RaveThe AtlanticTo try to understand this most incomprehensible state, we need varied and probing narratives, ones that change as Florida changes and are told by people who love the state too deeply to refrain from blistering criticism. Into this role steps the native South Floridian memoirist Kent Russell with his sharp, brilliant, mean, and exasperating hybrid book ... By exasperating, I mean that I’ve never read an account of our gorgeous and messed-up state that is a more appropriate match of form and function. Russell’s book is a braid of diverse strands that shouldn’t work together and yet do ... Russell excels at...delightful nutshell histories, many of which involve a measure of both peril and con-artistry. The backstories of air-conditioning, hurricanes, orange cultivation, Walt Disney, and Miami, in Russell’s telling, all feature some element of wildly ambitious delusion and/or a hair’s-breadth escape from disaster ... Russell is at his best when he offers cultural commentary, dropping his gonzo persona and becoming wickedly insightful ... What undergirds Russell’s narrative of Florida is despair as invisible, dark, and pervasive as the limestone bedrock that sits beneath the state. To me, this feels like both the real and the true story of Florida ... As Russell puts it in his hilarious gut punch of a book—a book that anyone who is interested in not only Florida, but the whole country, should read—\'How long before a society of atomized individuals rightfully following only their desires, heedless of what they owe others, destroys itself?\'
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewA few pages into reading American Dirt, I found myself so terrified that I had to pace my house ... the narrative is so swift, I don’t think I could have stopped reading ... Their painful and thirsty hours in the desert haunt me still ... contains few of the aspects that I have long believed are necessary for successful literary fiction; yet if it did have them, this novel wouldn’t be nearly as propulsive as it is. The book’s simple language immerses the reader immediately and breathlessly in the terror and difficulty of Lydia and Luca’s flight. The uncomplicated moral universe allows us to read it as a thriller with real-life stakes. The novel’s polemical architecture gives a single very forceful and efficient drive to the narrative. And the greatest animating spirit of the novel is the love between Lydia and Luca: It shines its blazing light on all the desperate migrants and feels true and lived ... Perhaps this book is an act of cultural imperialism; at the same time, weeks after finishing it, the novel remains alive in me. When I think of the migrants at the border, suffering and desperate, I think of Lydia and Luca, and feel something close to bodily pain. American Dirt was written with good intentions, and like all deeply felt books, it calls its imagined ghosts into the reader’s real flesh.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...very funny ... the until-then affable novel exploded my expectations and became unlike anything else I’ve read ... July is exceptional at tracing the imaginative contours of sexuality, and Cheryl’s awakening, though sparked by physicality, becomes most frenzied in her head ... Like many of us, July seems to have unbridled daydreams. Unlike most of us, she has wicked follow-through ... Miranda July is a woman, and a very serious writer who is also very funny. She’s challenging. Feed \'whimsy\' to the birds ...The violence of the women’s relationship will probably turn some readers away, though I found no real shock in it, mostly a sense of glee and wild expansion ... The elision of all things external to immediate focus is useful in a short story, with its necessarily small span, and July is a brilliant practitioner of short fiction. But in this longer work, the elision feels like an artificial limit. The book ends in precisely the way any perceptive reader who reaches Page 8 would predict. By then, the novel’s conventional shape has neutralized some of its early strangeness and potency. The story is a smaller one than it promised early on ... The First Bad Man, which makes for a wry, smart companion on any day. It’s warm. It has a heartbeat and a pulse. This is a book that is painfully alive.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewDeborah Eisenberg speaks in the voice of a despairing god: wry, cool, resonant, capable of three dimensions of irony at once, besotted with the beauty and tragedy of this darkening planet of ours ... Every story in the new collection...holds at least one image that can knock you to your knees ...Beauty that spreads through the mind and lingers there in alterations so deep they’re almost physical: This is what I love most about Eisenberg’s work ... Eisenberg is a gorgeous writer of lines and dialogue and paragraphs, all the artistry in the marks upon the page, but even more deeply — and much more interestingly — she is an artist of the unsaid ... Stare hard, Eisenberg tells us, and watch the banal world transform into marvels ... I thank my stars that there’s a writer in the increasingly imperiled world as smart and funny and blazingly moral and devastatingly sidelong as she is.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleWhile it could plausibly be either a linked story collection or a novel, it is neither fish nor fowl, but, rather, a lovingly befinned and befeathered chimera of both ...are 14 swift, consecutive stories in the book, most of which stand firmly on their own ...a dazzled reader has to put down the book for a time to allow the narratives to gently sink in ...we are taken in such a rapid-fire manner through the history of Blackwell, in a way that dismisses to oblivion most of the characters as soon as their stories are over, the book's necessary anchor quickly becomes the town itself ...only the elements of a town is akin to describing a person by listing physical characteristics, and the parts of Blackwell never congeal to become a unique and vivid place of its own ...the most satisfying way to think of The Red Garden is as a book of poetry poured into a prose mold.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewEugenides has always been a sharp and exacting writer, and nearly every one of the stories in this collection is teachable, a model of its own kind of Swiss-clock craftsmanship … Still, teachability may be the second-highest praise one can give a story; the very best short stories are profoundly unteachable, coming to a reader from a place beyond obvious craft...Of the 10 stories in Fresh Complaint, two have reverberated this way in my mind in the month since I first read the book, a pretty good score for any collection of short fiction … The stories in Fresh Complaint give the impression that they fell, already ripe, into Jeffrey Eugenides’s hands. What a shame, when we know how far he can stretch.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleRussell has deep and true talents: Ava is a fabulous narrator, loyal, brave and loving, and by this point, the book seems to be developing into an offbeat version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. As a state, Florida is so very odd that mere close observation can show it in its full weird glory, but the power of Russell's prose makes the swamp unforgettably visceral … For as lovingly written as the book is, however, it is also erratically structured, shaped more like a banjo than the jagged Freytag's pyramid used to demonstrate arc in beginning fiction classes … If given a choice between an inconsistent but passionate book like Swamplandia! and a more perfect and self-serious effort, I'd choose passion, the tightrope walk, the fearsome alligator wrestle.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAs with The Orphan Master’s Son, there’s a great deal of comedy to be found in Fortune Smiles, though the humor in this new book is offset by a darkness so pervasive I found it seeping into my daily life. Despairing men are at the heart of each of these tales, most of them protagonists on the cusp of being antagonists ... Each of these stories plants a small bomb in the reader’s head; life after reading Fortune Smiles is a series of small explosions in which the reader — perhaps unwillingly — recognizes Adam Johnson’s gleefully bleak world in her own ... When comedy is applied to tragedy over and over, it can start to take on an element of defensiveness; cumulatively, it can feel as if Johnson is holding the reader at arm’s length by how cheery his darkness can be ... Among authorial sins, defensiveness feels minor, but when one is being asked to be moved by a story, when the story is so clearly the most heartfelt one in the book, anything distancing that has been inserted in the space between the author and the reader does matter. Perhaps this is to say that the stories in Fortune Smiles may be best appreciated when taken out into the sunshine one by one.
PanThe New York Times Book Review...the book’s greatest strength lies in the clarity with which Alice’s disease unfolds, and the most touching bits are a series of stand-alone case studies of the patients Alice and Oliver encounter briefly in the hospital...But when characters are sketches with underdeveloped relationships, the losses they experience can’t exert an emotional hold on the reader, who can’t follow them into their guilt or their bouts of weeping.