PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... the entire world of White on White is selectively outlined. What of it exists exists in crisp, clean prose ... the line between Agnes’s monologues, as reported by the narrator, and the narrator’s own speech and thoughts grows increasingly thin. Over time, the narrator is drawn into Agnes’s mental world, in all of its turmoil, yet, with a strange coolness, resists providing the compassion and reassurance Agnes seems to so desperately seek. The results of this thwarted intimacy move the story inexorably toward a finale that, for a book so invested in visual art, feels surprisingly most like an act of literary revenge.
Anthony Veasna So
RaveThe NationSo integrates Cambodian culture into his stories with a nonchalant verve, leaving transliterated Khmer unitalicized, unconcerned with decoding the honorifics of various family members for an English-speaking audience. Complex family and social dynamics play across the page in zippy dialogue and chatty, indirect speech ... Afterparties’ stories are sprawling, at times bewildering for their many narrative digressions, and consistently very funny, shot through with the kind of black humor that’s also saturated with grief. There’s a constant whiplash that happens in the text, the characters’ attention drawn repeatedly to the knowledge of what they, or their parents, have survived ... So’s stories feel alive and present. They’re meandering, too, just the way life is ... I’m struck by how dense it is, how steeped its pages are in Southeast Asian culture, which permeates the text the way incense scents every room in a house ... It is literature’s loss to have been deprived of a voice—bitterly funny, exuberantly sad—who would have loved to tell us about it.
C Pam Zhang
PositiveThe NationDespite the historical setting, the striking familiarity of Lucy and Sam’s narrative and the world we live in suggests that, despite the likely passage of 160 years, little has changed in the experience of racism as an Asian American ... The novel’s first part follows Sam and Lucy’s journey east; evocative and sharply honed, the prose can occasionally get mired in its lyricism. Zhang’s sentences are deliberately hewn to the point of fracture, the diction dry as the scorched landscape the siblings traverse, conjuring up rough gems embedded in earth. But as the two flee through the desert seeking sheer survival, Zhang deftly integrates their upbringing through a series of flashbacks ... As the novel progresses so, too, does the prose: The sentences begin to feel less arid as the story dives back into the past ... The book’s fantastical refiguring allows for some moments of narrative poignancy, particularly in dreamlike images like the repeated motif of a stalking tiger’s paw prints, which make literal the cultural and inherited trauma and perhaps even hope that link parent and child. In the book’s most magical and breathtakingly beautiful section, told from the point of view of their father’s ghost, we learn how Ba’s relationship with their mother came to be and the sacrifices it required from them and their community ... When Sam suddenly returns from years spent adventuring...Zhang’s lyrical prose is now activated again but at a brisk, thrilling clip.
PositiveThe NationLin’s use of a limited first-person is a canny device, allowing her to withhold the entirety of the family’s history, which she metes out slowly in intervals ... The result is a quietly dramatic novel that captures the confusion of childhood and the hazy quality of memory while depicting a family struggling to build a home in a harsh place ... At times, The Unpassing can feel unbearable to read. The starkness of human feelings on display, set against the otherworldly landscape of Alaska, with its endless summers and sunless winters, feels almost too raw and exposed ... The tempo at which Lin renders the doings of the family and the obstacles they face is slow but inexorable. The novel is emotionally bare, but it’s an austere, quiet kind of exposure ... The novel’s triumph is in Lin’s depiction of the relationship between parents and children and their shifting responsibilities to one another, developing over time. Its narrative also poses a difficult and poignant set of questions: How, in a family, can we love those who have wronged us? What secrets lie buried in our closest kin and why? Lin’s novel doesn’t offer any conclusive answer, because she is interested in something between knowing and not knowing. Narrating from that gap, she gives us a haunting story all its own.
RaveThe NationJoining a pack of survivors led by a charismatic IT guy named Bob—\'He was Goth when he felt like it,\' Ma writes, with the kind of sharp, offhand characterization that makes Severance a pleasure to read—Candace realizes that her survival may be more difficult with others than apart from them ... movement between past and present...makes the novel work: As Candace’s future becomes increasingly uncertain, and her path more dangerous, we come to realize what she’s already lost—long before the pandemic hit. This feat of pacing and plot is also what makes Severance stand out among recent works of millennial fiction: The whole novel is, in a way, about how we are but an accretion of everything that’s ever happened to us ... Tense and elegant, Ma’s writing...masterfully treads the line between genre fiction and literature. Part bildungsroman, part horror flick, Severance thrillingly morphs into a novel about self-worth, about the kinds of value we place on our own lives.
PositiveThe Nation...certain books are aware of being read. Crafted but self-conscious, these books luxuriate under the reader’s eye, ready for examination. And some go further still, tautly anticipating their readers’ responses. Private Citizens, the debut by Tony Tulathimutte, is one such novel, hyperaware of its embodiment ... This voice always seems to delight in being a half-step ahead of the reader—not to mention of the characters, who are astutely observed and terribly endearing, even at their worst ... Racism in America—where the fear of others and their perceptions so often guides reactionary behavior—lingers behind the novel’s plot. And because Private Citizens, with its millennial characters, is so much a part of its time, that reality haunts its reading, too ... Where Private Citizens succeeds is in its use of over-the-top scenarios, not because that’s how life really is, but because that’s how it really feels.