjoin in an endless circular back-patting ... In the past two decades, in short stories and essays largely about America, Saunders has often revealed characters in their worst moments and managed to look upon them with love and forgiveness. Lincoln in the Bardo, for all its zooming silliness, manages to do something similar on the level of metaphysics. It finds in reasons grand and grotesque a similarity between our greed to live and our need to die.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...[an] extraordinary debut collection ... This might be one of the sexiest books ever made from the long fallout of war ... Lyricism is so often over-used in poetry, but here Sharif deploys it perfectly; she heightens language to remember what was.
ed. Jesmyn Ward
RaveThe Boston GlobeJesmyn Ward has assembled a collection as vital to living in our times as Coates’s letter and Rankine’s poem ... To read The Fire This Time is to feel what it is like to live through a terrible resurgence of our central never-dormant idea about race. Namely, that a black or brown life is of less value than a white one ... an extraordinary anthology.
Herta Müller, Trans. by Peter Boehm
RaveThe Boston Globe“The Fox Was Ever the Hunter feels like a documentary novel, but reads like poetry. In 33 chapters, the book spirals gently outward. Here are the jobless fishing in a corpse-lined river, children roped into the tomato harvest but punished for eating any fruit themselves. Here are factory workers, copulating standing up in the shadows, desperate for warmth ... In most books, especially novels written in the West, narrative tension tends to derive from forward momentum, from evolution. In The Fox Was Ever The Hunter, that machinery has been turned inward to create pressure. Propulsion comes from what happens when people are living a life that feels increasingly untenable.
RaveThe Boston GlobeUntil now, Don DeLillo’s fiction has satirized our impulse to purify, to be superhuman, to enter higher states, most notably, in his National Book Award winning White Noise. Zero K may poke fun at life extension, but it gives us the warmest depiction of a DeLillo novel yet at the intimate reason for this perpetual Icarus complex. Yes, there is greed, and there are ways our culture encourages us to pursue our technocratic existence for eternity — in terrorism, in art, in culture, in finance. Social media. But ultimately, the most powerful reason for this desire for transcendence is love, and as Zero K so poignantly reminds, love is one element that does not survive at subfreezing zero kelvin.
A. O. Scott
PositiveThe Boston Globe...[Scott] attempts — and largely succeeds — in rescuing criticism from the ideological and culture kudzu that has grown round it as we’ve leapt from the culture wars into the age of the Internet and cultural relativism. Once clear of all this, he discovers an activity at the heart of living.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIt’s hard to think of a recent novel that so vividly and sensually brings to life a time and place. Black Deutschland sees Berlin like a flaneur and a guide, chattily leading us deeper and deeper into its interior spaces.
Elena Ferrante, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveThe Boston GlobeOld romances; the tiny slights of a domineering mother; the status anxieties of growing up parochial: Ferrante has written a book that feels as rich and layered as life itself.