PositiveNPRThrough a series of darkly comic vignettes with epigraphs from Woolf\'s essay framing each chapter, she uncovers the city\'s incompetent governance ... But Moore\'s project here is not just to illuminate the city\'s chaos and who profits from it. Gentrifier is also an investigation of the costs—monetary, psychological, ethical—of her free house, and an ode to the neighbors who gave her life there inflections of joy. Gentrifier\'s overarching structure is linear ... Each chapter, though, unfolds in nonlinear fragments that combine jokes, facts, and reflections, all in the present tense ... This approach reenacts the exasperating paradoxes of life in the city, giving the feel of a comedy of errors ... just as Gentrifier is a potent testament that it takes more than just money and stable space in order to write, it also proves that individual will alone cannot create a culture that values women in literature.
MixedNPRSmile records Ruhl\'s coming to terms with her new face and the conundrums it presents, it is not limited to \'the story of a face,\' as the memoir\'s subtitle suggests. For much of the book, Ruhl\'s condition recedes into the background ... Smile proceeds linearly, and about two-thirds of it takes place in the two years after Ruhl\'s twins were born and thus after her Bell\'s palsy diagnosis, with interstitials that scatter away to abstractly explore smiling, symmetry and asymmetry, beauty standards, and loss ... Ruhl\'s writing on parenting and theater is engaging and insightful ... Later, Ruhl gives credence to the practice of physiognomy without noting that this pseudoscience was used to provide \'evidence\' for racism. These digressions — some of them belabored with explanation that does not trust the reader\'s intelligence (do we really need a primer on what gluten is in 2021?) — began to feel as though they served to avoid dwelling on Ruhl\'s personal experience of persistent facial paralysis and treatment thereof ... These insights allow for the reader to empathize, a crucial function of any illness narrative. But for much of Smile, she resists ascribing meaning to her decision-making around her Bell\'s palsy ... It is not until the last 50 or so pages of the book that she begins to grapple with why she evaded her own face ... Her mistake is that memoir does not require a single epiphany, but would do well to offer many moments of retrospective meaning-making.
PositiveNPRFight Night is narrated by Swiv, in the form of a letter to her missing father — a pair of risks that (mostly) pay off. Toews is a master of voice, and Swiv\'s, with its mix of precocious parroting of Mooshie and Elvira and exasperation with them, is one that I could read forever ... In Toews\'s hands, mundanity teems with comic detail ... The journey to this dark place is brief, and part of me wished for more dwelling in the hardest parts of these women\'s lives — a kind of reflection that a nine-year-old, even one who has seen as much as Swiv, cannot provide. But, as Elvira says, \'To be alive means full body contact with the absurd. Still, we can be happy.\' This is an apt mission statement for Toews\'s body of work. Fight Night makes an ardent, hilarious, and moving addition.
RaveNPR... while Seeing Ghosts would not exist without Chow\'s grief — while Chow would not be the person she is now without that grief — her project here aims for more than just mapping her primal anguish ... Chow was one of the cofounders of NPR\'s Code Switch, and her reporting background and deep interest in race, identity, and cultural history drives her memoir\'s larger project ... In writing about her mother\'s life and death, and what came before and after, Chow excavates her history and the ways that distance and longing refract across generations ... Memories like this, though startling, inject levity as Chow grapples with all she cannot know about her mother ... Chow has, in a way, preserved her mother, satisfied her request to be taxidermied. But she has also given up her ghost and released it to the world.
MixedNPR... a surreal exploration of chronic pain, women\'s believability and visibility, and desperation that straddles the line between comedy and horror ... Awad\'s choice to narrate the novel entirely from inside Miranda\'s head forces the reader to witness that pain in visceral detail, even if no one else does ... It\'s a claustrophobic perspective, one flooded with staccato, fragmented inner dialogue that reaches for bitter humor but often feels just plain bitter. The style had me impatient for the moment of transformation that I knew was coming, but that doesn\'t give the reader or Miranda respite until about 100 pages in. The slow pacing, though, reinforces the indictment at the heart of the book — how we fail one another by choosing to look away from pain.
PositiveNPRThrough piecing together her own family\'s story, the history of Chagas, and the stories of other patients\' illnesses, Hernández raises damning questions about which infectious diseases get attention and whom we believe to be deserving of care ... By starting with the personal, Hernández allows readers to comprehend how a bug bite rendered a woman sick for most of her life ... Hernández is trained as a reporter, and she approaches the quest to learn about kissing bugs with journalistic tenacity ... While meticulously researched, this section of the book lags as we lose the thread of how these insects, and the policy decisions around this disease, impact patients ... hits its stride in the last section, when Hernández tells the stories of poor and uninsured Chagas patients who face barriers in receiving appropriate care ... reminds us that our work at balancing health inequities cannot stop with controlling COVID domestically.
RaveNPR... powerfully maps a complicated mother-daughter relationship cut much too short ... Zauner\'s food descriptions transport us to the table alongside her ... a rare acknowledgement of the ravages of cancer in a culture obsessed with seeing it as an enemy that can be battled with hope and strength ...Zauner carries the same clear-eyed frankness to writing about her mother\'s death five months after her diagnosis ... It is rare to read about a slow death in such detail, an odd gift in that it forces us to sit with mortality rather than turn away from it.
MixedNPRIf \'White Debt\' was about the ease of colluding in whiteness, Biss\' new book Having and Being Had maps out the ease of colluding in capitalism ... While Having and Being Had does reckon with race, Biss\'s project here is broader: an inquiry into the American value system of buying and owning, and what we trap ourselves in when we invest in the trappings of the middle class ... behaves less like a collection of essays and more like poetry, reminiscent of Claudia Rankine ... Toward the end of the book, Biss writes \'if I were paid wages for the work of making art, then everything I do...would be subject to the logic of this economy.\' This presents several conundrums that Biss, for once, does not scrutinize ... By rooting each meditation in lived experience, Biss captures the way that the capitalist value system has weaseled itself into our everyday. She implicates herself ... What Biss seems to yearn for is not an alternate economic system with an emphasis on public and common goods, or one that values making art, but what she calls the \'gift economy\' she lived in as a young poet ... Having and Being Had made me question my aspiration for capitalist comforts, yes, but if making a salary and owning a home is not the answer, scraping by and giving away art doesn\'t seem like a viable alternative ... Having and Being Had—which illuminates capitalism for what it is, and records discomfort with it—is a start. But it is enough to dismantle the narrative of the system without pushing for change, both on the individual and larger levels?
PositiveThe BafflerIt’s all funny until it’s not ... capitalism looms threateningly in True Love, compounding the pain ... women are unable to reach their potential, professionally and personally, because of the crushing grind of making rent in New York and the foreclosure of a livable wage for writers and academics ... By the end...I was anxious for [the protagonist] to take loans from daddy and get the hell out of New York, and depressed that I felt that way ... True Love is too much of a send-up to sting...but for all its excesses, the bleak vision it presents does, too, feel depressingly real: Nina can’t see a way out of her abusive relationship because she can’t afford to move or live alone ... It is heartening to see...characters want for more than what the world has to offer them, instead of reacting to their circumstances with yet more ennui and anomie. But...it is the women—and not the systems they operate in—that are ultimately painted to be the cause of their own problems ... True Love enact[s] what it feels like to be worn down, not just by the world and its economics but by the way we choose to move through it. That is a worthy function...to invite us into feeling each woman’s precariousness, to understand both its systemic and personal roots. If we are still waiting on a book about women living in this era where fixing, getting better, is more than just a fantasy, perhaps we are still waiting for a world where it’s possible to fix.
Lynn Steger Strong
PositiveThe BafflerThe aspects of Want that make it so relatable stem from just how tired Elizabeth, a thirty-four-year-old white woman, is ... Where in a different kind of novel Elizabeth would stay numb—would want, more than anything, to feel nothing—Strong’s narrator desires more than her lot and acts on it ... Want, then, presents a recognizable vision of a certain kind of life under contemporary capitalism—one of downwardly mobile female exhaustion and thwarted dreams, yes—that still acknowledges the power of desire, and the danger of even the smallest desire for something better than the system has relegated to you ... Want draws liberally on Strong’s life...heightens its stakes and its appearance of reality. It is this quality that makes the impossibility of Elizabeth’s fulfillment, and the fact that her quest for it comes at a high cost for others, even more of a bummer ... It is heartening to see...characters want for more than what the world has to offer them, instead of reacting to their circumstances with yet more ennui and anomie. But in Want... it is the women—and not the systems they operate in—that are ultimately painted to be the cause of their own problems ... Want...enact[s] what it feels like to be worn down, not just by the world and its economics but by the way we choose to move through it. That is a worthy function...to invite us into feeling each woman’s precariousness, to understand both its systemic and personal roots.
RaveBOMB... a propulsive, transporting read ... In Godshot, Bieker poignantly depicts the pain wrought by a living mother who has a become unreachable ... Bieker has crafted a uniquely vile cast of characters to surround Lacey, and the utter selfishness that undergirds the believers’ behavior keeps us rooting for Lacey’s burgeoning self-actualization ... Beyond her mesmerizing world-building, what Bieker ultimately captures so well in Godshot is how flimsy the stories we tell ourselves reveal themselves to be when we reckon with them critically. Lacey teaches us that our desperate search for meaning in something bigger than us can ultimately lead to finding salvation within ourselves.
PositiveBOMB\"With this scarily plausible setup, Boggs nails the launching point for her satire of for-profit education and the unholy links between manipulation, money, and writing. But The Gulf is more than just a witty parody: Boggs uses the Ranch as a lens through which to examine our fractured country, where the inability to allow for ambivalence keeps us separated by a gulf. In Boggs’s ultimately redemptive novel, it is language—poetry—that bridges that gulf ... Boggs convincingly makes the case that the writing workshop can breed empathy ... Boggs gives Marianne more meaty matters to work out than will-she-or-won’t-she get back together with Eric—her primary dilemma before the students arrive—and thus lends The Gulf real depth ... Boggs makes us question who is worth signaling, and how.\
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
RaveBOMB\"These stories magnify what it means to be black in America—wherein your very presence can be deemed threatening, and therefore worthy of capital punishment—through a satirical, uncanny lens, reflecting back just how absurd and dehumanizing our reality is. They force us to reckon with our country’s toxic racism and consumerism while being compulsively readable and somehow even funny. Adjei-Brenyah pulls this off partly through his characters ... Adjei-Brenyah’s sharp prose keeps [one short story] sinewy and darkly humorous while simultaneously allowing for flashes of tenderness ... America might be dehumanizing, Adjei-Brenyah seems to say, but we can still be human.\
RaveBOMB\"The distance between Vera’s backstory and her mission in Argentina sets Knecht’s novel apart, making it more than just a suspense-driven romp of Cold War covert ops. Vera is no James Bond, with his glamour and gadgets, nor is she the anti-James Bond, John le Carré’s George Smiley, the bland, bespectacled, and balding expert in tradecraft. Vera is a deeply lonely lesbian living in a time of vice squads, and her history is as crucial to the plot as any suspicious man in a trench coat ... What kept me turning the pages in Who is Vera Kelly was not so much a desire to find out what Vera’s spying would reveal about Román’s plotting and its relationship to the coup. Instead, I found myself drawn to the bildungsroman folded into the spy novel. Balancing those two elements in alternating chapters that read like Vera’s diary entries, Knecht imbues the novel with emotional depth that allows for meditation on human connection and the ties that bind us to life’s worth.\