PanThe NationAtwood used to dismiss the notion that her fiction was \'secretly telling the truth,\' but The Testaments suggests she’s changed her mind ... The Testaments offers a tour of the power structures that Offred, in her confinement, can’t see. Yet its vision of those structures, provocative though it is, flattens both her fiction and our shared reality, doubling down on the original novel’s least compelling arguments while abandoning its most interesting speculations ... The original novel is a portrait of confinement, following Offred’s delimited gaze as she sits around waiting to get pregnant ... The Testaments, by contrast, is all heroic action. This is, in part, because Atwood has widened her purview to three non-Handmaid narrators. But it’s also because she’s grown less interested in speculation ... Whereas Handmaid is interested in the minds of Offred and the women and men who surround her, in The Testaments we are presented with one-sided characters. The women of Gilead are either innocent or conniving, and the men are all cartoonish sadists, literal wife killers, and child rapists. The problem goes beyond flat writing. In The Testaments, Atwood is no longer speculating about a possible future so much as commenting on what she believes to be an inescapable present, one in which men are simpleton oppressors whom women can either enable or resist. Yes, Atwood seems to be telling us, it could happen here; in fact, it’s happening under Trump, just as she predicted it would. And without great feats of courage, we will never drive the bastards out ...Bring an aging leader together with a couple of feisty teens; use the enemy’s own logic to expose the truth of their crimes. If only it were so simple. The Testaments, in the end, is too much a fantasy to offer us much guidance in the age of Trump and too literal to offer space for solace and speculation.
PositiveThe New RepublicIn every respect, Sing to It is vintage Hempel ... Hempel prefers to focus on the aftermath of catastrophes rather than the catastrophes themselves, on the absences and silences they create as well as the details through which we see them. It’s telling that Hempel’s greatest fans tend to be writers themselves ... Like the best Hempel stories, Cloudland swallows female pain and speaks of it at the same time. It figures danger, failure, and grief as inescapable features of life, and of women’s lives in particular. And it’s not even especially depressing.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken
PositivePhiladelphia Inquirer\"My Struggle is, fundamentally, a novel of middle-class family life, but the family life of Book Six is no longer just a meditative subject. It\'s something our reckless hero has to fight, belatedly, to defend ... In many ways, Knausgaard is just another Kardashian, another podcaster, inviting us into his life in serial form, employing a range of techniques, both subtle and overt, to create the illusion that we know him... Yet Knausgaard is not a podcaster or a reality star. He is a writer, and a reader, so his chronicle of family life, first as a frightened son, now as a worried husband and father, is punctuated with essayistic digressions on literature, art, and history ... [Knausgaard] has paid dearly to give himself to us, a price that doesn\'t sit comfortably. But as he concludes in Book Six, \'I did it, and I will have to live with it.\' So will we.\
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleDevoted fans will herald the arrival of her fourth story collection, Varieties of Disturbance. Though classic Davis in its economy, logic and wit, it nonetheless reflects a maturing — and sobering — intellect. These new pieces are rarely as pleasing as her earlier work (particularly the brilliant and sympathetic ‘Samuel Johnson Is Indignant’), but their almost scientific analysis of human feeling and communication is in many ways more acute … Each of these short pieces reads as an epiphany. Collected, they leave the impression of a writer's mind toiling, churning out revelations by the page … Like all of Davis' collections, Varieties of Disturbance is well structured, with longer stories broken up by short ones and recurring images spaced to allow readers the pleasure of gathering them up.
PositiveThe NationOn the surface, Egan’s latest novel, Manhattan Beach, is a tale of New York’s forgotten waterfronts, offering that particular mix of melancholy, exuberance, and danger we tend to associate with tales of the sea. Yet it, too, is a study in power ... In tracking the fates of these three characters, the novel also tells us something about the hidden ways in which organized power worked in early-20th-century New York ...Egan’s longest book, and by far her most traditional. Neither self-consciously ironic in style nor particularly playful in form, it nevertheless continues her long investigation of prefab genre plots ...more straightforward blend of noir and historical fiction ... As is typical of Egan’s fiction, these power players never narrate their own stories, nor do we witness their greatest machinations. Instead, power works almost invisibly in Manhattan Beach.
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerIn his dilations on the victims, perpetrators, and survivors of terrorism in The Association of Small Bombs, he attacks the fortress of conventional wisdom with the radiation of original thought. Nothing short of a tour de force ... Line for line, it is a wry and also a wrenching book, at once a lesson in Indian political culture and a lesson in centripetal force - for however far these characters travel psychologically, they are always tethered to the bomb.
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerRarely do novels address social problems this honestly without capitulating to despair. Yet The Mare, miraculously, is hopeful - candid and full of ruin, but hopeful, an effort of the body fully earned.
Elena Ferrante, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveThe Philadelphia Inquirer...[I]t takes a transcendent imagination to write a life that reads as if it actually happened, in our own world, and not too long ago. We're lucky to have one such imagination working now, that of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante.