PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn a novel premised on stagnation, the incremental but inevitable deterioration of both major characters becomes an unexpectedly gripping drama, fueled by the attraction of repulsion ... the novel veers into pure gothic horror, and Nathan’s writing, having lost its subtle ironic edge, barely skirts histrionics. With its echoes of Frankenstein and Michael Myers, plus a quote from Psalm 130 and a meteor in the sky, the final scene piles it on. Surprisingly, though, such lapses fail to spoil this unique and chilling novel.
Imogen Hermes Gowar
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewGowar’s mermaid is this vividly realistic novel’s touch of magic realism, and its genuineness is teasingly ambiguous ... One of the delights of this knowingly preposterous story is the dialectic it constructs between the real and the fantastic. Its period details — de rigueur in historical novels — dutifully create the ambience of a different time and place for tourist readers, and do so beautifully ... Other recurring themes in this splendid novel, which was a best seller in Britain, are handled with skill and broaden its scope.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn The Judge Hunter, the satire is mild, for this is mostly a melodrama ... Buckley’s writing is breezy and his descriptions vivid ... Other passages, however, become mere exposition dumps where the narrative pauses before continuing ... One wonders, however, what the comic purpose of swashbuckling perils and improbable coincidences is, other than to convey the fun of writing them. Perhaps for his fans that becomes the fun of reading them.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...this large and rich kitchen sink of a novel (as in everything but) is full of drama, vivid characters, wit, gorgeous writing and fascinating botanical, religious and social detail ... If you’re not quite sure how to draw your plot to a close, try an act of nature, a flood or a windstorm. After all, Thomas Hardy and George Eliot did it. Still, Peculiar Ground, with its witches and aristocrats, its highly educated men, women and children, and its gradations of every conceivable social type between upstairs and downstairs, is a grand spectacle.
Gregory Blake Smith
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewImagine someone burrowing into the past a first time, then starting over again, then again and again — or, to change the metaphor, opening a telescope in successive nested sections. Each story is about courtship, sexual attraction and the moral choices people make when they love, or fail to love, one another. The 2011 story is clearly the principal one, although not necessarily the most engaging ... Smith’s ability to capture the character of the languages used in each of his historical periods is remarkable ... The different strands of the narrative are skillfully braided. Each is interrupted by the next at a salient moment, and each is strong enough that readers can forgive the omnibus ending, whose breathless melodrama feels out of sync with the rest of the novel, and whose struggle to highlight parallels and links between the stories becomes a bit ham-handed.
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThese characters and their names, not completely Dickensian, or even Pynchonian, but not exactly commonplace either, are emblematic of Patrick DeWitt’s novel The Sisters Brothers — not always serious, not always funny, sometimes derivative of old westerns, sometimes a parody of them … It’s...usually narrated in a gritty vernacular, and the version of 19th-century Western speech in The Sisters Brothers is surely gritty, as well as deadpan and often very comic. Eli Sisters tells the story in a loftily formal fashion, doggedly literal, vulgar and polite at turns, squeezing humor out of stating the obvious with flowery melodrama … Picaresques are by nature episodic, but this doesn’t justify a plot with so many anticlimaxes and dead ends. DeWitt seems to be fond of rescuing his characters from dire predicaments by means of convenient expedients, like gunmen falling out of trees, but is this parody or laziness?
Edward P. Jones
PositiveThe New York TimesEdward P. Jones's novel, The Known World, opens with the death of a master of 33 slaves in antebellum Virginia ...few certified villains in this novel, white or black, because slavery poisons moral judgments at the root ... Jones writes with a sense of narrative foreboding undercut by the erratic nature of events, and the result is a portrait of a society that is seemingly immutable but as tentative and fragile as the map of the Americas...characters survive by negotiating mazes of moral contradiction, but they speak with a raw and lyrical bluntness ... His own narrative style is doggedly declarative, slow, persistent, imperturbable and patient, but it gets the job done ...an achievement of epic scope and architectural construction, which nonetheless reads like a string of folk tales told by someone slyly watching for your reaction.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHis fascination with Betsy is clear in his decision to use her to tell his story, and in the insightful and nimble prose he attributes to her. His writing is consistently fresh and engaging ... As in Henry James’s novels about children, the combination of knowledge and ignorance creates a chiaroscuro effect that gives the narrative depth ... Napoleon’s Last Island is old-fashioned in the best sense, with all the new-fashioned pleasures that come with toppling heroes from their pedestals ... seamlessly unites fiction and the 'truth.'