Laura Adamczyk is the author of the short story collection Hardly Children (FSG Originals, 2018). Her fiction has appeared in such publications as the Chicago Reader, Guernica, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. She’s currently a copy editor and the books editor at The A.V. Club in Chicago.
RaveThe AV ClubLockwood’s humor, considerable throughout, becomes even more potent in the second half. The quaking, manic pulse of it beats within the family’s ordeal, leaving little air between the comedic and the poignant ... So much of the book is concerned with how it feels to be extremely online and how it feels when \'real life\' takes one away from the internet, which makes Lockwood’s use of metaphor especially effective here. As in her poems and her memoir, Lockwood’s language remains colorful, absurd, ribald, transcendent. She may begin a sentence with a hushed lyricism, then pierce it with internet slang and coarse usage. In her visceral, often cartoonish prose, Lockwood does not take for granted that so much of what happens on the internet—the mimicry, the irony, the posturing—is merely the way things must go. Despite how often the book appears to be a \'snapshot\' of the internet during the Trump years, Lockwood isn’t taking a photograph; she’s bending reality back to its own strangeness ... No book so dedicated to the specifics of social media will ever feel entirely \'current\' to its reader ... The endless scroll is slippery and swift. No One Is Talking About This plants a flag amid rushing waters ... It can’t be overstated how daring Lockwood is in these passages. She risks the maudlin, the sentimental, the far-too-much. So many writers fail with far safer material. Lockwood bridges the high and the low, the profane and the holy, Garfield and a baby having a seizure ... With this novel, Lockwood shows what can happen when you open the door wide and let everything in.
PositiveThe AV Club... wander[s] and wonder[s] and suppose[s] more than it state[s] outright ... If Serpell sometimes becomes what she calls a Too Close Reader—fixating, for example, on a pair of mops in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho—she just as often arrives at surprising insights that see the familiar with new eyes.
RaveThe A.V. ClubThe narrator’s substantial wit often comes paired with self-recriminations and worry, the novel’s humor and melancholy each making the other more potent ... One of the book’s greatest strengths is its heady evocation of the senses—the pleasure and pain that comes with having a body ... While some of Luster’s plot moves can come across as convenient or even obligatory, Leilani settles comfortably into any given scenario ... the archetype Leilani has chosen suits her debut well—the protagonist who must go away in order to come back—if only because she takes full advantage of the form, using its bluntest markers as occasions to deepen an already candid, vulnerable character. That the language is often excellent doesn’t hurt either. Luster is lean and focused, yet dense with reference and detail, the lush prose heightening its tangible specificity. Leilani also makes smart use of the well-placed long sentence, the catharsis that can arrive when something comes to an end.
Fernanda Melchor, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveThe A.V. ClubMelchor conjures a tempestuous story that obliterates long-familiar portrayals of violence. In their place she sets spinning a whirling dervish of misogyny, homophobia, and superstition amid the mundane lives of the poor ... For all its heady lore, Hurricane Season also observes the fleeting gratifications of everyday life ... The author doesn’t slow down to pick any of this apart. She lets it swirl in an intoxicating eddy of warm beer and cheesy pop songs, crooked cops and a cemetery so full its graves look like \'pitcher’s mounds.\' Wild yet intentional, unsentimental and sometimes funny, Melchor’s prose runs counter to a certain prevalent American aesthetic wherein every line is stripped to its bare essentials, a style that looks bloodless and labored by comparison ... a stirring rhythm, at once vital and imbued with a nauseating inevitability. As subsequent chapters relate ever more desperate circumstances and sinister motivations, one sinks deeper and deeper into Melchor’s waking nightmare as into a pool of mud ... This is not, to put it lightly, a subtle work. Despite their specificity, the characters in Hurricane Season come second to the novel’s formidable cadence. It’s risky, too, to traffic in the kind of brutality Melchor does—rape, bestiality, even the tossed-off sexist assumptions men and women make about each other—but she wields it all expertly, and with the brio of a drunken dancer. What remains by novel’s end is the sense of a writer going for it, of breathlessly recounting an unsettling story, one with the terrible power of a myth.
MixedThe A.V. Club...revolting and a little funny while suggesting a complex truth ... Death In Her Hands will not satisfy as a strict mystery, in as much as the author does not appear concerned with keeping its secrets concealed for the vast majority of the book ... As ever, Moshfegh is recursive in her exposition, the mode in which the writer seems most comfortable ... Shame is an animating force in much of Moshfegh’s work, and here she lets it rip ... As the tension of the central mystery ebbs, the book becomes less a whodunit than a meditation on the act of creation itself and just what compels people to invent ... Here Moshfegh’s propensity to toy with absurdity occasionally tips over into outright ridiculousness and full-on cheese ... despite the fast pace of the prose and Moshfegh’s expert calibration of her protagonist’s mental state, one can hear the wheels grinding.
RaveThe A.V. Club... is written in carefully composed vignettes and features a self-aware protagonist with a wry sense of humor and keen eye for irony ... considers climate change from the point of view of someone not yet experiencing nor immediately at risk of its most severe effects—all relayed with a mix of pathos and gallows humor ... Offill smartly anchors her story in conflicts that have little to do with climate change, but which complicate the way she sees both ... Often more than any single grand idea, the pleasure of reading Offill is in her supreme attention to language and how precisely she unfolds her narratives. She never gives more than what is needed, and what she gives, for all her protagonist’s wryness, is often startlingly beautiful ... If Weather lacks the perfect focus of Speculation, it’s a matter of scale. The latter considers the end of a marriage; the former, the end of the world. What’s a little infidelity compared to that? ... Offill creeps. Plot is a slow and steady accumulation, akin to the frog-in-boiling-water metaphor so often used to illustrate climate change ... but by novel’s end, you will know how to start a fire with a gum wrapper and a battery. If learning such a skill is the unfortunate result of the narrator’s dread, then writing this affecting, witty, sometimes hopeful novel is the author’s. It may not prove as useful in a catastrophe, but like so many things we now take for granted, we are lucky to have it.
PositiveA.V ClubTaddeo has a strong sense of storytelling, setting hooks in each woman’s early chapters before circling back and unfolding their narratives with greater depth. Her short, punchy sentences, eye for telling details, and the wellsprings of conveyed emotion make for a charged, heady read. But such depth perhaps prohibits a greater breadth of stories told. The three central women are white, mostly heterosexual...and younger than 40 when Taddeo meets them, a view that appears especially limited when one considers the wide net the author cast in looking for her subjects ... Three Women is therefore best when taken as a very close study of a few particular individuals, as opposed to a broader treatise on female desire and sexuality. Today, women talking about sex is less transgressive than the marketing and press surrounding the book might suggest, and treating it as such gives more power to an outdated way of thinking—that sexuality, and female sexuality in particular, is rigid and shameful, which Taddeo seems to be trying to refute. These pages don’t reveal new truths so much as reinforce old ones.
PositiveThe A.V. ClubNot unlike the winding Mokelumne River whose banks Odell walks during her research, the writer herself often meanders. Topics range from performance art to Bartleby The Scrivener to bioregionalism to noncommercial social media platforms; a little too frequently she bases her arguments in metaphor ... her wandering is part of the point. How To Do Nothing presents, and affords, the kind of deep, ruminative thinking that can only occur over an extended period of time and outside of social media ... That one can finish the book without a strong sense of what to do also appears intentional.
Maylis De Kerangal Trans. by Sam Taylor
PositiveThe AV Club\"The perfect thing for those who get aroused reading bistro menus ... de Kerangal conjures the physicality of her subject through evocative language ... does not ignore the grueling, often violent world of professional kitchens. De Kerangal captures both the elegance and the grind ... It’s not a drawback that the book’s objectives are modest, its pace leisurely. Just as one waits for July to eat fresh tomatoes, this \'edible capsule\' is perhaps best read not when it comes out next month, but in the dog days of summer—while lazing in a hammock or eating on the patio of some European café not yet inundated with tourists.\
RaveA.V. Club\"In a narrative so sharp it could draw blood, Women Talking asks an immense, weighty question: How do women who have lived their entire lives in a society that severely limits their agency act when suddenly needing to exercise it? In grappling with this question, Toews, who was raised in a Mennonite town in Canada, has written a heated, heartbreaking story at once fundamental and contemporary ... The book’s passionate ideology can make it feel like a manifesto being composed in real time, but Women Talking is not a polemic dressed up as fiction. This essential novel is as electrifyingly alive for its masterful storytelling as for its clear, pointed critique of the patriarchy and the insidious nature of power. This is due in no small part to the indelible characters Toews has given life to ... In August, Toews has created a vessel worthy of carrying this story, proving it’s as powerful for others to listen, as it is for women to speak.\
RaveThe A.V. ClubThroughout The Collected Stories Of Diane Williams...her topical preoccupations may shift, but from the very beginning, Williams has demonstrated a horologist’s precision for how her sentences are made, down to the very syllable and phoneme ... One reads a Diane Williams sentence—each a charged, quaking world unto itself—as one reads each individual story: with little sense of where it will go. Each opening line throws the reader into an uncanny conflict, a tilted mood, a precarious predicament ... The stories that circle back on themselves are usually the most conventionally gratifying, their intent more recognizable; the others can sometimes feel arbitrary, or merely unknowable, and yet uncertainty is frequently the point. By embracing confusion, Williams shows a commitment to her own singular vision, one that resists satisfying the expectations of traditional fiction. Tensions arise within sentences, and in the surprising leaps made from one to the next.
PositiveAV/AUX\"In You’re On An Airplane, the Christopher Guest regular and Dazed And Confused scene-stealer recounts her life, both personal and professional, in a freewheeling style that can feel dizzying. She starts with one story, walks away from it or dives into an aside, before picking up the narrative thread and putting a button on the whole thing. It’s enjoyable in the way getting drunk can be: You don’t feel entirely tethered, but you’re having a good time ... You’re On An Airplane exemplifies Posey’s wry, devil-may-care sensibility ... Flitting among all the anecdotes and wordplay and wit, Posey frequently lands on moments of poignancy ... She’s a curious, enthusiastic iconoclast who’s willing to throw herself headlong into her life and craft—making those connections wherever she can.\
PositiveThe AV Club\"As in The Empathy Exams, there is a dynamic energy between Jamison’s personal experiences and the texts she examines ... As deftly as Jamison weaves her memoir’s various strands together, occasionally her extensive research slows the book down ... She’s written a singular, extraordinarily insightful memoir of addiction, one which she might insist is altogether ordinary. That a reader might recognize herself in these pages, familiar as they are, is, of course, part of their power.\
RaveThe AV Club\"In Johnson’s sticky-as-Velcro prose, The Largesse Of The Sea Maiden ruminates on mortality and what a life might yield. \'Certain odd moments\' and bizarre repetitions occur with startling frequency in these five stories ... This collection is not that of an old man wishing he’d done something different. Instead these characters accept their messy existences while scrambling for grace, frequently struck by just how goddamned wild and weird life can be ... This strange sense of interconnectedness is aided and abetted by the structure of these narratives. Reflecting the associative nature of memory, the stories bend and wind, collecting more and more repetitions along the way. Some pieces circle their subjects more tightly, while others wander seemingly off-course before their endings make clear what Johnson has been up to the whole time ... \'Triumph Over The Grave\' also underscores what a gift Largesse is, as the book puts forth Johnson’s thoughts on mortality—candid and plaintive and often terribly funny—so close to his own death. There’s a kind of uncanny magic at play here. In this his final work, he expands beyond the familiar while still giving us the writer we’ve always known; he allows, once again, the visceral pleasure of his strange, chewy language.\
PositiveThe AV ClubWhile the narrative may offer the novelty of deep-sea ship repair in the Rosie The Riveter age, the book stops there, leaving contemporary readers without the kind of surprising thematic significance that makes historical novels feel necessary ... Manhattan Beach delivers (what can feel like requisite) character crises and turning points, yet the story stretches out long and wide, and a little too evenly, weighed down with extra detail and setup ... Yet writing so skilled can disguise what’s missing. Reading this book can feel like walking through an elegant and impeccably decorated home, wherein every trinket and artwork is expertly placed, the mess of life hidden away ... Egan’s impeccable Manhattan Beach houses substantial concerns: the evolving relationships within families, social codes in the hypermasculine worlds of crime and the sea, homophobia, racism, and especially sexism in mid-century America.
RaveThe AV ClubLacey’s prose especially shines when describing the strange physical sensations Mary experiences during the PAKing sessions, though the author doesn’t display the same wild abandon in her writing here as she did in her Whiting Award-winning first novel, 2014’s peripatetic Nobody Is Ever Missing, which was full of long, winding sentences that tumbled forth with unrestrained verve. Those inclinations occasionally pop up here, but the screws are tightened in favor of plot; the novel’s abundant, penetrating thoughts on love and self; and in-depth characterization of even ancillary players ... Lacey writes loneliness and solitude with a profound depth, injecting life into the anxious fluttering of those wondering, wandering individuals who just don’t know what to do with themselves and who can’t stop asking life’s most impenetrable questions.
PositiveThe AV ClubThere’s a great deal of pleasure in her line-by-line writing; the author can describe even a seminarian’s ordination ceremony in a colorful, unexpected way, her prose dyed with bizarre sexuality, religious eroticism, and slapstick timing. Lockwood churns out oddball imagery at a breakneck pace, and she, luckily, has a lot of material to work with ... While Lockwood meanders at times within the episodic structure, she anchors the book with insights into how she, an atheist surrealist poet, could have possibly come from these two distinctly nutty people ... The drawback to Lockwood’s boundless, loquacious energy is that the book goes on for far too long, with seemingly every potentially entertaining anecdote included. With the book spanning out like a long-running sitcom, its latter third feels like it won’t provide any new revelations. Which is to say, not all of Priestdaddy’s stories are necessary, though Lockwood’s bad mouth certainly is.
MixedThe AV ClubLike Jeremy, many of Universal Harvester’s characters suffer from an extreme passivity, too scared of seeming rude or overstepping to act, and the story, unfortunately, suffers for it, too ... Darnielle often justifies his characters’ actions more generally, too, instead of letting readers perform their own interpretations, the prose becoming clotted with such exposition ... Yet the novel also holds welcome surprises. Early on, the third-person narration is interrupted by an unexplained first-person voice, spliced into the prose like the black-and-white snippets found on Video Hut’s commercial movies. Other delightfully creepy moments occur ... Action that would best be rendered as complete scenes is often summarized, its power never fully realized on the page. Like Darnielle’s first novel, 2014’s Wolf In White Van, Harvester stumbles in its execution of an intriguing, nay fascinating, premise. As in his songwriting, here Darnielle displays a big heart and a strong sense of place; with some refining on the page, those things could really sing.
RaveThe AV ClubIf the characters in Moshfegh’s stunning debut short story collection have anything in common, it’s that they’re after some kind of life improvement, yet they go about achieving it in all the wrong ways, often deceiving or mistreating others in the process. Moshfegh displays a preternatural ability in short fiction, her stories impeccably shaped, her sentences sharp, and her voice controlled and widely confident; the stories of Homesick For Another World are near perfect examples of the form ... Such bad behavior may seem shocking, yet it exists along the spectrum of more everyday transgressions—spinning the truth, telling white lies, deluding oneself. Shifts take place within these characters, but Moshfegh doesn’t force them into epiphany or contrition; rather, like an indifferent god, she watches them impassively, waiting to see what terrible thing they’ll do next.
PositiveThe AV Club...[an] insightful, generation-defining collection of essays ... Throughout the book, Witt positions herself as the curious outsider looking in, though for all its titillating subject matter, she maintains an intellectual, critical tone. Her humor is wonderfully dry throughout, making her more expressive, vulnerable moments all the more powerful ... Equally effective in broad strokes as in her on-the-ground journalism, Witt’s prose is most like Didion’s when defining a particular milieu of well-educated, city-dwelling millennials.
PositiveThe AV Club...[a] highly enjoyable and hilarious debut collection ... Klein does a particularly good job of describing how contradictory it can feel to live as a woman who recognizes the ridiculousness of traditional feminine ideals yet still wants to fulfill them ... One can almost hear her voice dipping down at the end of shorter pieces, wrapping things up neatly to arrive at an easy-to-digest significance. While those tidy endings and shortcuts to meaning might be more forgivable in a live medium, here they make some pieces seem abrupt, ending just as they start to get somewhere really good. Which is too bad, because Klein is fun, intelligent, fiercely observant, and hilarious.