MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewWith its deftly plotted short chapters, fast-moving story line, minimal characterizations and strong regional atmosphere, Chris Offutt’s new novel, his third, more resembles a high-quality TV crime series set in rural America than a work of literary fiction ... Offutt’s deeper concern would seem to be for the region itself, a \'hillbilly elegy\' distinctly his own for the paradoxical mixture of geographical beauty and economic distress that has characterized portrayals of Appalachia for decades, where \'deaths of despair\' have become commonplace. The velocity of The Killing Hills doesn’t allow for much exposition or nuance, but this theme is struck emphatically ... Is this comedy? Caricature? Reportage? It’s difficult to write about marginalized regions of America without sounding inadvertently condescending, or, worse, contemptuous; Offutt, who has identified himself as \'a country boy who’s clawed his way out of the hills of eastern Kentucky, one of the steepest social climbs in America,\' navigates this sensitive terrain with skill and a measure of respect for his subject ... Surprisingly, The Killing Hills spends very little time on the first murder victim, and as other bodies — about whose lives the reader knows virtually nothing — pile up, the novel begins to thin, like landscape seen from a rapidly moving vehicle, or like a screenplay that will \'come alive\' in another medium ... In this case, genre has hobbled the natural gifts Offutt has displayed in his thoughtful, nuanced and provocative memoirs ... Shackling this narrative to the crime/mystery genre is like shackling a mule to substitute for a porch post: Perhaps it can be done, but why?
RaveNew York Review of BooksWe Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper is a brilliantly idiosyncratic variant of generic true crime, rather more a memoir than a conventional work of reportage, so structured that the revelation of the murderer is not the conclusion or even the most important feature of the book ... We Keep the Dead Close resembles a Möbius strip in which the more information the author accumulates, the less certain she is of its worth ... Throughout We Keep the Dead Close there is a dramatically sustained tension between the subject (\'unsolved murder, Jane Britton\') and its (secret) meaning in the life of the young female investigative reporter ... Like a skilled mystery novelist, Cooper presents her cast of suspects in so beguiling a way ... We Keep the Dead Close shares an impassioned advocacy for victims of injustice at Harvard with William Wright’s Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals ... While much that Cooper uncovers in her private pursuit of the case is fascinating in itself, not least her interviews with Lamberg-Karlovsky and other \'persons of interest\' for whom the case of Jane Britton was never allowed to go cold, it is the revelation of the murderer that is most unexpected ... It’s fitting that Cooper’s beautifully composed elegy for Jane Britton ends with Britton’s own words.
RaveOprah Magazine... a singular achievement even for this accomplished writer ... Erdrich, like her grandfather, is a defender and raconteur of the lives of her people. Her intimate knowledge of the Native American world in collision with the white world has allowed her, over more than a dozen books, to create a brilliantly realized alternate history as rich as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.
PanThe Times Literary SupplementAn eccentric synthesis of biography and autobiography, rife with speculation, rumours, myth-shattering and myth-making, sensationalized accounts of Wright’s personal life and highly detailed scrutiny of individuals only peripherally connected with Wright, Plagued by Fire: The dreams and furies of Frank Lloyd Wright takes for granted that the reader is already informed, from biographies by Grant Carpenter Manson, Meryle Secrest, Robert Twombly, Ada Huxtable, Neil Levine and Brendan Gill, among others, of the basic facts of the life of the greatest, and most controversial, of American architects ... Plagued by Fire yields its information piecemeal, like a suspense novel. Through a blizzard of details and speculation on the part of the biographer, who forges ahead, behind, back and forth in time with the zeal of a forensic bloodhound, an intimate portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright gradually materializes, as a pointillist portrait comes into focus at a little distance ... more offensive is the biographer’s protracted, pruriently detailed account of the murders at Spring Green, even as he chides the tabloids for their salaciousness ... Equally jarring is Hendrickson’s aggressive intimacy with the reader ... It is as if the frustrated biographer of Geoff Dyer’s darkly hilarious Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence and the obsessed pseudo-scholar Charles Kinbote of Nabokov’s Pale Fire have collaborated on a work of vaulting ambition, too vast to comprehend, dazzling and elusive, near-unreadable.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksOf the three young men, Keith is both the most immediate, framing the episodic novel with his affably intimate first-person narrations, and the least clear ... This Keith is a vortex of thoughts, an optic nerve of observations, a summary or catalog rather more than a vividly realized character ... Beginning with its risky yet playful title, All the Sad Young Literary Men is a rueful, undramatic, mordantly funny, and frequently poignant sequence of sketch-like stories loosely organized by chronology and place and the prevailing theme of youthful literary ideals vis-à-vis literary accomplishment ... The predicament of Gessen’s characters, as it is likely to be the preeminent predicament of Gessen’s generation, is the disparity between what one has learned of history and the possibilities of making use of that knowledge in one’s life ... Gessen has captured perfectly the narcissistic ennui of privileged youth for whom self-flagellation is an art form.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksSurprises abound in Jeanette Winterson’s painfully candid and often very funny memoir of her girlhood in a North England household ruled by an adoptive Pentecostal mother—the \'flamboyant depressive\' Mrs. Constance Winterson ... Winterson’s memoir has the unsettling air of the most disturbing fairy tales—those in which there would seem to have been a happy ending, after much fearful struggle; yet the happy ending turns out to be a delusion, and the old malevolence returns redoubled ... Writing Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is clearly an act of exorcism on the part of the writer, a way of assuaging her \'radioactive anger\' as well as a blackly comic valentine of sorts in commemoration of the upbringing that, after all, has resulted in Jeanette Winterson ... Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is, in a less original and engaging way, a kind of self-help manual. Winterson has obviously been in therapy and would seem to have benefited enormously from it, judging from the fact of this memoir, as much as its literary quality.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books...a highly unorthodox account of what is essentially unsayable about the inward uncharted life ... Giving Up the Ghost has the somewhat improvised feel of several memoirist projects fitted together into a thematic yet not an emotional unity, undertaken after the death of the author’s stepfather, Jack, whose role in the memoir turns out to be neither sympathetic nor major, and symbolically begun at the time of the author’s fiftieth birthday ... Mantel’s sufflated language is best appreciated as the memoirist’s effort at evoking a mythic child-self that makes no concession to literal, but only symbolic, credibility ... Most of the remainder of Giving Up the Ghost is a harrowing account to set beside such classics as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
PositiveThe New YorkerContemporary issues relating to bioethics, virtual reality, free will and determinism, time travel, and the uses of robotic forms of A.I. are addressed in plain, forthright prose. If Chiang’s stories can strike us as riddles, concerned with asking rather than with answering difficult questions, there is little ambiguity about his language ...
The new collection starts with \'The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,\' a quirkily original exploration of time travel set in a mythical, ancient Baghdad ... An ingenious turn-of-the-twentieth-century automaton is the subject of \'Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny\' ... It is both a surprise and a relief to encounter fiction that explores counterfactual worlds like these with something of the ardor and earnestness of much young-adult fiction, asking anew philosophical questions that have been posed repeatedly through millennia to no avail ... Chiang spends a good deal of time describing the science behind the device, with an almost Rube Goldbergian delight in elucidating the improbable ... The stories in Exhalation are mostly not so magically inventive as those in Chiang’s first collection, but each is still likely to linger in the memory the way riddles may linger.
PositiveThe New York Times... exhaustively researched, provocative and often deeply moving ... Readers should not be discouraged by the opening chapter, titled Depression, which is the least coherent chapter in the book, lurching from point to point as if awaiting a principle of inspired organization that never arrives ... Even when writing more or less straightforward journalism, Solomon writes engagingly; his style is intimate and anecdotal, and often bemused ... Amid so much information, the author might have been more discriminating and skeptical ... a considerable accomplishment. It is likely to provoke discussion and controversy, and its generous assortment of voices, from the pathological to the philosophical, makes for rich, variegated reading. Solomon leaves us with the enigmatic statement that \'depression seems to be a peculiar assortment of conditions for which there are no evident boundaries\' -- exactly like life.
RaveNew York Review of Books\"In flat, deadpan, unembellished prose recalling the cadences of Joan Didion and the clear-eyed candor of Mary Gaitskill, Moshfegh portrays the vacuous interior life (she has virtually no exterior life) of a narcissistic personality simultaneously self-loathing and self-displaying ... More engaging than Eileen, more varied in tone, and much funnier, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a recycling of the materials of Eileen that tracks a disagreeable, self-absorbed young woman in her twenties through a cathartic experience that leaves her ostensibly altered and prepared for a new, freer life.\
A. J. Finn
MixedThe New Yorker...the novel’s most compelling passages deal not with the Rear Window-inflected, credibility-straining mystery unfolding in a brownstone across the way but, rather, with Anna’s sense of herself as a wounded individual, a highly intelligent and educated person who has virtually destroyed her life through a succession of bad decisions ... she ultimately seems more a function of the plot than a fully realized person, not quite as interesting as her problems. Her interior voice is not especially female; it is, rather, genderless ... In the chorus of best-selling contemporary domestic thrillers, a triumphant #MeToo parable has emerged: that of the flawed, scorned, disbelieved, misjudged, and underestimated female witness whose testimony is rejected—but turns out to be correct. Vindication, cruelly belated, is nonetheless sweet.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksRemainder is a variant of that cruel fairy tale in which the most fantastic of wishes-come-true soon turn deadly. By degrees the reader comes to see that McCarthy’s amnesiac figure is a ‘remainder’—something that has been left over, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s term de trop, something that has got ‘in the way’ (see the climactic episode of Nausea, seemingly an influence on McCarthy). The fragmented and depressingly banal world he laboriously reconstructs out of a fleeting sensation of déjà vu is a mere remainder of a formerly living, vital world … Remainder is a novel that may appeal primarily to readers with interests in philosophy and the world of contemporary art, but McCarthy has written an inspired airborne ending.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis richly researched, sympathetic yet unsparing portrait of a controversial figure for whom the personal and the political dramatically fused could not come at a more appropriate time in our beleaguered American history ... As Muhammad Ali’s life was an epic of a life so Ali: A Life is an epic of a biography. Much in its pages will be familiar to those with some knowledge of boxing but even the familiar may be glimpsed from a new perspective in Eig’s fluent prose; for pages in succession its narrative reads like a novel—a suspenseful novel with a cast of vivid characters who prevail through decades and who help to define the singular individual who was both a brilliantly innovative, incomparably charismatic heavyweight boxer and a public figure whose iconic significance shifted radically through the decades as in an unlikely fairy tale in which the most despised athlete in American history becomes, by the 21st century, the most beloved athlete in American history.
RaveThe New YorkerNarrated in the highly idiomatic voice of Vernon Gregory Little, a fifteen-year-old Texas boy whose rotten luck it is to find himself a ‘skate-goat’ in the aftermath of a Columbine-type massacre of sixteen high-school students committed by his best friend, Vernon God Little is raucous and brooding, coarse and lyric, corrosive and sentimental in about equal measure … Pierre has a flawless ear for adolescent-boy speech. To his young narrator, virtually every adjective is ‘fucken’ and every vision of every adult is laced with repugnance, especially those adults in authority … The novel is a curious admixture of high-decibel video-game farce and interludes of sobriety during which the author’s mask slips and we find ourselves in the presence not of the hormone-tormented Vernon but of a rueful adult male contemplating ‘this dry residue of horror.’
RaveThe New York Review of BooksManon is a vividly presented voice, poised, precociously cynical, mordantly amusing, despairing. We trust her as a truth-teller though we guess that we should not, for her fury at the bad luck of her life, masked as spiritual blankness and paralysis, distorts her vision. We would wish to think that Manon sees through the racist delusions of her society, but of course she does not; it would be a sentimental and unconvincing gesture for the author to isolate Manon in this way, despite the young woman’s intelligence … Though Manon is vividly individualized, we understand that her experiences as daughter, naive young bride, despoiled and disillusioned wife are representative of her social position … Property might be described as a novel of ideas in the guise of a darkly erotic romance.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksDespite its postmodernist features, NW is essentially a bildungsroman with two protagonists who become friends as four-year-olds in a council estate called Caldwell in northwest London…The novel’s few transcendent moments are shared by the women, who are clearly ‘sisters’ in the deepest sense of the word … Keisha/Natalie is very likely the most sustained, sympathetic, and believable figure in all of Zadie Smith’s fiction, encompassing as she does an astonishing variety of characters and types … NW is an unexpectedly ironic companion novel to White Teeth, a darker and more nuanced portrait of a multiracial culture in the throes of a collective nervous breakdown. Its perimeters are forever changing, like its accents and the tenor of its neighborhoods.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveThe New Yorker...[a] beautiful and heartrending story collection ... It’s a recurring theme in The Refugees that the traumatized individual must make his way slowly, word by word. Nguyen’s narrative style—restrained, spare, avoiding metaphor or the syntactical virtuosity on display in every paragraph of The Sympathizer—is well suited for portraying tentative states. His characters are emotional convalescents, groping their way to an understanding of their woundedness ... all Nguyen’s fiction is pervaded by a shared intensity of vision, by stinging perceptions that drift like windblown ashes.
PositiveThe Washington Post...a moving and enlightening account ... Alexandra Zapruder writes with passion and clarity about the vicissitudes of bearing a famous name without having been involved with its celebrity or notoriety ... it is also a meticulous record — to some readers, perhaps over-meticulous — of the history of the actual, perishable film.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksZestfully written, seemingly artless, drawn from eight previously published collections, the forty-three stories in the posthumous A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin seek to persuade us of their authenticity by this quick, deft, unerring selection of 'intricate detail' while making no claim at all for 'impartiality' ... Berlin’s protagonists are unflinching in self-castigation, which is not to be confused with self-loathing; as the narrator forgives others, with a readiness that may surprise the reader at times, so she forgives herself for her chronic bad behavior ... Those unfamiliar with Berlin’s fiction are advised to read A Manual for Cleaning Women at least twice, for essentially this is a memoir of the author’s life related in installments and fragments that fit together upon a second reading and generate a considerable emotional power. It is an achievement greater than the sum of its heterogeneous parts.
PositiveThe New York TimesO’Brien is not interested in sensationalizing her material, and The Little Red Chairs is not a novel of suspense, still less a mystery or a thriller; it is something more challenging, a work of meditation and penance. How does one come to terms with one’s own complicity in evil, even if that complicity is 'innocent'?