PositiveThe New YorkerNot unlike Jasper himself, Utopia Avenue turns out to have been a sort of host for something else entirely. To go further would be to give too much away—not to everyone, perhaps, but certainly to readers of Mitchell’s earlier work ... What it all amounts to is that Utopia Avenue exists on two different planes. Jasper’s suffering, his visions and auditory \'hallucinations\'—tragically, pathologically insubstantial to the other characters within the realistic landscape of the book—are, to the initiated reader, quite real, more real than the various historical genre trappings, such as Carnaby Street, or the Chelsea Hotel, or zombie David Bowie ...The sense of supernatural threat, of being pursued, for mysterious reasons, across time, as part of a conflict too large for individual lifetimes to contain: this is the novel’s reality, even as the characters (apart from Jasper) are oblivious of it ... Is this a great writer of unfathomably long vision making a kind of Yoknapatawpha out of the entirety of space and time, or the rendering of something like fan service? Maybe both. Just as the members of Utopia Avenue themselves are the flip side of DeLillo’s vision of rock music and its myth-scaled heroes, Mitchell’s cross-referencing for its own sake could be the more benevolent, affirmative side of our era’s taste for conspiracy, in which everything is improbably connected and there’s a secret pattern that only the enlightened can see.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewFor a while the novel sustains a deceptively timeless, children’s-treasury vibe ... The setting—a massive summer house, with multiple families vacationing in it—calls to mind that of Susan Minot’s novel Monkeys turned to account as metaphor ... There’s a birth in a barn, a plague, a Moses, a Cain and an Abel, even a crucifixion. But part of the novel’s genius is that these allusions never really lead anywhere ... The allusions aren’t symbols or clues; they’re just faint echoes, like puzzle pieces too few to fit together ... With brilliant restraint, Millet conceives her own low-key \'bible\' ... It’s a tale in which whoever or whatever comes after us might recognize, however imperfectly, a certain continuity: an exotic but still decodable shred of evidence from the lost world that is the world we are living in right now.
RaveThe New YorkerThe sheer volume of invention in Deacon King Kong—on the level of both character (the first chapter alone introduces twenty individuals by name) and language—commands awe. Reading it is like watching a movie in which one’s occasional impulse to ask questions is pleasantly swamped by the need to keep up with the pace of events ... And the sentences! The prose radiates a kind of chain-reaction energy. After some chapters, you feel empathetically exhausted, in the way you might feel drained by watching an overtime football game. The experience of traversing a simple flashback paragraph is like trying to leap from stone to stone across a river, except occasionally one of them turns out to be not a stone after all but a lily pad, or a shadow, and into the river you go ... A consciously suppressed anger emerges only rarely, but often enough to make you read the comedy differently. It’s as if any sentence in the book would, if allowed to flow all the way to its digressive end, empty into the pool of injustices that put these characters in the Cause Houses to begin with ... In Deacon King Kong, narrative omniscience leaves room for despair, as it must, but its over-all energy never flags. Sometimes the most affirmative thing you can do, as a storyteller, is to service that story’s momentum, in the hope that there’s some just reward for everyone in the end.
RaveThe New Yorker...a wonderfully readable, passionately partisan biography ... In the course of making the case for Algren’s neglected work, Asher does something else nearly as valuable, which is to reframe—and to free from myth and obfuscation, much of it Algren’s own—the life: a life not just entertainingly full of incident but also inspiring and exemplary in a time when questions of art’s role in resisting the enemies of democracy and economic justice are newly immediate ... Asher devotes less real estate to critical analysis of the fiction itself than another literary biographer might ... In Asher, [Algren] gets the biographer any writer dreams of: thorough, smart, literate, and unabashedly on his subject’s side—a disciple, a role that puts him, as the book itself lays out, in excellent, even august company.
RaveThe New YorkerWithin a deceptively familiar form, Transcription treats the lives and labor of women with fresh complexity ... Atkinson has predicated her enormously successful career upon giving readers intelligent and artful iterations of what they already know they like ... In her best work—a category in which her latest, Transcription (Little, Brown), certainly belongs—she maneuvers the tropes of the murder-mystery genre, of historical fiction, and of privileged white Britishness into a kind of critical salvage of women’s work, women’s lives, that’s as heterodox, in its way, as Cusk’s ... before you know it Transcription has turned from a wartime spy yarn into a fuguelike meditation on the fungibility of female identity ... Far from interfering with the plot of Transcription, this meditation on identity kindles it ... Compared to a Cusk or a Smith (Ali or Zadie), Atkinson might appear to be a sort of literary matron, an aesthetic conservative unwilling or unable to adapt to the evolution of her art; but hers is a profoundly feminist project ... Atkinson’s witty, functionally elegant style in Transcription isn’t terribly distinctive, but it isn’t trying to be; the writing is always in service to the story.
Sergio De La Pava
PositiveThe New Yorker\"So does de la Pava’s old-school autodidacticism mean that his work is uncontaminated by influence, something new under the literary sun? In most ways no, but in some important and thrilling ways yes ... The style, of course, is the extraordinary thing, as it would need to be to unite all the elements of a novel of this length and sprawl. It is colloquial in tempo yet nerdy in content, divinely detached yet intimately casual in tone, impossibly learned and improvisational at the same time. If de la Pava has a signature move, it’s to zoom out from a highly specific action or bit of characterization in order to generalize about or extrapolate from it, while still holding on to the speech-replicating sentence structures that ground that action in a kind of conversational specificity.\
RaveHarper\'sThe voice of these stories—compulsive, overstuffed, highfalutin and colloquial in equal measure, unafraid of exclamation points that would make Tom Wolfe blush—is like a record of the speed at which such a brain works, and the concomitant difficulty of slowing it down in order to deal with what we regular people would call \'regular people.\' That voice’s resting pulse, so to speak, is a kind of deadpan logical progression ... It shouldn’t work, really, none of it. It should seem too self-pitying, too inside baseball. Even armed with the knowledge of all that the author’s struggles have cost her, reading tales about geniuses suffering the indignity of exposure to nongeniuses might well cause a reader’s eyes to roll: I mean, tell it to James Joyce, you know? ... What saves Some Trick in the end is not only that DeWitt is so very funny but that she has harnessed her coder’s brain to negative capability. Which is to say, while she is firmly on the side of the intellectual unicorns, she is also capable of doing full and hilarious justice to their bizarre, frustrating, alien, occasionally tiresome aspect. And she does treat the plight of these artists as a comedy rather than a tragedy, even if, as in any serious comedy, there are casualties.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...[a] canny, funny, impressively detailed debut novel ... Ugo is a fantastically entertaining and unhinged combination of Fitzcarraldo and Ed Wood...It’s too bad, in a way, that the novel requires Ugo himself to be remote or absent for long stretches, for he’s certainly Wilson’s wildest, most idiosyncratic character. But the mystery of Ugo’s vision is essential to the plot ... while the publishers of We Eat Our Own appear to want to position it as (according to its jacket copy) 'a thoughtful commentary on violence and its repercussions,' it is, thank God, no such thing: Wilson is concerned only with detail, with specificity and precision in the moment, and it’s that concern that marks her as a novelist of real substance and promise.
Jonathan Safran Foer
PanHarper's...the characters, reacting to the duress of the moment according to the dictates of their personalities, may have their own immediate thoughts and feelings, but their author has a less quotidian idea, to which their interiority is made to yield ... The Blochs do not, in short, seem real ... To me, the surprising thing about Here I Am’s vision of apocalypse is how disproportionately small it seems in the scheme of the book, as if Foer, having called it into being with much fanfare, seems unsure what to do with it.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewMcCann tries his best here to allow his creative imagination to do the work of forgiveness, of impartiality, to imagine himself—as a good fiction writer must do—not just as one perspective on the drama but as all of them. That he has fallen somewhat short of that priestly goal is not only understandable; it’s somehow more interesting, more moving, more distinctly human than it would have been had he succeeded.
RaveHarper's MagazineThe Visiting Privilege lets us be immersed in, rather than periodically exposed to, the profound, lonely defiance of conventional thought that has always shaped Williams’s art, in content and in execution. Perhaps it will finally bring her the kind of popularity her work deserves. And if it doesn’t? She will still be great, and her greatness will still not be for everyone.