PanThe Washington PostThe message of Coetzee’s trilogy is...inscrutable. The books sit uncooperatively in a zone between allegory and parable, refuting interpretation. The language is spare, almost completely bereft of metaphor. The plots are perfunctory, only occasionally generating moments of suspense. Lengthy passages in all three volumes are given over to exhaustive but often inconclusive philosophical discussions ... One can’t shake the feeling that Coetzee, in these novels, is perpetrating some kind of practical joke on his readers, a joke that only the author really gets ... Coetzee’s Jesus novels...reveal nothing.
Daniel Kehlmann, Trans. by Ross Benjamin
PositiveThe Washington PostEach chapter functions as a self-contained short story or novella with recurring themes and characters tying the whole together. Some are more successful than others, and the best are transfixing. German-language novelist Kehlmann, like Tyll, is a trickster and his cheekiness is well served by Ross Benjamin’s fluid, stylish translation. The book is full of red herrings and dead ends, but it rewards close readers with grace notes and unexpected narrative connections. There’s also a dragon ... Unless you’re a student of European history, Tyll is likely to send you back to the annals to look up some of its real-life characters ... entertain[s] us like a jester on a tightrope and remind[s] us of the danger of a fall.
RaveThe Washington Post... engrossing and beautifully written ... a work of lyrical naturalism dressed as an allegory ... Some of the best scenes in the novel are its descriptions of failures, deprivations and frustrations ... Crummey movingly renders the furtive, helpless complexities of Ada and Evered’s incestuous explorations.
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
RaveThe Washington Post...[a] quietly devastating novel ... Ogawa writes with a direct, understated style that enhances the uncanniness of the events she describes. Her flat tone matches the passivity of most of the island’s inhabitants, which in turn suggests a capitulation to deeply buried personal and societal trauma ... Fortunately, Ogawa’s wry humor keeps The Memory Police from drowning in its own gloom ... Ogawa finds new ways to express old anxieties about authoritarianism, environmental depredation and humanity’s willingness to be complicit in its own demise.
MixedThe Washington Post\"Winters has a knack for creating appealing detective fictions that skew reality in thought-provoking ways, producing a hybrid of the familiar and the uncanny ... For the first two-thirds of Golden State, Winters pulls it off again. The novel is in equal measure a gripping detective story and a disquieting work of speculative fiction. Winters brilliantly imagines the quotidian manifestations of a truth-obsessed culture ... However, the last third of Golden State fails to deliver on the promise of its first two hundred pages. Winters paints himself into an imaginative corner ... How I wish that all of Winters’s novel had produced [an ecstatic] effect in me.\
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... a playful yet affecting examination of sibling rivalry, the legacy of abuse and the shallow sexism of Nigeria’s patriarchal society ... Braithwaite generates a lot of humor out of the disparity between Korede’s and Ayoola’s appearances ... twisty, satisfying ... In its darkly comic depiction of two women teaming up against the powerful, abusive men in their lives, My Sister the Serial Killer feels like an ideal book for the present moment.\
Ryan H. Walsh
RaveThe New YorkerIn documenting the milieu out of which the album came, Walsh...argues for Boston as an underappreciated hub of late-sixties radicalism, artistic invention, and social experimentation. The result is a complex, inquisitive, and satisfying book that illuminates and explicates the origins of Astral Weeks without diminishing the album’s otherworldly aura.
PositiveThe Washington PostLike a meal at one of New Orleans’ famed eateries, Nathaniel Rich’s new novel, King Zeno, offers a groaning board of tasty literary treats ... Within its sprawling reach, King Zeno is essentially the tale of three New Orleanians of disparate backgrounds whose stories become violently entwined over the course of 1918 ...offers a gritty, panoramic portrait of the Big Easy, from its brothels and concert halls to the mansions of the Garden District ... Rich’s novel is a hybrid of literary fiction and police procedural, and for much of the book he manages to pull off this balancing act ...full of sharply rendered minor characters, gallows humor and finely observed descriptions ... Other readers may find themselves wanting a different configuration. Yet, the fact that Rich comes so close to executing this ambitious literary banquet is in itself a remarkable achievement.
RaveThe New YorkerThe story of Ice is reported by a nameless narrator who claims to be a former soldier and explorer. We soon realize that he is entirely unreliable, and perhaps mentally unstable … The reason for the disorienting vagueness of so much of Ice becomes clear only in retrospect. It is a work of traumatized sexual surrealism, and its true setting is its author’s haunted imagination … The novel’s title refers not only to the environmental catastrophe of the encroaching walls of ice but also to the emotional numbness of the victimized girl whom the warden and the narrator are vying to possess. The abuse of the girl and the abuse of the environment stem from the same driving male impulse for control and dominance … A half century after its first appearance, Kavan’s fever dream of a novel is beginning to seem all too real.
RaveThe Washington PostThough grim in subject, Grace is a moving work of lyrical and at times hallucinatory beauty ... The result is a bleak picaresque that reads like a hybrid of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road ... Lynch does not devote much of his narrative to the political and economic causes of the Great Hunger (don’t look for a history lesson here), but there is an undercurrent of populist ire that resonates with our own turbulent times.
RaveThe Washington Post...[a] sure-handed and captivating novel ... MacLaverty’s novel is relatively short (240 pages), but it feels like a more expansive work because of its unhurried pace and careful attention to each moment of the Gilmores’ sojourn. We accompany this couple not only to the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum, but also into their deepest selves. It is an intimate book that makes wonderful use of the close third person ... A restrained simplicity is also the stylistic hallmark of this novel. MacLaverty’s only missteps are his occasionally clumsy and largely unnecessary segues into flashbacks ... Contemplating the mysteries that lie at the heart of every marriage, Stella thinks, 'Nobody could peer into a relationship — even for a day or two — and come away with the truth.' It’s a measure of MacLaverty’s achievement here that he has done exactly that.
PositiveThe Washington PostNorman works with an offhand ease and grace that makes the unlikely and at times bizarre events in this novel seem more plausible than they should be. (No fewer than two children are born in the Halifax Free Library during the course of this book.) The whimsy is balanced by moments of powerfully evoked realism ... Though My Darling Detective plays with the conventions of the noir, those conventions do not always fit comfortably in Norman’s novel. The book is too intellectually restless and self-aware to fully conform to the demands of the genre. Norman is less interested in generating page-turning suspense than he is in investigating and re-creating the comfort, longing and nostalgia that detective fiction provides for its consumers ... Despite its flaws, My Darling Detective gives us plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
Paul La Farge
RaveThe Washington Post...a booby-trapped doozy of a book that’s as challenging and confounding as one of the many-tentacled alien beings in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos ... The result is a novel composed of narratives and counternarratives, texts and subtexts. It is both homage to and a sendup of Lovecraft and the 19th-century Gothic fantasies that inspired him. The layering is dizzying. Within Marina’s account lies Charlie’s account of Barlow’s retelling of his relationship with Lovecraft. Within Charlie’s story there are further sources: diaries, letters, recordings, transcripts — some of them red herrings and hoaxes and others seemingly true. La Farge, who adorns his book with cameos from William S. Burroughs, Isaac Asimov , Edward R. Murrow and others, carries it all off with breathtaking skill and panache ... As entertaining as the novel is, its complex structure results almost inevitably in the lack of a true center ... My advice is to spare yourself the trouble of trying to divine what’s true and what’s fiction in The Night Ocean and just go along for the ride.
PositiveThe Washington PostMcInerney writes an energetic, profane prose laced with the vibrant idiom of Cork street life ... There’s not much of a respite for the reader in this bleak, powerful novel. A tough gallows humor pervades, but there is little in the way of redemption or hope for McInerney’s characters. In that regard The Glorious Heresies remains unstintingly true to its own subject matter.
Ben H. Winters
PositiveThe Washington PostWinters brilliantly and horrifyingly imagines how the pairing of corporate capitalism and slavery might look in the modern era ... Underground Airlines honors its genre antecedents by presenting us with an unexpected way of looking at the history of race relations in this country. The novel succeeds so well in part because its fiction is disturbingly close to our present reality ... The one facet of Winters’s alternate history that does not feel fully realized is its rendering of popular culture...But [that is] only slightly distracting. With Underground Airlines, Winters has written a book that will make you see the world in a new light.
RaveThe New YorkerA Little Life becomes a surprisingly subversive novel—one that uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, and the difficulties of recovery ... Yanagihara’s rendering of Jude’s abuse never feels excessive or sensationalist. It is not included for shock value or titillation, as is sometimes the case in works of horror or crime fiction. Jude’s suffering is so extensively documented because it is the foundation of his character ... Yanagihara’s novel can also drive you mad, consume you, and take over your life. Like the axiom of equality, A Little Life feels elemental, irreducible—and, dark and disturbing though it is, there is beauty in it.
MixedThe New YorkerTempest has a knack for the devastating throwaway line...But her verbal gift sometimes loses its way in the open expanse of prose...'If you are in love with language, it’s difficult to look at words as pegs to hang a plot from,' Tempest has said while promoting her book. Some novelists might take umbrage at the idea that they aren’t as in love with language as poets are; in the best prose fiction, language is both functional and poetic, peg and panpipe. What The Bricks That Built the Houses fails, at times, to give us is the measure of its author’s keen lingual instinct, the charisma and dynamism of Tempest on a stage, freestyling, reciting, versifying. It’s as if she has handicapped herself in writing the book, underestimating the novel’s potential for the kind of magic she normally deals in.
RaveThe Washington Post...with the publication of Jennifer Haigh’s Heat & Light, we finally have a novel — and a novelist — whose ambitions match the scale of this subject [fracking] ... Haigh has opted for a panoramic approach, moving her narrative from a corporate shareholders’ meeting in Houston to a farmhouse where a couple argue over the sale of their drilling rights; from a small-town bar where out-of-state gas crews drink to a community meeting where an activist geologist answers questions asked by terrified landowners. It’s a tour de force of multiple point-of-view narration.
MixedThe Washington PostVestal, who won the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a collection of stories called Godforsaken Idaho, is a fine stylist. There’s not a clunky sentence in this book. His portrait of Mormon family life is commendable for its aversion to easy sensationalism or satire. But despite all these virtues, I came away from Daredevils wanting something more ambitious. A hint of what might have been is available in a pair of chapters in which a minor character recalls a federal raid on her fundamentalist Mormon community in the 1950s.