RaveThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch... a history lesson on American drug use and drug laws, a crash course in chemistry and neuroscience, a multifaceted portrait of addiction and a look at how harm reduction programs can atone for the failures of the War on Drugs ... a finely woven and accessible analysis of the connection between university chemistry professors, dark web sales, drug cartels, law enforcement, and the dealers and addicts dependent on it ... Westhoff is a skilled and empathetic biographer, and this gift serves the composite of the dealers, users and bereaved of Fentanyl, Inc. Throughout the book are the human faces and voices of the crisis: their insights, their histories ... It’s in this focus on the human cost of the crisis, of empathy over criminalization, that this accomplished book feels most urgently important.
PositiveSt. Louis Post-DispatchMitchell’s stories don’t offer characters redemption or revelation, but confrontation. Often, characters escape only to circle back where they started ... Unnatural Habitats is steeped in place—rural roads, chicken farms and small towns where families know one another too well ... They’re dark stories with narrators who aren’t always sympathetic ... Mitchell’s strongest stories are her most tender, drawing us closest to her female protagonists through first-person narration ... they’re carrying pain and trauma and the weight of a difficult landscape.
RaveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchWard is a writer of lyric precision, and her evocative imagery shoots light through a dark novel ... Sing, Unburied, Sing’s story of grief, racism and poverty isn’t only Mississippi’s story but our country’s. So, too, let us hope, is its story of resilience and grace.
Lesley Nneka Arimah
RaveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchThe 12 short stories of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection, What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, are beautiful gut punches. Surprising, swift and vivid ... the range of What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky is expansive, and Arimah is as comfortable in the recognizable world of realist fiction as she is playing with genre ... This is essential reading from an exciting new writer.
RaveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchLincoln in the Bardo challenges the conventions of narrative. It’s a book without a central narrator and with a young ghost, who appears fleetingly and whose dialogue is limited. It’s a novel of fragmented voices that come together to form a kind of American collage. Magical realism meets historical novel. Portrait of an American icon at his most vulnerable and human meets bawdy comedy of ghost orgies and poop jokes. Some of the novel’s most graceful and touching moments are those of greatest risk, when the ghosts — black and white, male and female — enter the president’s body and give the reader his tormented thoughts ... Saunders has crafted a rare thing: a novel that manages to be both a moving tribute and silly fun that is richly unique in form. Lincoln in the Bardo shows us grief and love experienced by the most famous and obscure of American history and speculates on how the death of a little boy shaped the direction of the war and of our nation.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchIn 229 pages, with a small cast and spare narration, author Katie Kitamura explores the psychological landscape of a woman in a liminal space: no longer the dutiful wife but still performing the outward roles of one, in a situation where the alarm bells should be ringing but instead a wearied resignation has taken hold ... this is the central concern of Kitamura’s compelling, if often coldly elusive and claustrophobic, novel: the division between performed roles and our private identities, and at what point these performances consume the lives we should be living.
RaveThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch\"With clarity and compassion, Kang enters the voices of Dong-Ho’s best friend, his haunted mother, the editor of a book of plays so decimated by the censors they’re performed in silence, and the surviving rebels of the uprising. As in The Vegetarian, Kang has a command of visceral detail that she uses to hypnotic effect. Though her subject matter is terrifying, her prose is too beautiful, her images too perfectly crystallized to wince and turn away from them ... Human Acts is a slim novel weighted with philosophical and spiritual inquiry, but it offers no consolations. Rather, it grapples with who we are, what we are able to endure, and what we inflict upon other people \'with such a uniform brutality it’s as though it is imprinted in our genetic code.\'”
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchSome of Collins’ stories are just a few pages long and read like sketches rather than fully realized fiction, leading one to wonder how her work might have evolved had she had the time and attention to keep honing her craft. But the longer pieces of Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? are rich and satisfying ... offers graceful and ambitious examinations of race, sex and femininity.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch[Showcases Smith's] ... trademark wit and elegance ... The chapters in Africa are overlong and lack the satisfying details and precise observations of Smith’s London. As ever, the beauty of Smith’s work is in the grace and empathy with which she crafts her characters ... It’s this tenderness that makes the narrator’s mother one of the most endearing and vivid characters of Smith’s fiction.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchThe tension of We Eat Our Own plays out in Wilson’s impressive structure. It’s evident there’s more at stake here than an American actor’s career, as the novel brings in transcripts of an Italian court case ... one of the pleasures of We Eat Our Own is its attention to the inner workings of horror films. Wilson’s novel is a kind of all-access pass to the movie set ... an exciting, impressive debut.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchOne of the gifts of Behold the Dreamers is the love and sympathy with which Mbue shapes her characters. From a lesser writer, Clark and Cindy too easily could be made caricatures, Jende and Neni martyrs. Each character’s convictions and grievances, however misguided or extreme, are deeply rooted in their experiences of money and success ... a witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess. In her debut novel, Mbue has crafted a compelling view of 21st-century America.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchRyan’s characters are witty, strange and immersed in escapist fantasies ... Though there are weaker stories in the middle of the book, throughout the collection there’s a tenderness and attentiveness in Ryan’s stories, each character rendered with vivid compassion ... The Dream Life of Astronauts is a collection of small and lovely surprises — a book brimming with humor, compassion, and heartbreaks.
MixedSt. Louis Post Dispatch“Balancing 10 narrators is a difficult task, and Clegg mostly manages to keep these characters vivid and distinct. At times, however, what he seems to intend as a common stoicism and earnestness can instead make voices feel flatly indistinguishable.”