MixedThe AtlanticPerrotta joins the ranks of the revisionists. The new book is harsher than the earlier one, reflecting the uglier tenor of our times, as well as, I suspect, Perrotta’s desire to clear up any possible confusion about whose side he’s on. You will not close this book commiserating with the likes of Mr. M. Nor will you wonder whether you missed the nuances. Tracy Flick Can’t Win is frankly didactic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Satire has always had an admonitory function, and besides, some people are so obnoxious that a writer has to slow-walk the reader through their awfulness. Plus, Perrotta has what it takes to revisit the past without being predictable ... Perrotta is simply more enthralled by how men school one another than he is by anything else. His dialogue is never as exuberant as when his guys talk guy talk ... replaces sexual spectacle with football mania. It’s equally unedifying ... Perrotta doesn’t write only about men, of course. His female protagonists probably outnumber the male ones, and they’re perfectly well drawn. But they’re not quite as interesting. They’re better people, smarter, more self-aware, nicer—too nice, perhaps ... Perrotta’s female protagonists are stymied, but his male protagonists are stunted, often in ways that lead straight to disaster. The best of them realize they’ve got to recover their humanity. Perrotta makes that look pretty hard.
RaveThe AtlanticIn Pure Colour, [Heti] follows her fascination with the sacred into domains so surreal that we have to abandon any notion that she’s merely some sort of postmodern diarist. We have to pay Heti the courtesy of taking her question literally. She really wants to know: How should a person be? ... Pure Colour is unabashedly metaphysical and completely outlandish. At the same time, this is a book of mourning, specifically for a father. Heti’s tone is more somber and searching than it has ever been, as she turns over and over fundamental questions of life and death, creation and extinction, with her trademark penchant for paradox. Yet neither grief nor theology can suppress Heti’s oddball wit and affection for wildly inappropriate sexual metaphors, for which a reader should be grateful ... Mira is an always interesting but haunting character ... Part of Heti’s charm is her knack for coming from as far out of left field as possible, and here she has amped up her unpredictability ... This is a gloriously implausible book. Maybe Pure Colour is best labeled a cosmological farce; if so, that’s a discomfiting genre. The God of this novel is everywhere and in everything, but he is less concerned with human happiness than one might have hoped.
Olga Tokarczuk, Tr. Jennifer Croft
PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewTokarczuk sticks close to the historical record, but fills its gaps with made-up characters and charges the atmosphere with the daemonic energy of Jewish folk magic and a sense that God lurks nearby ... She passes the narrative baton from character to character in a thrilling relay of perspectives, and avails herself of diaries, letters, poetry, prophecies, and parables, as well as traditional narrative, as they suit her needs ... Tokarczuk comes not to demystify but to deepen the mysteries ... She is out to re-enchant a world depleted by the dissections and categorizations of reason ... A significant portion of the novel, perhaps too much, recounts the machinations of priests who edge Frank toward baptism. There’s also a more benevolent, literary priest whose relevance I don’t quite understand ... This is a novel that affirms life while exploring the nihilistic disregard for its unglamorous fundamentals. Indeed, the power and beauty of Tokarczuk’s writing, which shine through Jennifer Croft’s ebullient translation, lie, in part, in how tenderly she recreates the material as well as psychic reality of the actors in this strange, implausible drama, making them substantial, sympathetic, impossible to dismiss.
PositiveThe Atlantic... a suitably unorthodox life of this singular writer ... Without permission from his estate, Angier couldn’t quote directly from some privately held sources, even certain letters to which she had access, or cite his published works at any length. Angier’s solution is to cut back and forth among the usual portrayal of an artist’s ascent, in which she captures glimpses of the man; astute critical assessments of the work; and vivid accounts of her quest for the people and places that appear in his writing, many of them barely disguised. Her strategy pays off: This is an insightful, compulsively readable book.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAdept at magical realist fiction, Ozeki ensouls the world. Everything in her universe, down to a windowpane and a widget, has a psyche and a certain amount of agency and can communicate, if only with the few human beings granted the power to understand them ... stands out among the story’s other sentient entities in that it has extraordinary powers of self-reflection and self-replication. This is a Book, as well as a book. It serves as both narrator and instructor. It tells the story; it tries to teach the hero to tell his own story; and it struggles to get him and us to understand the true meaning of Books: that they are the maps of Life ... There’s powerful magic here. I’d call it Zen if I knew what I was talking about. In any case, Ozeki does not grab at the wind. She is unusually patient with her characters, even the rebarbative ones, and she is able to record the subtle peculiarities of other classes of being that more overeager writers would probably miss. By juxtaposing a Benny trying to push the clamor of things out of his head and an Annabelle who binge-eats them, as it were, Ozeki gives us a metaphor for our own very American consumption disorder, our love-hate relationship with the stuff we overproduce and can’t let go of ... the novel is overstuffed ... The more interesting aggravation, however, is the novel’s framing device — that is to say, the Book as both narrator and character. The conceit is grating. The Book has a bad habit of Book-splaining ... offers an unflinching and in many respects magnificent tour of that dark side. If the Book feels the need to natter on about courage and whatnot, I guess I’ll just make like Benny and try to ignore it.
RaveThe AtlanticThe nonhuman Klara is more human than most humans. She has, you might say, a superhuman humanity. She’s also Ishiguro’s most luminous character, literally a creature of light, dependent on the Sun ... To be clear, Klara is no shrinking mermaid. Her voice is very much her own. It may strike the ear as childlike, but she speaks in prose poetry ... Klara’s descriptive passages have a strange and lovely geometry ... Critics often note Ishiguro’s use of dramatic irony, which allows readers to know more than his characters do. And it can seem as if his narrators fail to grasp the enormity of the injustices whose details they so meticulously describe. But I don’t believe that his characters suffer from limited consciousness. I think they have dignity ... Among the many pleasures of Klara and the Sun is the savagery of its satire of the modern meritocracy ... Oddly enough, given its subject matter, Klara and the Sun doesn’t induce the shuddery, uncanny-valley sensation that makes Never Let Me Go such a satisfying horror story ... Klara and the Sun doesn’t strive for uncanniness. It aspires to enchantment, or to put it another way, reenchantment, the restoration of magic to a disenchanted world. Ishiguro drapes realism like a thin cloth over a primordial cosmos ... Ishiguro leaves us suspended over a rift in the presumptive order of things. Whose consciousness is limited, ours or a machine’s? Whose love is more true?
PositiveThe Atlantic...[an] ambitious theory-of-everything book ... Consider this the latest addition to the Big History category, popularized by best sellers such as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. ... If Henrich’s history of Christianity and the West feels rushed and at times derivative—he acknowledges his debt to Max Weber—that’s because he’s in a hurry to explain Western psychology ... Henrich offers a capacious new perspective that could facilitate the necessary work of sorting out what’s irredeemable and what’s invaluable in the singular, impressive, and wildly problematic legacy of Western domination.
J. M Coetzee
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s hard to imagine anyone other than Coetzee making radical skepticism about the ontological status of numbers and the realness of reality central to the message of God’s appointed messenger...You could call him a novelist of ideas, but also a philosopher working in fiction ... Many of Coetzee’s recent novels have the stripped-down quality of philosophical fable. His prose has never been ornamental, but in his later years it has grown particularly spare. This is not unpleasant; rather, it’s disorienting, then hypnotic. When Coetzee withholds back story, the reader must learn to tolerate mystery. Conversations between Simón and David have the purity of Socratic dialogue, though with an anti-Platonic twist.
PositiveSlateSelf-pitying, self-obsessed, and itchy for recognition, these young men fall in and out of love with the same handful of women, though they themselves are barely acquainted. They shed their outsized ambitions. They acquire new ones. They fail. They become wiser, if not necessarily kinder ... One of the pleasures of Gessen’s novel is how well he reproduces the speech patterns of brainy, left-wing Ivy Leaguers—their sardonic deployment of social-theoretical jargon, their riffs on technology and capitalism, their anxiety about status, and the pride in small failures meant to refute their guilty sense of privilege ... Don’t let the smug undertone alienate you overmuch, though. Gessen earns it, more or less. He is, in fact, a very good satirist. He skewers with glee, like a latter-day Mary McCarthy.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewGordis gestures toward an awareness of Israel’s excesses, but his \'to be sure\'s feel empty. To him, the opposite of Revisionism remains a suicidal passivity ... Gordis has undertaken to explain European and Israeli Zionism to supposedly uncomprehending Diaspora Jews; if he will teach, he must teach the whole, not the part ... But Gordis’s biases are nothing compared with the louder silence that echoes through this book. He never tests his premise against the really hard questions: the Palestinians, the West Bank settlements and Israel’s recent embrace of so-called illiberal democracies like Hungary and Poland, as well as dictators. Astonishingly, Gordis reduces the Palestinian question to a footnote in which he grants that the arguments he makes about particularism also justify Palestinian nationalism, then declares such a discussion outside his purview ... Gordis’s failure to grapple seriously with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank also undercuts his argument ... In the concept of the ethnic democracy, Gordis lays out a bracing idea that ought to make us reassess knee-jerk impositions of American values on Israel. But if he won’t face up to its abuses, potential and real, he won’t change many minds.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewAs it happens, Berenson was born in Massena. He knew residents who still remembered the incident, and so he was able to give his research a personal dimension (though he skates over that lightly, perhaps too lightly) ... It should be said of Berenson’s explanations that they rely heavily on circumstantial evidence ... Berenson’s book reminds us that what seems inconceivable is nonetheless possible.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"After a while, I was finding it helpful to think of Memories of the Future as an essay rather than a novel. The best essays record the tacks and turns of an interesting mind, and Hustvedt — also an accomplished art critic and essayist — is never not interesting. Her acts of mind are more bracing than the story of SH, which feels thin and sepia-toned, like a photograph put through one of those antiquing apps ... the ending manages to be quite moving and unconvincing at the same time, a recapitulation of the tonal contradiction that pervades this sometimes incisive, sometimes sentimental novel, or memoir, or whatever we decide to call it.\
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewYou can’t begrudge Ehrenreich her effort to assuage our and her own fears about mortality, even if her historical chapters sometimes read like freshman surveys ... Ehrenreich should know better than to dress up her dislike of doctors as a reasoned excuse to avoid them. To be sure, she cautions, none of what she says \'should be construed as an attack on the notion of scientific medicine.\' But actions outweigh words, and her example could lead some readers astray. Doctors do more good than harm. So do nurses. They’d do even more good if more people had access to them. The more than 27 million Americans without health insurance would surely be glad to have the checkups and colonoscopies that Ehrenreich has chosen to forgo. Let us age with grace, but let us not spread the plague of distrust by tarnishing a group of men and women who do what they can for those they can reach, and under increasingly difficult conditions. So here’s my advice, for what it’s worth. Don’t take this book too seriously. It could be harmful to your health.
MixedSlateThe Great Fire is set in American-occupied Japan two years after the end of World War II, and in it Hazzard appears to develop the theme of antipost-colonialism. She depicts the new postwar, post-independence bureaucrats of Japan and Hong Kong as self-centered, provincial, just as racist as their predecessors, importunely egalitarian, and void of curiosity, imagination, and a sense of history … And yet, having established all this promising political context in the first few chapters of her novel, Hazzard promptly loses interest in it. The Great Fire is a lyrical rather than social novel, its richest writing reserved for landscapes as seen in the fresh, full light of day … For all her subtlety and depth, Hazzard does not create memorable or particularly believable characters, or, if she manages to, she doesn't seem to favor them. Leith, Helen, and Benedict evince neither a glimmer of irony or humor nor a moment of petulance; they are almost suffocatingly admirable.
RaveSlateThe novel aspires to be a portrait of America on a Tolstoyan scale—at least that's one way to interpret the many references to War and Peace in it—and Franzen has indeed absorbed some of Tolstoy's astonishing capacity for empathy … What passes for freedom in America, Franzen seems to be implying, is a refusal to accept limits, to acknowledge and shoulder the burdens of one's inheritance. Certainly everyone in the novel comes to rue freedom, their own and others' … What propels Freedom from the ranks of good novels into that of great ones has nothing to do with plot or political acumen. It has to do with Franzen's writing and his ability to evoke character.
PositiveSlateWhether a baseball novel, a schoolboy novel, or a campus novel, this is a surprisingly sunny story, with the sweetness of tone and conformity to the rules of genre one associates more with juvenile sports fiction. Henry is the proverbial ‘natural’ … Whether all this innocence and good will and coming of age can hold our attention depends on the powers of the novelist, of course, and there Harbach shows real talent...Harbach writes with a gentle but acute intelligence … Perhaps Harbach wants to show us the good in the things we're letting slip away.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewIn this book, Duckworth, whose TED talk has been viewed more than eight million times, brings her lessons to the reading public. My guess is you’ll find Grit in the business section of your local bookstore. As marketing strategies go, it’s not a bad one, although the conventions of the self-help genre do require Duckworth to boil down her provocative and original hypotheses to some rather trite-sounding formulas...You can’t blame Duckworth for how people apply her ideas, but she’s not shy about reducing them to nostrums that may trickle down in problematic ways.