Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and creative writing at DePaul University and is the author of eight books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including the novels O, Democracy! (Fifth Star Press, 2014) and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s Press, 2017), and the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012). With Eric Plattner, she is the coeditor of René Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Her reviews and criticism appear regularly in the Chicago Tribune and the Poetry Foundation website, as well as the New York Times Book Review. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay.
PositiveThe Star TribuneDisconcerting ... Takes this lopsided, obsessive and desperate dynamic to unsettling depths, exploring what happens when an initially parasocial relationship becomes social — and sexual ... Short, propulsive chapters ... Patel has made a book that is tough to look at, yet equally tough to look away from.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksDeftly translated ... The collection’s 54 poems reveal Zagajewski still at his life’s work of conveying that double experience, still praising the mutilated world, and still showing how the mood of a moment might apply to a moment to come as much as a past moment ... His subtle seesawings...throughout the book are tonal as well, somber and comic, elegiac and celebratory, beautifully traversing not only time and history but also the various registers of cognition and affect ... Zagajewski never indulges himself in moral certitude or gets mired in despair, but rather suspends himself somewhere in that chasm of apprehension ... The subdued, steady attention he pays to people and things in the past and the present creates a ruminative atmosphere infused with low-key humor, and he imbues his words with an aura of hope, or at least ongoingness ... Few poets have captured the mysterious motion through space, time, and mood that Zagajewski evokes in passing through built environments and poring over historical testaments.
Alba de Céspedes trans. Ann Goldstein
PositiveThe Star Tribune... gripping slow-burn of a book ... Domestic mundanity and the impulse toward freedom combine in this critique of marriage, family and fascism ... Valeria arrives at innumerable clear-eyed epiphanies regarding gender, class and the passage of time, many of them rather unpleasant. But one of de Céspedes\' points seems to be that real liberation is never comfortable or easy — a fact which, if anything, makes that state of being all the more worth pursuing.
Simon Van Booy
PositiveStar TribuneBrief, formally playful, and fable-esque, the subsequent highly self-aware text is divided into two sections ... Pushes the ludic possibilities of words and syntax even further, experimenting with white space and the field of the page, as well as point of view ... This unusual and relentlessly self-reflexive approach allows Van Booy to tell not only the story of the doomed Little, but also to tell the bigger story of how stories are told — their inherently incomplete yet collaborative nature ... If you don\'t just like reading, but reading about reading — how \'words are communal yet bring material order through spiritual separation\' — then this is the book for you.
RaveLIBEREnthralling ... Expansive and erudite ... She lets the reader ride her waves of thought ... In the associative style of Freudian talk therapy, Alsadir riffs to her audience on an astonishing array of people, topics, and theories...all in the service of examining how the human activity of laughter is inextricably connected to our conscious and unconscious minds, our physical bodies, and our body politic ... Although she deliberately avoids a clear plot, throughline, or thesis, Alsadir comes across as rhetorically persuasive on page after page ... Just as her style resembles therapy, so too does it resemble poetry, utilizing repetition and surprise to advance her ruminations ... The book was a game that I wanted to play, a back-and-forth that felt invigorating and real ... The book is full of witty but subtle touches.
RaveThe Star TribuneMcGrath delivers on the amazement and fascination to be found in the details of unfamiliar places, especially when those details are observed through the eyes of a viewer who is as capable of feeling astonishment at the most mundane people and occurrences as he is at the momentous ones ... comes alive with curiosity and compassion...xamining everything from active-shooter drills, to racially charged monuments, to stolen iPhones that mysteriously resurface halfway around the globe ... his talents for examining the minutiae of nonhabitual environments and the effect they can have on the people who visit them are on display once again in this latest offering.
Sayaka Murata tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori
RaveLIBER... her narratives are conspicuously weirder, weird in the sense of weird tales—dark and macabre, surprising and strange. The twelve stories blend humor and horror to examine societal norms, and to expose how bizarre and oppressive certain social standards and traditions can be, especially for women ... Human beings frequently like to think of themselves as consistent; they like to view their principles as reasonable and absolute. Yet by taking any premise to its most extreme and absurd conclusion, Murata explores how slippery and self-justifying a lot of activities are. Over and over, her characters discover that structures and hierarchies exist not because they are elegant or natural (or even because they are just and sustainable) but merely because certain segments of society have found them to be expedient ... Murata’s signature matter-of-fact tone makes this off-kilter reality both viscerally and intellectually provocative ... Murata’s style is deceptively blunt and direct, making for a lightning-quick read. And yet, the stories’ haunting premises linger in the mind. Even the very short stories, which initially struck me as high-concept but slight, got stuck in my head ... Life is ineffable, these stories remind us, its circumstances more mutable and multifarious than we may initially believe ... The sense of relativity that recurs throughout these stories feels scary but also perversely liberatory—as though, in Murata’s worlds, anything could happen, marvelous or terrible ... Maybe that’s the best way to immerse yourself in Murata’s peculiar realms—to understand that the experience will be bewildering and probably a little bit gross, but satisfying if you give in and let the weirdness wash fully over you.
RavePoetry FoundationTo praise a book as luminous or dazzling is usually to resort to a blurber’s cliché. However, Ada Limón’s sixth collection of poetry, The Hurting Kind, really does shimmer, albeit in the specific sense of the word the late anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose employed. This shimmer is essentially the radiant pulse of life across ecologies, as understood by the Aboriginal Yarralin people of Australia, among whom Rose conducted research on flying foxes ... Limón’s new work continues and expands the vulnerability and ecstasy of her previous collections ... Wild and domestic, the landscapes and animals of both places come to life in her work ... offers insight into that process [of identity construction] and how one can feel its benefit creatively and ethically ... In these decidedly pessimistic and chaotic times, Limón’s radical sincerity and goodwill feel revolutionary ... a field guide for living on a damaged planet—for acknowledging the suffering inflicted by human choices and the way people often unmake ecologies and also the way people could choose to preserve and remake them ... Life-affirming can be another blurber’s cliché, but Limón’s affirmations shimmer so brightly they cannot be denied.
Kyung-Sook Shin, trans. by Anton Hur
RaveThe Star Tribune... shattering and salient ... Narrated in the present tense, the book has a dreamlike immediacy ... In scenes saturated with feeling, Shin depicts a milieu bristling with classism and misogyny, dramatizing the desires and dreams of a protagonist who, in her own defenseless way, strives for both independence and connection. Shin writes in her Afterword that \'Violets are very small plants. So small they\'re easily overlooked as weeds,\' but the care she gives to her telling of San\'s story argues that even the most vulnerable are worthy of respect.
PositiveThe Star TribuneMixing truth and imagination, Casey reveals both the grim facts of the place...and the complexity of the women these doctors reduce to objects of study and repulsed fascination. Casey conjures a collective voice for these so-called hysterics, writing of their lives \'in the before\' in a way that returns their subjectivity to them ... this short, enchantingly strange book feels animated by compassion ... These accounts haunt the reader with their subjects\' strength of spirit, even amid their thwarted dreams and desires.
RaveThe Star TribunePaul has constructed a meticulous, intriguing, and long-overdue appraisal of a talent deserving of wider attention ... sheds plenty of much-needed light on a reticent, dignified and forgivingly comic artist who, while he \'may only have written for himself ... also wrote for the ages.\'
RaveLiber Review... keen and coruscating ... Thomas sets themself the tasks of both offering up evidence to the public of typically underrepresented lives and also housing this evidence in the meticulous structure of this single colllection, in which every story feels essential ... Thomas pays splendid attention to geography and landscape and how they shape the longings and behaviors of individuals living within a certain terrain ... Thomas writes with a beautiful command of syntax and cadence, their sentences accruing with a propulsive energy into stories whose tones feel exciting and urgent. They joy- fully explore the possibilities of form ... Time and again, the characters realize that self-discovery cannot be extricated from the discovery of broader systems and habits, and that the reconstruction of the past is on if the means by which a lineage can lead its inheritors into a different—and perhaps more multifarious and inclusive—future.
RaveThe Star TribuneIntellectually rigorous and formally meticulous, her work tends to possess a seriousness of tone and a concerted spareness, as well as a biting perfectionism and a zealous commitment to brevity. Lean and crisp, making a judicious use of its ample white space, her debut novel, Very Cold People, continues in this exacting vein ... With glacial precision and mordant wit, Manguso delineates a milieu in which class and gender get silenced by lip service to the American dream ... Manguso has an unerring eye for the details that characterized a certain kind of Gen X girlhood ... But far from being an exercise in nostalgia, the novel\'s memories accumulate into something more unsettling. Ruthie\'s powers of observation catalog everything ... Like a sculpture made of ice cubes, each spartan prose brick accumulates into a single structure. Short as it is, Very Cold People feels monumental: an icy cenotaph for a not-so-distant past.
RaveThe Star TribuneStrange and sensitive ... Refreshing for its resistance to easy dystopian tropes and its commitment to the emotions of wonder and hope, even in the face of grief ... Especially savvy is the way that Nagamatsu does not posit one single monolithic human destiny, be it grim or triumphant, but rather an innumerable variety of destinies ... By constructing his narrative as a novel-in-stories — a set of loosely connected tales about characters whose lives often intersect only obliquely — he\'s able to achieve a sophisticated polyphony ... Literary fiction meets speculative fiction in each vignette, and as heavy as the accumulated material comes to be, Nagamatsu punctuates the tragedy with moments of humor ... Timely as this novel inarguably is, Nagamatsu has emphasized that the book was actually more than a decade in the making. One hopes that readers won\'t have to wait quite so long for his next one.
RaveThe Women\'s Review of BooksPrize, the judges wrote that \'One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.\' In Generations, readers will see that her prose—economical, matter-of-fact, and indelible—has that quality as well.
PositiveThe Star TribuneFar less memoiristic than The Argonauts, On Freedom is more focused on cultural criticism and philosophizing, exploring its capacious topic through the frames of art, sex, substance use and climate change. Nelson\'s applications of these restrictions to her seemingly limitless topic feels savvy ... reading this book feels like being in the presence of an inspiring professor, someone who has a great deal to show you, but ultimately wants to show you most of all how to think for yourself ... By the end of her theorizing, Nelson has breathed fresh air into the title notion, and in her openhanded treatment has given her readers a chance to consider freedom more freely.
RaveChicago Tribune\"Every piece...is powerfully written, wittily observed and unafraid to argue. Taken individually...and as a whole, they make an airtight case for why the professional critic still matters, and why it is a thrill to spend time in the presence of someone whose job it is to care so much and so intelligently. Like the best critics—Pauline Kael, Susan Sontag—Hopper is gifted at balancing the macro and the micro, identifying a pattern and helping the reader appreciate its scope and significance, while peppering in details that make the writing electrifying on the sentence level ... she\'s practically a poet when it comes to the brilliant metaphor or the apt comparison ... that is why professional criticism is exciting, an answer that Hopper\'s book offers on every page: to help us understand why and how culture affects us for better and for worse, and why and how we can in turn engage with and affect that culture.
RaveStar TribuneIn his intimate and irreverent debut short story collection, Gordo Jaime Cortez mines his memories of his own working-class California childhood to show life through the eyes of his titular character ... Cortez crafts the vivid and unsentimental perspective of a perceptive kid ... Too often, the publishing industry relegates the point of view of a child to books which are themselves for children, but in Cortez\'s hands, the language and voice of the young narrator nimbly depict his bilingual milieu and his outsider status therein ... Gordo\'s innocence and perplexity create a pleasing tension and enhance Cortez\'s explorations of face, class, sex and gender ... The 11 stories each stand alone, satisfyingly self-contained ... His stories yield countless laugh-out-loud funny moments, but the humor is always sympathetic and above all gives the reader the sensation of having been shown something true.
RaveThe Star Tribune... earthy vividness ... Brandon\'s fallen-Confederacy setting comes authoritatively alive ... This coming-of-age story continues [Brandon\'s] work in the vein of William Faulkner, Flannery O\'Connor, Cormac McCarthy and Barry Hannah, tracking outsiders from society\'s fringes on odd and often gruesomely humorous quests through richly realized and treacherous landscapes ... Brandon was born and raised in Florida, and his lushly described terrain bristles with beauty and menace ... Cinematic and featuring a plot full of old-timey moral clarity where virtue and villainy delineate themselves sharply, Ivory Shoals is a gripping yarn that unfolds a tapestry of \'Humanity wicked as one could conceive, or as worthy.;
RaveThe Star Tribune... moving and monumental ... Epic in its sweep, The Seed Keeper uses a chorus of female voices to recount the intergenerational narrative of the U.S. government\'s deliberate destruction of Indigenous ways of life with a focus on these Native families\' connections to their traditions through the seeds they cherish and hand down ... the reader experiences an interwoven tapestry of oppression and resistance ... Wilson opens her book with the poem The Seeds Speak, in which the seeds declare, \'We hold time in this space, we hold a thread to / infinity that reaches to the stars.\' This novel illuminates that expansiveness with elegance and gravity.
RaveThe Women\'s Review of Books... concise, intellectually and emotionally engaging ... even if you’re a relative mythology novice, Zimmerman’s expansive and inviting critiques will likely capture your interest ... The strength and boldness of the images harmonize with Zimmerman’s recu- perative assembly of a new mythology ... Zimmerman simultaneously entertains her readers with the reanimation of familiar stories from the days of old while also situating these tales in a fresh and progressive contemporary frame ... Because of their origins as standalone essays, Zimmerman’s chapters meander pleasingly, rove widely, and put her own voice in conversation with a dazzling pantheon of other thinkers ... rangy yet incisive ... Virtually every page is packed with fun facts, not in the sense of trivia for each item feels carefully selected to enhance her argument—but in the sense of little nuggets of data that are a pleasure to learn ... Zimmerman’s writing wears its research lightly and her tone, though unapologetically erudite, remains conversational and welcoming, free of jargon or academic smugness. But make no mistake about the extensive scholarship underlying each piece. Her formidable works cited could serve as the syllabus for an intense graduate school class, exhibiting an energetic engagement with other experts on these subjects ... offers a fittingly wayfaring exploration of the many feminist lessons that monsters have to teach us.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... the book\'s many plot lines radiate around an integration plan that brings students from the predominantly Black east side into the high school of the mostly white west ... The book\'s rangy unfolding takes place from the early 1990s to the present day and hopscotches back and forth from the suburbs of Atlanta to Paris to Los Angeles to the small Southern city of Noelle and Gee\'s youth. The point of view rotates from one character to another, allowing Coster to depict their complex situations and moral ambiguities with depth and compassion.
Matthew Gavin Frank
PositiveThe Star TribuneUnexpected connections abound in Frank\'s lyrical work, wherein — through visits to portions of this land, declared by De Beers in 2007 to be \'overmined\' — he excavates the troubling history of this little-known landscape and the illicit industry of trafficking the precious stones ... Frank blends investigative journalism, historical research and rhapsodically written memoir to examine mankind\'s relentless exploitation of the Earth and all its creatures, including the humans themselves ... In refusing to romanticize the landscape or the piracy that takes place upon it, Frank\'s book suggests that perhaps what diamonds are forever really means is that so is avarice.
RaveThe Star Tribune... [an] imaginative and immersive dual biography ... [a] spirit of joy illuminates Radiant ... a true account that reads as fluidly as a novel ... Her evocation of Paris feels lush and lively ... Through her affectionate depiction of these women and their milieu, Heinecke allows their spirits \'to keep shining on with a faint but steady light, inspiring us to dream bigger, work harder and reach higher\'; skillfully, seamlessly, she lets their friendship and feminism blaze again in the 21st.
RaveThe Star Tribune... witty and abrasive ... [a] scathing and offbeat examination of the demands of empathy faced by women of all ages, and the negative outcomes — both petty and sweeping — that women endure because of said demands ... Experimental and fragmentary, the novel includes profuse white space ... This formal audacity results in a propulsive energy, a quick and quirky reading experience that feels pleasantly unpleasant, equal parts entertaining and upsetting ... In the vein of Rachel Cusk or Clarice Lispector from whom she draws one of her epigraphs, Schofield uses her book\'s inventive structure to deliver a story that\'s biting, bitter and rife with dark humor. Relentless in her tone of alarm, like a warning bell or a warning shot, Bina\'s words will leave your head ringing.
RaveThe Star Tribune... a slim, witty and uncompromising memoir ... Structured less as a self-portrait and more as a mosaic, Howland tells the stories of her fellow patients with astuteness and empathy. She contextualizes the late 1960s milieu—with its ubiquitous racism and misogyny—in which she and her peers had become ill and were now attempting to get well. Calmly, coolly, she recounts the astonishing sexism of the medical profession that had dismissed her troubles ... With its incisive humor and unsparing descriptions, W-3 refuses a tidy resolution, instead showing how all the \'clumsy, good intentions\' in the world can\'t always provide a cure for the horror and tedium of losing one\'s mind.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
RaveThe Women\'s Review of Books... an intimate exploration of desire and its impossibility, as well as a critique of the waning possibilities for communal engagement with desire in everyday experience ... Sycamore identified these problems, particularly as they relate to queer communities, long before COVID, but this new book enters a world in which they feel more poignant than ever ... challenges the culture of queer assimilationism and documents her own search for sexual and intellectual intimacy. This deceptively slim volume is a slow read in the best possible way. I wanted to underline practically every sentence, and Sycamore strews her poetic fluidity with an almost overwhelming abundance of aphoristic utterances ... As seems fitting for a work that aims to challenge the very idea of the mainstream, Sycamore’s lyrical writing flows like stormwater ... This is an anarchic and unruly, yet dreamy and languid, meditation in fragments, full of unexpected juxtapositions and white space ... a biting appraisal of cosmopolitan existence for the twenty-first century ... Sycamore slings plenty of zingers, and her targets are righteous, but she’s a lover, not a hater—a lover of trust, of beauty, and of genuine connection in all its forms, not only between romantic partners but between people and their friends, people and their architecture, people and trees, and on and on. What stuns me about her criticism is its gentleness—the ways she finds to be forceful but not harmful, always punching up, so to speak, or really not even punching at all, only highlighting blind spots and inviting her readers to open their eyes to more than the restricted array of consumerist possibilities that late capitalism presents as our only options ... One of the many wondrous aspects of Sycamore’s approach becomes not only what she’s saying, but how she’s saying it ... Rather than employing taboo and transgression as ends unto themselves, Sycamore transgresses in order to urge her audience to interrogate their almost- invisible suppositions and so-called civil decorum ... stands as a call to open the door and take a gamble on what might be outside—to reject the illusion of safety and try instead for a re-enchantment of everything, a magic that can only happen by reaching beyond \'walled-off insufficiency.\'v
RaveThe Star TribuneAs so-called monsters and frequent heroes, golems illustrate the terror and the promise of embodied life, and as the governing metaphor for artist and professor Riva Lehrer’s penetrating and razor-witted debut, Golem Girl, ... The subtitle of this incisive tome is \'a memoir\' and the book certainly is that: a multifaceted account of Lehrer’s life from her birth in 1958 to the present. But so too is it a captivating social history of disability culture from the mid-20th century until now ... Brainy and bodily, sexy and soulful, Lehrer’s writing exhibits the force of will needed to make one’s way in a culture where, “If it’s medically possible to push a body toward that social ideal, then we make it a moral imperative to do so.” Humor sharpens almost every page ... Like a savvy curator, Lehrer leads her audience from incomprehension to understanding, from innocence to experience, building a messy arc full of stalls and setbacks, repetitions and revelations ... a beautiful meditation on monstrousness, bodies and the souls they contain.
RaveChicago TribuneShow me what you hate and I might show you that what you\'re pointing to is a mirror ... Halle Butler\'s short and scathing debut novel, is not a \'message\' book, but if it were, that would be one of its messages. The old saw about how what we find annoying in others is often what we most despise about ourselves is on rampant, vulgar display in this sublimely awkward and hilarious book about two women who loathe each other only slightly less than they loathe themselves ... the dialogue in this novel is delightfully offbeat ... This is a grotesque and absurd book about grotesque and absurd people stuck in a system that is itself grotesque and absurd. It may be the feel-bad book of the year.
Roy Jacobsen, trans. by Don shaw and don bartlett
RaveThe Star TribuneA laconic and affecting story about fate and love, time and survival, the book is a quiet and sturdy masterpiece ... The wind and waves are an ever-present concern in the islanders’ minds. Their isolation renders them exquisitely aware of the subtle shifts of emotion that beset them ... For his part, Jacobsen finds a great deal of profound value in his observations of the courageous and dignified inhabitants of Barrøy, all told in spare language that seems simultaneously as straightforward and natural as the drifting tides and as carefully woven as his islander’s nets.
Karen Tei Yamashita
RaveThe Star TribuneKaren Tei Yamashita is a contemporary virtuoso of milieu, using her genre-bending work to explore multicultural environments and the ways that race, immigration and globalization affect various locales and the people within them. It’s both unexpected and apt that Yamashita intermingles her perceptiveness with Austen’s in her latest collection of stories ... these inventive and illuminating short pieces stylishly examine an array of scenarios, both realistic and imagined, including life in the Japanese immigrant community in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the internment during World War II of Japanese citizens in concentration camps, including the one in Topaz, Utah.
PositiveChicago TribuneFor the first 90 pages—which sounds like a lot—the temptation to quit reading Bubblegum was powerful; the writing seemed simultaneously tiresome yet too clever by half, like it was straining hard and achieving very little ... But upon this reader’s powering through, Levin’s book took hold ... Levin unspools a story that dramatizes thinking to an extent that thought itself becomes as riveting as plot, but in which there’s also actual plot in abundance ... One does sometimes wish that Levin could find it in himself to be more concise, and the book’s meta-memoiristic frame leads to some lengthy passages in the middle...that beg to be skipped or at the very least skimmed ... maybe Bubblegum is an attempt at an empathy ultra-marathon. Not every single moment of the experience feels great, but there’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment when one reaches the end.
RaveChicago Tribune... gripping and complex ... Wetmore evokes that landscape’s rugged isolation as well as the power that terrain holds over its inhabitants ... Each of these women is up against inequalities and injustices, and Wetmore treats their struggles with the gravitas they deserve. But so too is her narration lively and comic, interjecting her characters’ perspectives with humor that serves to underscore their anger and sadness ... Wetmore’s delight in language enlivens every page. Her similes would give Raymond Chandler a run for his money ... Wetmore delivers not merely a condemnation of one unusually bad man, but rather a scalding critique of a racist, patriarchal and capitalist system that excuses male rapaciousness and greed at the expense of women, immigrants and the planet itself ... With its deeply realized characters, moral intricacy, brilliant writing and a page-turning plot, Valentine rewards its readers’ generosity with innumerable good things in glorious abundance.
PositiveThe Star TribuneLisicky writes lucidly with sorrow and joy of the complicated tension between transience and community in Provincetown at large and in the specifically queer milieu caught in the grip of the AIDS crisis, evoking the energy of people coming and going by choice and by fate, leaving sometimes for the mainland and sometimes for death. Touching on youth and illness, inclusion and acceptance, Lisicky possesses an eye for geography and an ear for gallows humor ... Lisicky’s sinuous sentences and tone of composure attest to the unsentimental but inspiring idea that even \'during the hour of a plague people from different backgrounds can be together. Not to dissolve that difference, but to love that difference.\'
RaveThe Chicago Tribune... big-hearted ... Zapata’s book is an eloquent argument that stories let humans shape what happens to and around them into significant patterns ... Full of stories within stories, Zapata builds his layers with a light touch, so that the found documents do not impede but rather enhance the flow and add to the texture ... Politically engaged, the book is deeply critical of betrayals and injustices of all kinds and in all parts of the globe, reckoning unsparingly with humanity’s hard-wired propensity both to destroy and to self-destruct ... Remarkably, Zapata’s tone is frequently gently or even absurdly comic and his sensibility is one of great love for human beings and for life itself. This seeming contradiction operates as the central tension that animates the entire novel ... Plenty of writers have responded to our current political moment with depictions of various dystopian near-futures, but Zapata’s stroke of brilliance is to set his book in the dystopian near-past. By portraying such recent apocalypses as the Argentine financial crisis of 2001, for instance, Zapata offers the insight that the world is not merely going to end, but already has ended countless times and is perpetually ending all of the time, especially if you’re not rich, not white, not powerful (but also even if you are) ... The events Zapata recounts here deliver an indelible portrait of a jubilant and generous story-teller — one from whom readers should look eagerly forward to hearing more.
PositiveThe Star TribuneMcGhee puts her protagonist through agonizing suffering not dissimilar to that which Joyce Carol Oates sometimes puts hers through ... Unlike Oates’ typically Gothic bent, McGhee’s approach is optimistic and upbeat. Even though McGhee pays some attention to the nature of experiencing this kind of anguish in the digital age...the book is less a cultural commentary and more the story of an unconventional family trying to figure out a way forward after an unfathomable crisis ... Laudable for its heartfelt attempts to give nuance to sweeping political questions, The Opposite of Fate rejects the idea of \'the flat rightness and wrongness of things\' in favor of a fraught and human complexity.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneTo call a short story collection \'gritty\' — as in having strong qualities of tough uncompromising realism — is a bit commonplace, but Kate Wisel’s debut, Driving in Cars With Homeless Men, is gritty in the best sense ... By focusing on the lives and friendships of four main characters living in working-class Boston, as Wisel depicts the overlapping struggles of Serena, Frankie, Raffa and Natalya, so too does she reveal bigger realities about substance abuse, family, anger and hope ... With a knowing and experienced eye, Wisel describes the down-and-out milieus of her protagonists in wry but never condescending detail ... Wisel makes scintillating use of the flash fiction form ... interspersing such extremely brief stories amid the more traditional-length stories lets her heighten the sweep and intensity of the book’s ongoing dramas. Each tiny piece shines like a shard in the larger mosaic Wisel is assembling ... Unpleasant as the situations her female characters endure, Wisel illuminates the overall darkness with bursts of wit and humor.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune... 20 stylish and psychologically tense stories ... leading the reader into realms full of dread and suspense, weirdness and wonder, paranoia and pain ... Although ghosts occasionally populate her tales, Jemc is less M.R. James and more Robert Aickman. Rarely relying on obvious chills or violence, her stories — as surreal as they are scary — dwell magnificently in the realm of the upsetting yet pleasingly confounding. Ultimately, it’s the details of reality — the things that can and do happen all the time — that make the stories shine, for Jemc knows how to use mundanity to throw the truly bizarre into sharp relief ... Jemc’s erudite, offbeat sense of humor contributes brilliantly to the collection’s pervasive unease as often as does anything overtly supernatural ... A highly literary writer who takes delight in the smallest elements of language, Jemc masterfully uses personification in apt but jittery ways ... Twenty stories might sound like a lot, but the book flies by, because Jemc knows how to deploy both brevity and irresolution. Story after story exhibits the understanding that it’s usually creepier to wonder than to know. Yet she never makes the reader feel like she’s simply messing around or doesn’t know what’s going on herself ... Jemc feels like the friend you listen to with nervous anticipation.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe old saw about how what we find annoying in others is often what we most despise about ourselves is on rampant, vulgar display in this sublimely awkward and hilarious book about two women who loathe each other only slightly less than they loathe themselves ... The dialogue in this novel is delightfully offbeat ... These two main characters are incredibly unpleasant, but not unsympathetic, and the point of view that Butler chooses is brilliant; she stays mostly with a close third person on Megan and Jillian, but jumps smoothly as needed into other consciousnesses ... This novel isn\'t big on hope ... This is a grotesque and absurd book about grotesque and absurd people stuck in a system that is itself grotesque and absurd. It may be the feel-bad book of the year.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... inventive, wise, and revelatory ... [Low\'s] willingness to hope comes through on every page, and the book never descends into easy despair or stylish nihilism, even when her doubts are at their deepest and her wit at its most barbed ... The kaleidoscopically interpretive text uses art to pause in its agitated meandering, and it’s a pleasure to hear her elucidations on particular creators, as well as the function of art in general ... Low turns an unsparing yet unexpectedly affectionate eye toward the comforting narrative fantasies we weave around ourselves in order to stay alive amidst circumstances hostile to the human spirit. In doing so, she provides a searching interrogation of identity, art, and a desire for a life beyond what we are told is possible ... brainy, humane, and indispensable.
PositiveThe Star Tribune...stylish and innovative ... Speaking sometimes in first person plural...and other times in first person singular, the narration builds a dreamlike atmosphere of repetition and variation, desire and obsession.The semicolon is one of the most sophisticated yet poorly understood pieces of punctuation. Used to link two independent but related clauses, the semicolon allows for a distinctive complexity in a sentence’s meaning and rhythm. A prolific and graceful user of this oft-avoided punctuation mark, Steinberg employs it to lyrical and layered effect ... Steinberg has a BFA in painting, and visually she employs ample white space, line breaks and fragments intermixed with more typically formatted prose. The resulting short statements stab straight to the existential revelations of growing up.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune... surprising and grimly funny ... a pithy and offbeat blend of cancer story and adventure tale ... Goldblatt is too original a stylist to succumb to the romantic tropes of a conventional wilderness narrative ... In Denny, Goldblatt creates an almost claustrophobic character study of a bleak, depressed, and selfish protagonist, deeply unlikeable to herself and thus virtually incapable of accepting any overtures of affection or friendship from loved ones and strangers alike. But Goldblatt keeps the pages turning with her incisive descriptions of Denny’s interior state, coupled with her ineptitude as an adventurer and her physical suffering as she experiences the rougher sides of roughing it ... What emerges is a portrait of protracted grief, the deep sorrow that usually comes with the event of someone’s death, but in this case comes preemptively and over an excruciatingly extended period. By the end, Hard Mouth leaves readers to consider the vast human question of how to justify going on living when death and suffering are all around.
RaveThe Star Tribune... deeply felt but unsentimental ... Savage herself spent almost a decade working as a caregiver, and her insight into this fraught and intimate profession comes through on every page in incisive and beautiful language. The third-person narration is intensely reflective and psychologically revelatory ... in this deceptively simple book, the reader, too, receives an honest and empathetic opportunity to consider loneliness and the people whose labor gets bought to alleviate it.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneOak Park resident Shapiro’s previous novel, 2016’s The Sun In Your Eyes,chronicled the enchantments and disenchantments of intense female friendship, and The Summer Demands feels like a logical extension of similarly intricate themes of intimacy and vulnerability ... material that could become lurid and crude...or even glib and cliché comes across, thanks to Shapiro’s skill, as complicated and affecting, compassionate and humane ... A gorgeously written story of late youth and early middle age, the novel makes the delicate argument that maybe a person can come of age at any age — that maybe everyone is always coming of age all the time.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneReading [Howland] for the first time this past summer felt like receiving an unexpected note slipped under the door from someone I’d never heard of, but who totally got me — who knew what I wanted to hear about, and how and why I wanted to hear it, and who just told me, page after beautiful page ... Howland’s sense of humor illuminates every page, and even her sharpest barbs glint with wisdom and humanity ... Her lyrical passages approach not merely poetry, but something like the sacred, almost holy in their cadences ... At last Howland’s claim has been re-staked, hopefully with a degree more permanence this time, for the rightful (after)life that awaits her work is that she be recognized as a Chicago writer of near-universal delight.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune[A] gripping, self-searching, triumphant debut memoir ... Because any reader is going to know the race\'s outcome upon picking the book up, the interest lies not in the ending, but in how Prior-Palmer gets there. Luckily, she\'s an adept storyteller and a humble autobiographer, not afraid to let herself look unlikable or even obnoxious if the circumstances merit ... the dynamic she establishes with the horses who remind her that \'animals were our first teachers\' make this memoir a breathtaking ride.
RaveThe Star TribuneRubenhold resists rehashing the sensationalist details of the slayings and instead concentrates on these so-called \'canonical five\' ... A social historian and a historical novelist, Rubenhold is a painstaking researcher and a lucid wordsmith. Without lionizing or sentimentalizing her subjects, she writes of these women with clarity and compassion, pointing out that much of what we think we know comes wrapped in the condescension of officials who were \'male, authoritarian, and middle-class\' ... Rubenhold’s The Five eloquently makes the case that while we will likely never know the identity of Jack the Ripper himself, we can and should understand and respect the identities of the individuals whose lives he took.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewIf Make Me a City really had been written in 1902, then it would be an extraordinarily forward-thinking and valuable corrective to the erasure of the contributions of women, immigrants and people of color to America’s \'second city.\' As it is, Carr’s ambitious and presumably well-intentioned tome comes across as pandering, self-satisfied and ultimately wrongheaded ... approaches literary blackface ... When a book immediately elicits doubt over its authority and dexterity to represent its subjects, it’s hard for the reader to recover. This is not to say that authors can’t represent difference; they can and they should. It’s not even to say that a white British man like Carr can’t write from the point of view of a mixed-race man like de Sable. But writing across difference should be humanizing, and representing difference isn’t the same as demonstrating one’s own enlightenment. Alas, Carr writes with a cartoonish lack of nuance ... depicts most of his characters in strokes so broad they fall simplistically into the slots of noble hero or irredeemable villain ... throughout, the novel seeks to take retroactive credit for compassion and right-mindedness it hasn’t earned.
RaveChicago TribuneIn her short, satirical and cautionary second novel, The New Me, Halle Butler explores self-improvement at its absolute, impractical, soul-crushing worst ... Masterfully cringe-inducing and unsparingly critical, The New Me extends Butler’s interrogation of those subjects, making the reader squirm and laugh out loud simultaneously ... The point of view consists primarily of first-person, present tense chapters from Millie’s perspective, but Butler intersperses a few close third-person, past-tense chapters from the perspectives of those around her. This fluctuating structure creates an effect that is layered and dynamic, deliberately distancing and cinematic at some points and almost claustrophobically intimate at others ... wit and insight keep the pages turning, and while Millie is well beyond concerns over being likeable, Butler has created in her a Bartleby the Scrivener-esque character who is nevertheless engaging in her refusals ... The New Me is an unapologetic and effulgent bummer of a book.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneWitty and intimate ... the refreshingly frank, utterly un-sugar-coated account of her struggles with infertility and a high-risk pregnancy, blended with a lively and not un-disturbing exploration of the history of gynecology and reproductive health. It’s packed with \'plenty of drama and comedy and bodily fluids\' and such under-reported facts as \'about one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage.\'
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books\"Parker’s poems are well read and richly referential, unhesitant to make her readers reach. Don’t know who American conceptual artist and philosopher Adrian Piper is? Look her up. Film director, producer, and screenwriter Nancy Meyers? Look her up ... Rarely has seeing superficiality and ignorance skewered in poetry been so absorbing. Parker cultivates an assertiveness and an intimacy through her masterful use of rhetorical questions ... It’s a cliché to call a work of art a conversation starter, but this book is. One could spend hours discussing not only the whole collection, but each individual poem ... This endlessly discussable quality means that Magical Negro would be a marvelous book club pick and fantastic in the classroom. For Parker’s material itself is expansive and incisive, but so too is her versatility with form and language ... This agility — exhibited in virtually every poem — serves to create a book that delights and astonishes even as it interrogates.\
PositiveChicago Tribune\"[Some of Scapellato\'s stylistic] decisions might come across as quirky if one is feeling generous, pretentious if one is not, and overall, the book’s appeal will be determined by how a reader regards techniques that can feel like stunts. Luckily for any reader, the book keeps its pages turning with absurdist comedy, committed throughout to the idea espoused by Stanley’s late grandmother that whatever else he may be, \'Man is a beast that laughs.\'\
RaveThe Star TribuneIn her third novel, The Weight of a Piano, Chris Cander proves herself a masterful, almost musical handler of volume and emphasis in words, knowing when to write a scene in a voice big and booming, and when to allow her approach to grow quieter ... The reader is left to contemplate loss and legacy, the novel’s notions of \'poetry and color and imagination\' lingering like the notes of a distant song.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s monumental and polyphonic debut novel, Bangkok Wakes to Rain, is a sweeping epic with the amphibious city of the title at its scintillating center ... like raindrops, these stories flow together to make a totality, a stream of narrative that floods the reader with the vibrant sense of a global metropolis whose only constant is constant change ... The novel’s texture feels cinematic, but more immersive than a movie, in part because of the evocation of the scents of the setting ... In the vein of Arundhati Roy, Haruki Murakami or David Mitchell, Sudbanthad’s elaborate, time-hopping saga explores class stratifications, intercultural connections and disconnections, and finely textured layers of history, all the while raising fascinating questions about the future. Each individual character is finely drawn, but the brightest portrait he paints is of the city of Bangkok itself...\
J Michael Martinez
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"J. Michael Martinez’s third book, Museum of the Americas, won the 2017 National Poetry Series Competition, but its contents are unapologetically, excitingly hybrid, including prose, lineated verse, vintage postcards and black-and-white photographs. Thus, perhaps, this marvelous, argumentative and curiosity-provoking book is itself best thought of as a kind of corrective cabinet of wonders, one whose portraits and specimens complicate the dominant narratives of imperial conquest and control ... Like a curator overseeing a show, Martinez gives readers the sense that each item he incorporates has been carefully selected and thoughtfully juxtaposed with the ones around it ... Martinez’s approach is as brainy as it is entertaining, as political as it is personal ... Martinez’s power as a memoirist is considerable as well ... In this thrillingly genre-blurring book, Martinez evokes both senses of that etymology: The poetic delights suggest the presence of the Muses, and the items upon which he encourages the reader to focus produce a fresh and necessary gallery that rivets both the interest and the intellect.\
Jeremy T Wilson
MixedThe Chicago TribuneIn this sage and striking set of 12 short stories, Wilson depicts the slow and steady tedium that often inflects domestic life, and his laugh-out-loud representation of the melancholy of adulthood does seem destined to win over the discerning ... Wilson is a master at using humor and irony to liven up dim and banal situations of average men straining against the self-imposed limitations of married life ... Wilson’s interest lies much more with his male characters than with his female ones. At times, one wishes that the women were more complexly drawn, and had more to do than be viewed ... Slowly, steadily over the course of the book, things tend to decline, or at least to change in ways that yield ambivalent results. But Wilson makes you want to stay with him until you reach the finish line.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneIn his seminal play The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde has the character Gwendolen declare, \'I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.\' By that worthy metric, Jessica Hopper’s memoir Night Moves—which draws on her personal journals from the aughts, and chronicles her formative years as a DJ and aspiring writer in Chicago’s independent music community—would make for appealing train reading ... breezy-yet-realistic, easy-to-read honesty is well-executed here in Hopper’s memoir: insouciant, brainy and repetitive in a good way, like hanging out with someone who unfailingly but not uncritically adores \'Chicago’s deep manic powers.\'
RaveThe Chicago TribuneAdmixed with the joy is undeniable sorrow and anger, for the book is an act of emotional and intellectual rigor, one that makes an unsparing examination of race, gender and class, particularly as such categories relate to the struggles and complexities of immigration and gentrification ... Olivarez is far from subtle in his interrogations, as one can tell simply by flipping through his table of contents, populated by such arresting titles as \'My Therapist Says Make Friends With Your Monsters\' ... There are hard arguments in here that might be difficult for some, but they need to be hard and they need to be heard. Olivarez has just the right voice—compassionate, dynamic and irreverent—to deliver them.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"The story that Park tells here, fittingly, is free of pity, but full of compassion. And while it is not essential that a reader know that Park’s own background involves both distinct settings and that he himself met an early end from the same disease that he gives to one of his main characters, that knowledge undeniably adds an extra layer of interest and pathos to an already moving novel ... Less convincing are some of the splashy, soap operatic plot twists that Park puts in as the book goes on — convenient coincidences, an expedient fainting spell — sacrificing characterization and plausibility in favor of utilitarian occasions for secrets to be revealed. In fairness, these decisions do keep the pages turning, but at times they feel rushed and make the reader long for more quiet moments ... Park’s book leaves readers with a chance to think seriously and directly about some of the worst things that can happen, a chance that feels even more rare and grave now that the author is permanently gone.\
PositiveChicago Tribune...scintillating and indelible ... Although she creates her sumptuous portrait with obvious admiration, Wallace resists being blindly worshipful, refusing to make either a sanitized angel or a romanticized devil out of this singularly complicated and tumultuous individual.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneDrnaso’s simple, rigid drawings capture the bleak blankness of much contemporary life, anomie hovering over almost every interaction, both real and virtual. His muffled colors build the texture of a world bombarded with distraction yet void of connection, and his careful use of boxes and frames conveys the stunning lack of freedom the supposedly free space of the internet constructs, a dim and inert prison of both the body and the spirit ... Drnaso’s book leaves the audience holding its breath, hoping his flawed but sympathetic characters will find their way from lies to truth.
RaveChicago Tribune...arresting and unforgettable ... Now, eight years after the author’s death, this new edition from New York Review of Books Classics offers readers in the United States a not-to-be-missed opportunity to rediscover an important and underrated voice ... Weinzweig’s slim and increasingly surreal volume defies easy comparison ... Perhaps better than any spy thriller.
RaveChicago Tribune...Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut short story collection has a dishy feel, and that’s a compliment ... Sittenfeld proves adept at quickly establishing characters in whom the reader feels inclined to invest immediately ... Sittenfeld makes writing lively and diverting fiction look easy, though each deceptively simple and breezy story is masterfully paced and crafted ... The reader leaves the book delighted to have gotten to hear Sittenfeld say just what she really thinks.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...an erudite, authoritative and demanding collection that probes questions of faith and doubt, history and ideology that both divide America and bring it together … This elegantly written book’s appeal to general readers who lack an intimate familiarity both with Christian scripture and Protestant history may frankly be somewhat limited … Robinson’s arguments that the state of discourse in contemporary America is frustrating, and that we could all stand to think for ourselves and be kinder, are familiar but evergreen. Heady and forceful, composed and serious, Robinson warns readers against despair and cynicism, encouraging us instead to embrace — ideally, in her opinion, through ‘Christian humanism’ — ‘radical human equality and dignity.’
Terese Marie Mailhot
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"Although this slim and devastatingly calibrated memoir which features brief, impressionistic and carefully modulated essays tops out at 160 pages, Heart Berries truly does provoke the reader to reconsider what it means to be epic … In blunt yet lyrical prose, she depicts struggles and stories — of herself, her mother, her father and her grandmother — that are at once singular and sovereign, yet also representative and collective, portraying the travails and quotidian heroism required to be ‘a woman wielding narrative now’ … Even as her book resists the oversimplified arc of pain and suffering followed by redemption and happiness, the bittersweet progress that Mailhot makes by the end feels hard-won, precarious but hopeful.\
MixedThe Chicago Tribune\"The publishing industry has been awash in explicitly feminist dystopic fiction. Intricate and alarming, Leni Zumas’ riveting second novel, Red Clocks, arrives just in time to ride that wave into 2018 … Lit up with verbal pyrotechnics and built with an admirably balanced structure, Red Clocks is undeniably gorgeously written. But the overdone tropes — witch hunt-style prosecution for providing abortions, aggressively thwarted attempts to flee to Canada — are enough to make one wonder: How much feminist dystopic fiction can audiences read?\
Norma Stevens and Steven M. L. Aronson
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIf you like tales of obsessive perfectionism and mercurial extravagance, then you'll never be bored with this lavishly illustrated verbal portrait of one of the 20th century’s photographic masters … Intimate and dishy in its conversational tone, the book makes you feel as though you are nose to nose trading stories with a vivacious confidant, your most fabulous friend telling you unabashed and juicy truths. Part oral history, part memoir, part biography, this roomy account fills in the renowned white space surrounding Avedon, a man who curated his reputation as carefully as he did his output, remaining relentlessly private even as he revealed the era’s most incandescent personalities in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, The New Yorker and more.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneHis copious research, his talents in literary analysis and his associative skills as a poet are on acrobatic display as he argues convincingly that the hoax is all too often an underrecognized mechanism for maintaining white — and to a concurrent extent, male — supremacy ... Admittedly, hoaxes are a shaggy subject, yet one wishes that Young’s book were a bit more trim, as he turns and returns to subjects across chapters in a nonlinear and at times perplexing and repetitive fashion ... As we enter the second year of the Trump administration — with its railing against 'fake news,' its failure to unilaterally condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville and its assertion that climate change is itself a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese — this book could scarcely be more timely or useful.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneErdrich establishes her surprising and surprisingly funny book’s specifics in lucid language and gripping scenes ... Among the book’s many strengths are its urgency and suspense as well as the immediacy of its voice ... Even as the plot rounds all of the potentially done-to-death dystopian bases — end-times hoarding, the government seizure of media outlets, vast ecological devastation, a scrappy band of resisters — Erdrich’s sense of humor manages to make the darkness fresh and plausible ... Erdrich applies her stinging perspective to remind readers how much has happened, how much keeps happening and how far humans have yet to go.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...an exhaustively researched and engrossingly written examination of the life and work of the enormously talented and intensely private American photographer ... Throughout the book, Bannos gives a thorough account of how 'mansplaining Vivian Maier contributed to her mythologizing.' In turn, she provides a much-needed alternative to these largely reductive and romanticized myths ... As her subtitle suggests, Bannos deftly weaves Maier's chronological biography with the afterlife of the work she left behind. This multilayered structure results in a fascinating and balanced look at questions of artistic authority, appropriation, legacy and copyright ... By the end of this impressively documented and nuanced page-turner, Maier will no longer be a mystery woman to the reader either. Instead, a much richer and more valuable portrait emerges: that of a gifted and methodical artist and a multifarious human being.
Richard Lloyd Parry
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...remarkably written and reported ... In a gripping fashion, Parry builds his account around solving the excruciating mystery that haunts the parents of those who were killed...In doing so, he produces a page-turner. In lesser hands, this tactic could seem ghoulish or exploitative — 'an effort to squeeze spooky entertainment out of the tragedy.' But in Parry’s, the material gets assembled into a moving study of character and culture, love and loss, grief and responsibility ... He constructs the book as an exquisite series of nesting boxes of sorrow and compassion ... Reminiscent of John Hersey’s classic Hiroshima, a devastatingly calm and matter-of-fact look at the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb, Parry recounts this story with a necessary balance of detachment and investment. Significantly, unlike Hersey, Parry was in Japan during the disaster he’s describing, and so he includes the occasional first-person experience in his multilayered account. The result is a spellbinding book that is well worth contemplating in an era marked by climate change and natural disaster.
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"In her twistedly original and thrilling debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blends both the terrifying and the horrible into a psychologically realistic and darkly comic mixture … Time and again, Machado freaks the reader out while making them think. Her work calls to mind other stellar practitioners of this kind of literary horror and speculative-gothic genre-bending, including Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Kelly Link and Sofia Samatar. Yet her voice and her sensibility seem singularly her own … By honing in on the grotesquerie and uncanniness of such familiar things as bariatric surgery, pornography, motherhood, women\'s clothing stores and Girl Scout camps, to name a few, Machado discloses and critiques the threats and exploitations inherent in capitalism and the patriarchy, while above all weaving narratives that refuse to be put down.\
MixedThe Chicago TribuneEach story includes the year it was written at the end, instructively calling attention to the development of Eugenides' approaches and themes across the decades. This collection contains flashes of what makes his longer work a pleasure to read — fraught situations, keenly observed behaviors, and senses of complicated humor and empathy — but on the whole, it feels uneven ... In the strongest stories, particularly 'Timeshare' and 'Capricious Gardens,' Eugenides comes across as bemused by — but not mocking or contemptuous of — his characters. In too many others, his tone condescends and dismisses ... One regrets this collection's lack of consistency, but it is worth a read as one waits for Eugenides' next novel.
PanThe Chicago TribuneUnfortunately, the Nicole sections of Forest Dark suffer from a humorless tone and a foregrounded self-regard in which both writer and character seem to think themselves more insightful than they actually are ... Superficial and self-satisfied, these passages seem intoxicated with their own Intro to Philosophy-style pontification ... This disappointing narrative comes off as all the more unfortunate when one considers that the other half of the book is more engaging and dynamically written ... Ultimately, the novel itself loses its way amid rambling solipsism and forced plot twists. Given the critical and popular success of her three previous novels, one hopes that Krauss' fifth book will see her finding her way again.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneQuotidian and clever, they feel like sketches — sketches as in comedy bits but also as in sketchy and not tremendously deep ... Fans of Nora Ephron, Erma Bombeck and even the peevish Andy Rooney will find a lot to enjoy in these essays, which are lively and not afraid to be quarrelsome ... Ten of the pieces originally appeared in The New Yorker, so if you like the droll lampoons and opinings of that magazine's Shouts & Murmurs column, then you'll enjoy the raconteur-ish jocularity that Allen displays here. Yet the cumulative effect becomes one of cutesiness. On the whole, Allen's riffs are pleasant enough while you're reading them but likely won't stick in your mind for terribly long after. Unlike the best satire, they don't pick targets in need of deflating. Unlike the best comedy, which is always complex and even surprising, they rarely mix their modest goofiness with more piquant emotions like sadness or outrage, anger or indignation. Middle of the road, they risk offending nobody and perhaps that's what will make them, paradoxically, offensive, for some readers.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneAs her superlative title suggests, Bialosky organizes this memoir around 52 poems by such poets as W.H. Auden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson and many more that she believes answer Milosz's question admirably...this is a delightfully hybrid book: part anthology, part critical study, part autobiography ... Throughout, Bialosky provides a refreshing tonic to the periodic, exaggerated and self-indulgent reports of poetry's death, difficulty or irrelevance ...structure of the book teaches the reader that a poem is not an object of static perfection to be encountered once and correctly, but rather is an ever-changing occasion for contemplation by various individuals, each with an ongoing life story that yields an array of reactions ... The memoiristic passages, unfortunately, tend to be mundane and mediocre; she paints her autobiographical anecdotes in broad strokes, which makes the various incidents, large and small, feel brushed over.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneAlmost every one of the 14 short stories in the collection seems to have originated from something Dawkins experienced or witnessed in jail or prison, and almost every one reflects with devastating compassion on the guilt and regrets of the criminals inside ... It's well-written and worth reading for Dawkins' craft and insight, but it's also an occasion to consider an industry that has little to do with rehabilitation, and that makes it nearly impossible for its participants to recuperate their lives.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneModeling Lear loosely after real-life author-illustrator Maurice Sendak,who was gay, Glass uses his biography as a jumping off point to create a charming yet cagey character whose darkest secret itself has a secret ... Writing about writing can be a tough trick to pull off without descending into cliches about troubled geniuses or mystification of the creative process itself or even pandering about the nobility of books and the people who read them. But Glass accomplishes her task with a fresh vision and little fuss ... Eloquent and spell-binding, Glass interrogates these notions of intimacy: who we let see us and how much we let them see.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...her return to fiction has a shaggy structure and polemical bent that might confuse and disappoint some readers. Yet its keen characterizations, ardent conscience and brilliant writing on a sentence level make the years this tale has taken to arrive somewhat understandable ... scathing yet beautiful and rich with metaphorical resonance — while also unfurling into an excessively digressive slog that threatens to bog down ... The ferocity of Roy's anger at what governments do (and fail to do) and her fervid desire to hold people accountable are admirable...But her myriad minor characters and political discursions cause the narrative threads to slip from her hands, leading to a bewildering lack of momentum and focus ... Yet even with its many flaws and frustrations, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a grand if perplexing achievement: an ambitious story with a profound moral integrity and a deep emotional impact. Roy sets her aims incredibly high, and even when she misses the mark, she has written the kind of monumental and messy book that the monumental and messy world is perennially in need of.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...writer Victor Lodato seems to be something of a polymath. His second novel, the wonder-filled and magisterial Edgar and Lucy, certainly feels as though it was written by one, so wide-ranging is it in its concerns and themes, and so ardent is it in its desire to bring everything — life, love, family, loneliness, magic, spiritualism and death — together in its pages ... Lodato's skill as a poet manifests itself on every page...His skill as a playwright shines in every piece of dialogue...And his skill as a fiction writer displays itself in his virtuoso command of point of view ... The book pushes the boundaries of beauty, inviting the reader to be like Edgar, who, even when staring at litter on the ground, 'knew that these things were garbage, but at the same time he could feel their tiny breathless souls.'
PanThe Chicago Tribune[The] detachment comes at a price, and though the novel isn't bad — it's really all right — it fails to feel as riveting as its premise suggests, ending up less revelatory and more superfluous. Its short, stating sentences have the effect of summary and synopsis instead of depth or disclosure. Even in the penultimate section — when Toibin lets Clytemnestra narrate as a ghost — the reader is left wanting more ... this book, which seems to want to be ferocious and bracing, feels like a competent arm's-length recapitulation. If you don't know or like mythology and the classics, then you might do better to go straight to those, and if you do know and like them, then you might very well end up wishing you were just rereading them directly in all their original glory without the interruptive layer of Toibin's earnest and effortful lyrical interpolation.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] delightful and debauched prose debut ... using the same offbeat intelligence, comic timing, gimlet skill for observation and verbal dexterity that she uses in both her poetry and her tweets, she delivers an unsparing yet ultimately affectionate portrait of faith and family. And her metaphors really are deserving of royalty status ... The frequency of her jokes and the grotesqueness of her hilarity lead to a high density of pleasure; virtually every page is packed with the potential to make the reader laugh out loud ... Priestdaddy gives both believers and nonbelievers a great deal to contemplate.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...simultaneously dazzling and apt ... With anger and lucidity, Luiselli depicts the nightmares these children are forced to flee in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as the destructive ignorance and bigotry that awaits them in America ... she invites us to consider what we want our own roles to be in how this transnational humanitarian catastrophe ultimately plays out.
MixedThe Chicago Tribune...[a] bellicose and bracing book ... Anybody who sets out to diagnose flaws in any movement is probably going to find a lot. So too is anybody who sets out to diagnose the flaws of the person pointing out the flaws. It's possible to come at Crispin's book with the intent of engaging in an infinite regression of flaw-diagnosing, a hall of mirrors of pointing hands. So it's worth mentioning that Crispin's book feels woolly at times and in need of better editing. It's also long on strawmen (strawwomen?) for its surprising lack of sources and specifics, and short on prescriptions for how to actually do the revolutionary work she rallies the reader to do ... A useful attitude when dealing with such a brickbat of a text might be to let the provocations have their intended provocative effect. And then, after the initial impact has settled, decide whether the missiles have really hit their mark — and whether we feel inspired to react.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...[an] eclectic and absorbing memoir and cultural history ... Throughout the pages of this erudite yet conversational book, Elkin sets about successfully persuading her audience that the joy of walking in the city belongs now — and has for ages belonged — to both men and women ... The book strikes a rewarding balance between present and past, as it establishes and illustrates the much-needed definition of the flaneuse as 'a determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk' ... Though the book derives its chapter titles primarily from geographic locations, as a whole it feels drifty and meandering, almost like a walk itself. Elkin's sections give the reader the sensation one often has with neighborhoods when one is strolling — the locations feel distinct, but the borders are vague.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] sweeping, deep and strikingly compassionate second novel ... Topical and timely, but thankfully neither pedantic nor preachy, Sekaran's book invites the reader to engage empathetically with thorny geopolitical issues that feel organic and fully inhabited by her finely rendered characters. Because of the way Sekaran examines the vagaries of economic inequality and the messiness of love in addition to the intricacies of immigration and adoption, Lucky Boy would make a promising pick for a book club. The circumstances feel well-researched, but Sekaran never lets that research get in the way of what is, at its core, a gripping story.
RaveElectric Literature...[an] exceptional personal essay collection ... after reading the 12 essays in this fantastic collection, I feel as though I know Chloe Caldwell, a statement which is a testament to the power and satisfaction to be found in her utterly funny, confiding, and self-aware skill as a writer.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] voluminous, humorous and wide-ranging new collection ... Hustvedt doesn't just offer up information, although there's plenty of it here; she also delivers it to her audience with an invigorating blend of personality and imagination ... Hustvedt's inquisitive and generous responses to paintings and poems give the reader the feeling of going to a museum or library with their most casually intelligent and infectiously enthusiastic friend ... Hustvedt tempers her presentation of knowledge with doubt, and the resulting book is paradoxically more satisfying in its thought-provoking ambiguity than all the confidently stated answers in the world.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...riveting and comprehensive ... Its 640 pages are packed with scientific, medical and social history, offering the reader a simultaneously intimate and sweeping understanding of the crisis ... amid this wealth of sources and data, France never lets the reader forget the human scale of the crisis ... How to Survive a Plague stands as a remarkably written and highly relevant record of what angry, invested citizens can come together to achieve, and a moving and instructive testament to one community's refusal — in the face of ignorance, hatred and death — to be silenced or to give up.
Sun Yung Shin
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books...[a] strange and captivating hybrid ... flexibility and willingness to interrogate even what poetry and art themselves consist of make Unbearable Splendor read like an irresistible invitation to test out and redefine notions of race, gender, and the rules that govern everything from creative writing to the political economy ... she joins the exhilarating ranks of poets who cross the borders of genre to use poetry/the lyric as essay ... an incredibly compact use of commanding and vibrant language which coheres into work that feels restless and deft, as cerebral as it is emotional.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneFor a book that is largely about the loneliness of a life lived through the distancing mediation of technology, Mickey is an arrestingly immediate and personal work ... [the] concise yet ever-unspooling structure evokes the reading of texts or tweets or status updates, building a similar tension to that found in scrolling and swiping ... If you enjoy futility, sarcasm, aggravation and art, then you will most likely enjoy this book as an excellent distraction from your own self-conscious and self-sabotaging brain.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThese interwoven voices are held together by the clever frame of the book's modern-day premise ... Far from being incapacitated, Ivey makes the most of the superabundance of her chosen subject, resulting in an absorbing reminder that, 'each of us is alive only by a small thread.'
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] brief, bizarre and brilliant debut ... Simultaneously straightforward and mysterious, the book illustrates the need for and calls into question 'moving on, as a concept' with Dad insisting that 'any sensible person knows that grief is a long-term project.'
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe Argonauts is a thrilling read for the way in which Nelson crafts an exceptional form uniquely suited to her exceptional content: the story of falling in love with the gender-fluid artist Harry (formerly 'Harriet') Dodge, building a queer family and having a child through IVF. Yet this summary can do neither the book nor Nelson's huge-brained and big-hearted ambitions for it justice. One could call what she has done a motherhood memoir, which it undeniably is, but that label risks reducing its scope, which is practically boundless ... a beautiful, passionate and shatteringly intelligent meditation on what it means not to accept binaries but to improvise an individual life that says, without fear, yes, and.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneFox understands that '(w)hen authenticity is in question it generates deep anxieties.' He elucidates in an intelligent and conversational style the many complex layers of aesthetic, class and social discomfort that often arise in the face of pretentiousness ... Fox's essay goes a long way toward making the compelling case that '(t)he pretensions of individuals from all walks of life — their ambition, their curiosity, their desires to make the world around them a more interesting place — is cultural literacy in action.'
PositiveThe Chicago TribunePacked with — as Mark puts it earlier in his non-reading reading — 'cosmic apercus and trippy metaphysical speculation,' Gone with the Mind is all strained anticipation and endlessly prolonged prologue. Leyner delivers an exercise in deferred gratification that is itself immensely entertaining and surprisingly gratifying.
RaveThe Chicago TribunePatience is stunning. Disturbing, convoluted, darkly comic and just plain dark, the book itself is a thing of beauty ... The book's self-awareness and sympathy make it more than just an exercise in the mixing of genres, but it's in this unabashed mixing that Clowes creates a story that is as transcendent as it is upsetting — and affirming.