PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewThe speculative conceit reigns in contemporary publishing, where few novels live up to their promise of revelatory social commentary. But a particularly good one can still tempt even the most cynical of readers ... If occasionally heavy-handed...Yagi has a light touch for the endless ironies made possible by her premise. There is humor ... As the lie starts to become surreal, palpable abdominal kicking and an apparently legitimate sonogram briefly make the reader think that maybe our narrator has actually been tricking us, or herself, all along. The novel’s conclusion is thankfully less pat: In the end we’re left with nothing but the void, \'just big enough for one person.\'
MixedHarpers... the new work has turned out to be a straightforward continuation of the old, with the minor characters of Goon Squad getting the kind of focus that the major characters got in the previous work ... To Egan’s credit...semi-speculative technology isn’t exactly central to the novel; it doesn’t provide a totalizing structure through which a selling premise can be easily expressed ... Still, although the presence of a connection machine here doesn’t fundamentally alter the kinds of relationships Egan focuses on—among families, exes, co-workers, and drug dealers and their customers—it does make the book feel different, and probably worse, in a helpless and inevitable kind of way ... What’s so cleverly recursive about Own Your Unconscious, equal parts Charlie Kaufman and Elon Musk, is that it allows users to see exactly whether and how things used to be different ... Egan’s relentless genre bending threatens the narrative immersion that is her greatest strength ... Egan’s tendency to explain, at least twice, the clever moves she makes is similarly deflating, and she always has to add an extra adjective, so you know the description you’re reading is not a normal description—it’s a description in a novel ... It’s unfortunate that Gregory has inherited his father’s hokey optimism, though I suspect his dad’s purple prose will serve him well on Goodreads. Things may change, but not that much. Still, it turns out Egan’s novel does have a message: novelists have always been spies, and we’re watching you.
PanHarper\'sAngier’s Speak, Silence is the first major biography of Sebald to appear in any language, and her approach both confirms his swift canonization in the Anglophone world and suggests there is something a little weird about it ... As if hoping to prove that she has done a lot of research, she spends pages and pages detailing the various possible influences for Sebald’s fictional characters; the result is often a deeply confusing timeline, ominously foreshadowed leads that end up going nowhere (Sebaldian), and the conclusion that, like most fictional characters, his were composites. She also includes armchair psychologizing by people not particularly close to Sebald, admitting their gossip is unprovable but allowing nevertheless that it seems \'deeply true\' ... From the beginning, it is difficult to trust much of what Angier says, and her kitschy style made me long for Sebald’s Gothic melodrama, and want to defend him from her misguided approach.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewChin’s specificity and wonderfully drawn minor characters add depth and richness to a story that another writer might have washed out with the glaring light of moral clarity ... What emerges is not only a subtly provocative depiction of the tech industry, and this country, as tilting ever more off-kilter; but also a realistic portrayal of a woman in crisis. Edwina’s problems are of the kind that can’t be solved through faulty logic or convenient substitution, but of course we humans, not yet the best versions of ourselves, will try the faulty logic and convenient substitution anyway.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWhat’s surprising is not the plot itself, but its wholesomeness — despite all the novel’s trappings of tech skepticism ... Asha offers little analysis of the topic about which she is supposedly an underappreciated expert, and as a result the book demonstrates an overall acceptance of the tech industry and its machinations, suggesting its problems can be solved merely by giving women a seat at the table ... Even as the idealist tenets of WAI’s manifesto — no trying to persuade people to buy things, no spying, the team is paramount — crumble, the earnestness with which Anam approaches her characters papers over the selfishness, cynicism and myopia that pervade their insular world. And the heavy foreshadowing suggests a much bigger marital breakdown than the Paltrowian conscious uncoupling we get instead. Although Asha is supposed to be the talented foil to a man who thinks he can get by on good will and charisma, she never keeps the novel itself from trying to do just that.
Tove Ditlevsen, trans. by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
RaveHarpersWhat might seem in other writers a retroactive precocity is believable here. Ditlevsen is self-deprecating and effective at conveying the fish-eye view of a child in a claustrophobic environment; she understands that part of the memoirist’s job is to remember how life felt and synthesize it in a way she couldn’t have at the time ... Ditlevsen is a master of slow realization, quick characterization, and concise ironies ... The appeal of a memoir is not that it contains stable facts, but rather a stable perspective, and part of the propulsion of these odd books is Ditlevsen’s steadiness ... Her unlikely success as an advice columnist must have had to do with her ability to see herself as clearly as she saw others, which involved seeing how she was different ... What is superficially unstable is revealed to have a much deeper connection to real events than it appears; it’s the book’s separation from reality that allows it to express what is true. Similarly, when Ditlevsen published her first poetry collection, she thought, \'The book will always exist, regardless of how my fate takes shape.\' To bring things back to marketing, this means you don’t have to advertise that an author died by suicide on the back of her book. The work is important; the fate is merely a fact.
PositiveLondon Review of Books (UK)Peters is not patronising ... Peters’s mastery of plot and pacing allows her to move easily from descriptions of the effects and logistics of hormone replacement therapy to passages about the politics and pleasures of sleeping with ‘tranny chasers’ to discussions of the near impossibility of adopting a child as a ‘double-trans couple’. It’s about as open and accommodating as a novel can be ... The naughtiest thought I had while reading was that the novel recalls the work of Jonathan Franzen ... If the novel sometimes approximates the gossipy melodrama of chick lit, then perhaps it could be considered ‘radical’ in the way a trans woman becoming a Brooklyn basic might seem radical. But Peters is up to something more interesting. (Devious, even.) The book is full of swaps, reversals, projections and scenes that challenge the conventional wisdom of the left while simultaneously provoking transphobic crusaders of all political persuasions ... The most daring of Peters’s interventions belongs to the basic outline of her plot: it’s a story about two queers who try to convert a straight, cis woman to a queer lifestyle ... To be clear, I think this is very cool ... Detransition, Baby is a book ‘about’ trans women, about varieties of trans experience, but it is also a story about the possibilities and limits of what Peters calls ‘affinity’. While she links transition with divorce throughout the novel—which is dedicated to ‘divorced cis women, who, like me, had to face starting their life over without either reinvesting in the illusions from the past, or growing bitter about the future’—she also articulates what happens when you run up against someone who is not like you.
RaveHarpersShirley Hazzard is a perfectionist’s writer. Her books, composed of dense, layered sentences, are like the sort of difficult, delicate cakes no one bothers to make anymore. They’re slender yet solid, consummate, as fascinated and affected by the mysteries of experience as they are self-assured ... Where contemporary aphorists call on the reader to fill in the gaps of their fragmented narratives, often visually represented as white space, Hazzard manages to traverse incredible spans of time and emotion from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph while fastidiously ensuring everything the reader needs to understand is there ... Her writing requires the sort of sustained attention she believed art deserved, but her relationship with her reader is always reciprocal: she doesn’t create mystery but reveals its vital place in life ... Her narratives are structured as inevitabilities in a way that heightens the role and significance of the writer without overstating it; events are heavily foreshadowed, and history, particularly the World Wars, is always refracting the present and future. At the same time, one of her strengths is the way she makes the random occurrences that appear throughout her work—sudden deaths, strange illnesses, the heartbreak of unplanned romance on the eve of a planned departure—truly stunning, the way they would be in life ... Like love, great art always seems to contain some portion of inexplicability, but the argument Hazzard developed throughout her career was, in fact, empoweringly rational: it’s only in the telling that chance becomes fate. In the telling, it is obvious,\' the narrator of The Bay of Noon says. \'In the telling, all things are.\'
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThere is a sense that Biss is after something specific, even if she doesn’t know what it is. Metaphors are tested, ironies pressed upon. Etymologies abound, as do precise distinctions: the difference between a privilege and a luxury, between work, labor, service and care ... Having and Being Had is meant to be the kind of book most authors have dreamed of: one that does not sacrifice any of the writer’s egalitarian, socialist principles while nevertheless earning her a hierarchical, capitalist income, which can then let her produce more books ... Opposing ideas unified in a tense symbiosis—double meanings, awkward reversals—appear often throughout the book. The idea is that Having and Being Had is hip enough to critique the conditions of its own creation. But how impressive is that, really, if Biss has set the conditions of its creation precisely to critique them? ... Some sections seem almost entirely composed of quotations and paraphrases; the contemporary scholars Lewis Hyde, Alison Light and David Graeber, among others, are cited so often that it seems part of Biss’s plan to buy time had to involve stealing it from other writers.
PositiveBookforumAs in Moshfegh’s previous novels, there’s something winking and unreliable about Vesta; what’s new is that there’s also a lot that’s believable and earnest about her ... Moshfegh makes it increasingly clear that this is not a pat thriller with a big, twisted aha, but something more unwieldy—an actually surprising fusion, or confusion, of the levels of the text ... Walter’s exercises in futility always seemed purposeful and productive; Vesta’s, we come to realize, are less deluded, yet this only seems to generate more madness. She can’t quite write Walter out of her own elaborate self-dialogue, even when it causes her to break down—a real breakdown, not a caricature, which Moshfegh paces beautifully and recursively. She allows the reader’s skepticism of Vesta to build by accumulating coincidences, impossibilities, and overdeterminations until Vesta recognizes that she, too, has been playing herself.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewWiener was, and maybe still is, one of us; far from seeking to disabuse civic-minded techno-skeptics of our views, she is here to fill out our worst-case scenarios with shrewd insight and literary detail ... Wiener is a droll yet gentle guide ... Wiener frequently emphasizes that, at the time, she didn’t realize all these buoyant 25-year-olds in performance outerwear were leading mankind down a treacherous path. She also sort of does know all along. Luckily, the tech industry controls the means of production for excuses to justify a fascination with its shiny surfaces and twisted logic ... It’s possible to create a realistic portrait of contemporary San Francisco by simply listing all the harebrained new-money antics and \'mindful\' hippie-redux principles that flourish there. All you have to do after that is juxtapose them with the effects of the city’s rocket-ship rents: a once-lively counterculture gasping for air and a \'concentration of public pain\' shameful and shocking even to a native New Yorker. Wiener deploys this strategy liberally, with adroit specificity and arch timing. But the real strength of Uncanny Valley comes from her careful parsing of the complex motivations and implications that fortify this new surreality at every level, from the individual body to the body politic.
PanThe GuardianThere’s a lot of area to cover between not yet and too late. O’Connell zigzags across it many times, but he sticks to well-trodden paths, from relatable observations about his own ultimately hypocrisies to theoretical interpretations: the apocalypse as patriarchy, as white-supremacy, as colonialism, as genocide, as luxury consumerism, as a projection of the individual’s anxiety about his own death ... A guide’s job is to show you what you expect, just more so: a representation of reality that emphasises what you always believed. It rarely has much to do with the guide’s own life ... for much of the book, O’Connell doesn’t portray himself as a critic, or an author – he portrays himself as the protagonist of a novel. He can’t help but frame the story as a reluctant hero’s journey, a mid-life Bildungsroman ... As he peppers the text with explicit literary references, he also finds himself in situations that quietly imitate art ... Signs, symbols, explanations of those signs and symbols, and incredible coincidences abound, so often that I suspected O’Connell must have compressed, massaged, or otherwise altered what actually happened to fit the story he wanted to tell. At first, I wondered if his high-flown language was a wink at the gravity apocalypse inspires in people; as the book went on, I had to admit he was mostly serious ... But most damning is his treatment of other people, which reveals a more significant hypocrisy than claiming to care about the environment while still using an iPhone, the production of which destroys the world ... To treat these stories as prophesies is to miss the point of fictions completely. They’re supposed to be like life. By attempting to make the reverse true, to make reality fit into a fiction, O’Connell hasn’t really overcome his apocalyptic imagination.
MixedThe New YorkerIf the times are unprecedented, how much can you really expect from a novelist? Accepting the premise, critics often praise such books for their ability to depict reality rather than for their ability to respond to it, critique it, or engage with it. Representation—and its attractive counterpart, relatability—are celebrated as achievements rather than acknowledged as the baseline from which a novelist should begin her work ... Offill has said that her books involve extensive research, taking years to finish, but their fragmentation and plain, leading style are fundamentally passive. Every sentence is potentially meaningful; it’s the reader, activated by dread, who ends up searching for clues, chasing the narrative like a spy, or a conspiracy theorist. Lizzie’s observations are often amusing, but there’s no reason they should be organized as a novel and not as a particularly literate Twitter feed ... In replicating the experience of being online, Offill conveys the paranoiac mood of the present, but she ignores the strength of the novel as a mode, which is its ability to reflect a mind that is contained in a body that exists in the world, a mind that may be hyperaware of its time but is not actually trapped in it.
PositiveThe London Review of Books (UK)After reading [the stories] once I couldn’t remember anything about them – the titles, the characters, structures, written in first or third person, what (if anything) happened in them, lines I liked, even what the book was called. Usually I find my least favourite aspects of a book not only memorable, but impossible to forget; these, too, I had no sense of ... It isn’t just the lack of plot or setting or proper names (though there isn’t much of any of this). The book is a bit like drinking: refreshingly obliterative, realistically distorted. The disaffected young woman has replaced the disaffected young man as semaphore for social problems, but while many recent authors – among them Ottessa Moshfegh, Halle Butler and Catherine Lacey – have attempted to evoke the depths of hopelessness plumbed in the last decade or two, Flattery’s nihilism is uniquely uncynical; she actually seems to believe that nothing matters ... Flattery makes it easy not to get caught up in the detail because these women don’t either: they’re too exhausted, or mad, or depressed ...The clipped quirkiness of her prose relieves the text of the burden of narrative, which to Flattery usually means tedious contrivance or self-serving sentimentality ... Each story – there are eight – is narrated as though its anti-protagonist is in a transitional phase of her life, post-traumatic and drifting, the sort of phase she might make light of by describing it as a time when she watched a lot of reality TV...
PanLondon Review of BooksThese critics aren’t hysterical because they have uncontrollable, misunderstood responses to social problems; they perform hysteria because they know their audience respects the existence of those problems, and the chance that they may be sincere makes them difficult to criticise ... At the sentence level, it’s not difficult to understand what hysterical critics are saying; rather, it’s so easy that their lack of precision doesn’t matter ... She primarily uses personal experience to substantiate – rather than ‘get to the bottom of’ – her ideas, though her tendency towards hyperbole has the effect of making them seem entirely subjective ... The other purpose of personal experience in these essays is to act as a kind of disclosure or waiver. It may be risky for a millennial author to declare herself delusional and claim that scamming is ‘the definitive millennial ethos’;it may also keep her from looking like a delusional scammer ... In order to solve the problem of her possible wrongness, she adopts an elevated version of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist programme, constantly contradicting herself and referring to her shortcomings, among which are attention seeking, a desire for control, and equivocation ... calibrated for success in a media culture in which acknowledgment equals absolution and absolution is seen as crucial to success. Because no negative realisation about herself seems to keep her from committing the same crime in the next essay, the effect is akin to getting in ahead of criticism, PR-style, in the hope of lessening its impact on the brand ... Tolentino makes everything about her ... Much of the frenetic confusion she feels is a consequence of her overconfident warping of texts and situations. More than once she characterises rational feelings of conflict about what she knows is an ‘endlessly complicated’ issue – the difficulty of living in Kyrgyzstan for a year, say, or her indecision about whether she wants to get married – as ‘going insane’, revealing not only her inability to assess inputs and apply proportion but also her gross misapprehension of the ‘collective morality’ she claims to subscribe to. She is careful to mention her relative ‘luck’ and privilege before she complains, but usually only so that she can justify aligning herself with the suffering of people with whom she has little in common, making her experience seem worse and theirs not that bad ... For readers hoping to optimise the process of understanding their own lives, Tolentino’s book will seem ‘productive’. But those are her terms. No one has to accept them.
MixedThe New YorkerThree Women is a book for people who enjoy embarrassment by proxy, which Taddeo uses to emphasize just how \'relatable\' these stories are. In addition to comprehensive sex scenes, Taddeo favors the knowing presentation of details that are meant to resonate with a large number of people ... This is capable, playful portraiture, at ease with the comedy of desire even as its tragic outcome looms. But, elsewhere, Taddeo’s view of women as both impossibly complicated and fundamentally constrained leads her to ascribe nonsense and clichés to them ... Taddeo’s use of the close third person camouflages the source of these infelicities even as she seeks to expose the source of the women’s problems. The result is moral ambiguity at the level of the book’s form rather than its content ... Conventions of reporting do occasionally enter the text, to great effect ... She seems to forget that a book, regardless of its mode, is not the same as a personal story or something shared over a kitchen table...By eliding the difference between the two, Taddeo replicates the conditions she purports to lament: she offers these women up to be judged ... Although she asserts in her epilogue that \'women have agency,\' she tends to patronize her subjects, emphasizing the fact that people may not understand their conflicting emotions.
Andrea Dworkin, Ed. by Joanna Fateman and Amy Scholder
PositiveThe New Yorker\"Dworkin was a lucid, scarily persuasive writer ... The anthology is as much an account of Dworkin’s life as it is a presentation of her work ... What’s so exciting to watch, reading Last Days, is not [Dworkin\'s] political trajectory but the way her style crystallized around her beliefs ... [Dworkin\'s] sentences barrel forward, strong-arming the reader with unlikely pauses or abrupt images; they force \'you to breathe where I do, instead of letting you discover your own natural breath\' ... The baroque logic of Dworkin’s arguments is usually balanced by the straightforward conviction that she gave them on the page ... [Dworkin\'s] prose has a swift, natural fluidity that reveals a holistic view of humanity; on a single page she brings together close readings of novels, historiography, etymology, political crusading, and philosophical meditations that themselves would be at home in a (great) novel.\
PositiveThe London Review of BooksBecause of Toews’s light touch and the thorough reporting of Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, it’s sometimes difficult to keep fictional and real events apart, though they pointedly diverge at certain moments ... would these women really rally together in a secret meeting, conduct a civilised and democratic debate, and then, consciousness-raised and liberated, go off into the night with stolen food and money? We know they would not ... It’s a rare writer who can pull off an optimistic reimagining of such a story without succumbing to meaningless uplift or forcing a happy ending ...The phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’ comes from Coleridge...and the idea is useful here. Both the women and the bereft August are challenged to keep their faith – or suspend their disbelief – despite the cruelties of their circumstances. Meanwhile, the reader is asked to suspend her disbelief – maybe by substituting it with some kind of faith in humanity – in this act of female imagination, beyond a point ordinarily required in fiction.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"The humor in this book is subtle yet potent, always followed by a lifelike echo of absurdity ... Were it not another cliché, I might call Nikolai a fully realized character; he’s precociously wise as well as a bitter deliverer of harsh truths both petty and philosophical, often at the same time ... Where Reasons End is an interrogation of form—an exploration of what fiction can do and what it can’t—as well as an attempt to understand how both to live through suffering and to write about it.\
PanBookforumThe humor here mainly consists of overusing \'like,\' offering am-I-right-ladies style laments about modern men, recycling Twitter jokes about the author’s love of music made for teenagers (she is twenty-seven), and expressing disdain for great works of literature by men that she hasn’t read ... The product of an online culture that prizes saying anything over having something to say, Roberson’s bland mix of bratty overconfidence, insincere misandry, and not quite believable self-deprecation would be at home on the kind of women’s website that is run by a man recently made hip to the click-ability of feminist catchphrasing ... potentially illuminating passages...are undermined by the fact that Roberson does not have much sustained experience with men and seems to be getting her information from a combination of romantic comedies, friends’ anecdotes, and ambient women’s-magazine wisdom ... Knowing Roberson has little understanding of the practicalities of heterosexuality renders the political ambitions of the book...vaguely outrageous, and a little sad ... Roberson’s unwillingness to entertain the possibility that you can be a feminist writer without giving in to your Dunham-esque \'compulsion\' to overshare is characteristic of what might be called, to use an internet term, \'self-own feminism\' ... the memeification of feminism has made it unclear what that cause is, exactly ... Roberson doesn’t seem to realize that attempting to harmonize her heterosexuality with her feminist-writerly impulses could improve both her love life and her work.
PanLondon Review of BooksObviously, sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum (that might be interesting); it’s often a way to discuss gender and power ... Kristen Roupenian’s debut short story collection, You Know You Want This, attempts to jump on this bandwagon and at the same time tip it over. She ends up driving it in a circle ... written in a smug tone that recalls a self-professed neurotic on a first date cheerfully outlining his adolescent traumas ... Reading ‘Cat Person’ alongside the other stories in You Know You Want This makes it difficult to see it the way many readers did initially, as a kind of feminist parable about the pressure to please ... in the collection, it’s often the hapless, infantilised, more or less well-intentioned men you feel sorry for ... The more speculative stories show most clearly how Roupenian uses sex and gruesomeness to deflect attention from her jazz-hand conclusions.
RaveBookforumAs the captain’s log of an at-sea millennial, Liveblog resembles a social media feed, both extreme and mundane, shocking and tedious ... resembles recent novels depicting female disillusionment—among them Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Catherine Lacey’s The Answers, and Jade Sharma’s Problems. But while the narrators of these tight, polished novels speak in steady tones of sly nihilism or emptied resignation, as if their authors have dressed them in large sunglasses and T-shirts that say \'Nothing Matters,\' Megan desperately wants to believe something does.
MixedBookforumRooney writes in a way that satisfies the literary Goldilocks: Her books are plotted but not too plotted, stylish but not too stylish, political but not too political, modern but not too modern. The novels are love stories but not too much so, mostly because their endings are nontraditionally happy, on the good side of what a woman recounting her romantic situation to a friend might call \'complicated\' ... Her characters are charming and intelligent enough, but what sticks out about them is their circumstances, which Rooney mines to produce individual personalities and social expectations; they do not seem real so much as realistic, identifiable, relatable ... Though sex is something all Rooney’s characters think, talk, and worry about, descriptions of the act...are mainly notable for how not-embarrassing the writing is ... Rooney...writes as if emotions are phenomena to be observed, if not external then at least not fully attached to the person experiencing them. (She has this in common with Tao Lin.) ... formally, Rooney ends up enacting the kind of control over the text that its content argues against. What I mean by this is that the ending of Normal People is really cheesy...It’s so reasonable it’s almost absurd, though NYU acceptance as happy ending is very millennial.
PositiveThe New Republic\"Few contemporary fiction writers have depicted this fraught state [of trying to balance our responsibilities to others with our own commitments] more effortlessly (or less obnoxiously) than Idra Novey ... Despite the book’s brevity—its 256 pages contain a lot of blank space and, according to a publisher’s note, clock in at less than 60,000 words—it deftly encompasses a sweeping time frame and impressive range of points of view. Though it’s packaged as a kind of literary thriller, the narrative spreads outward in many directions, becoming ever more diffuse and irresolvable ... Of course, faced with problems borne of vast, intricate political systems, hand-wringing is not much use either. In this, Novey might present a bleak vision of the world, but she also allows her characters to carve out spaces for resistance, and even to build a life outside politics.\
PositiveThe London Review of BooksReversals and the understanding that accompanies them are appropriate to a story that relies on well-intentioned deception and the fear of discovery, but Wray is also interested in the ways Sawyer is visible to everyone but herself ... Godsend’s set-up is risky for a white, male novelist; the sense that something bad is about to happen operates on both the level of plot and of the book’s politics. Theoretically, the question of whether a writer from any background can – legally, ethically – write a character from a different background is silly. But the trouble, as Wray has acknowledged in interviews, is that very few people do it well ... On first read Godsend is almost physically stressful, the escalation of any little mistake made by Sawyer is easy to envision. But on a second, the knowledge of what happens renders wasted the delicate suspense that buoys much of the novel ... The extent of Wray’s foreshadowing – which touches most aspects of the novel’s plot – makes the ending feel like a conspiracy. Perhaps it’s paranoid to say that this novel, which appears on the heels of a series of empowered, gender-swapped Hollywood reboots, reads like it was written to become a movie ...
PositiveThe New RepublicShe’s a master of puns and pithy, surprising twists, often deployed at her own expense, though she finds it difficult to let funny accidents or coincidences be merely what they are ... She’s taking what she’s got and going with it, as in her writing, which riffs on seemingly random images and ideas, creating connections that make these short books feel holistic and sweeping. She uses motifs, such as roses and footsteps, like landmarks on a map, which are useful signposts in her frequently disorienting story ... It’s a testament to Levy’s light touch and originality elsewhere that her feminist epiphanies and extended metaphors—life is a tempest, a book or film in which she is trying to conceive of herself as a major character, and a journey—don’t immediately register as cliché.
PositiveThe BafflerYou could argue, as a couple of my friends have, that Motherhood is not really about the decision to have a child at all, and that the obsessive recursion, which the narrator acknowledges is \'maddening!\', represents the novel’s real subject: time, and to a lesser extent, the writing process. Though the tendency to downplay Heti’s particularly female topics forewarns of sexism ... Rather than a statement of topic, Heti’s title is a question—she might have also called the novel How Should a Person Be: A Mother?—and to miss that is to succumb to expectations for fiction she challenges. If you’re not super concerned with the fictionalizing of non-essential details, Motherhood could be described as an essay, so Heti’s choice to frame it as a novel deserves attention. You could say it’s an evasive maneuver, a sneaky way to write about oneself without having to account for any repercussions or associations that creates in the non-fictional world. You could also call it liberating, particularly for a writer who feels \'cornered by a looming force\' whenever she hears one of her friends is having a baby ... Few personal choices a woman can make are more political than deciding not to have a child ... what Heti has always understood is that she, like all of us, is just one person, a novelist. It doesn’t really matter what she does, or why.
MixedThe London Review of BooksThe sructure is handled deftly, except for the occasional story told twice from not particularly different perspectives, and the framing of Faith’s biography as a long reminiscence told from a massage table ... there’s a lot of comedic potential here, but Wolitzer mostly squanders it by marvelling too often at the beautiful journey that is life, turning the entire concept—living itself—into a cliché. Her omniscient narrator frequently produces odd formalities, such as using a character’s full name though we’ve already seen it many times, using ‘for’ as a conjunction to mean ‘because’, and veering into the parental ... The young characters in The Female Persuasion speak in stilted dialogue, narrating fully formed ideas in a distant version of the way millennials talk ... Yet in a strange way this novel, at 464 pages, also seems written for online readers. With broad strokes that assert nuance with the opposite of nuance, Wolitzer has represented what it’s like to be a certain kind of woman who grew up in the last decade—the kind who reflexively cares about other ‘women’s stories’, who understands that her own is not extraordinary and doesn’t know what to do about it, who can solve all her problems (and earn a handsome living) by, to paraphrase [Nora] Ephron, treating them as copy.
PositiveThe Baffler\"Feel Free, which recalls its own ideas so frequently it aroused in me the same stupid overwhelming comprehensiveness I felt when Virginia Woolf opened my eyes to it all, that it becomes a kind of argument, sometimes a desperate one ... the first of several paradoxes about Smith’s work is that this skill, a nuanced understanding of the plural, is what makes her a singular writer; surprisingly few writers possess it. And so, lately especially, she can get defensive about it, thereby rendering it less effective ... she is best at some remove, outward-facing, letting the parallels between her life and her work arise on their own. She describes the sentiment driving her writing as \'I feel this—do you?\' When she drops the second half, as in her political writing, she loses the binary that encompasses her approach to binary, and she finds herself adrift, confused instead of contemplative ... Individually, her essays have a truncated effect, but read in succession, they start to take a form that makes more sense. They become something like a novel, with Zadie Smith as its most compelling character.\
PositiveThe New RepublicThe conditions described in Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City are not dissimilar to those Vasudevan invokes as the inspiration for squatters in the mid-20th century: craven landlords who refuse to make repairs; exploitation; families who are forced to stay with friends or relatives and bounce from unlivable apartment to unlivable apartment because they can’t afford rent ... On the flip side, many of the squats that survive have been too successful for their own good. Vasudevan is not as descriptive as the middle-class voyeur would like; instead of taking the reader inside an abandoned building, he reiterates that the politics of going there are radical. While this makes for an academic reading experience, it might also be the most responsible way for an outsider to approach the practice.
RaveBroadly...steadily calm, clear-eyed, and brutal ... the narrative moves back and forth in time, but the author is always purposeful with her graphic details; each moment is worth recounting in a review ... The Incest Diary bears many similarities to other narratives about incest—the secrecy, the shame, the specificity of the psychological and social repercussions—but the author's relentless focus on the incest and its aftermath distances The Incest Diary from other works. Incest is often a theme, an underlying motivation or explanation, but it is rarely the point ... early reactions to the book have been disappointingly conservative, emphasizing the potential scandal or harm it could cause...these concessions betray the author's effort to honestly examine what happened to her—and has happened to many people—in favor of decency or covering one's bases. They make it clear that few people know how to talk about incest—as well as why a book like this is so necessary.
PanBookslutThe essays in Bad Feminist exhibit the kind of style that makes you wonder whether literature is dead and we have killed it. The language is bland and unspecific, with a tendency toward inaccurate bodily metaphors for emotional issues like grief or trauma … The problem with Gay’s manipulation of feminism into a ‘bad’ version, it turns out, is that it’s not so different from no feminism at all; the rejection of ‘unreasonable standards’ for feminism quickly descends into the rejection of standards full-stop … No one has to write about her violent trauma, and I don’t think we can demand it. But I think we can demand something, and that is not what Roxane Gay has given us.
PositiveVICELacey is at her best when she is skewering, and while the emotional dystopia she constructs is not necessarily the core of the novel, it is the most successful part. She transitions artfully from lampoons of sexism (Kurt and the GX) to clear-eyed scenes of misogyny and her supporting cast of characters is a biting commentary on the various ways people have succumbed to the 21st century ... The true focus of Lacey's interest, though, is Mary, which is difficult because she belongs to a recent cohort of female anti-protagonists: Devoid of personality and interests, they are not so much characters as devices through which the author can funnel observations about modern life and thoughtful plots ... Lacey deftly examines the effects of fame, trauma, heterosexuality, social media, and technology on women, only to conclude, 'Now what?' Reading The Answers is a bit like falling out of love: To paraphrase something Mary once told a boyfriend she was breaking up with, you feel like something's missing, even though it's right in front of you.
MixedBroadlyThe Mother of All Questions covers a wide range of topics, all of which will be familiar to anyone who has partaken in the feminist internet over the last few years ... At its best The Mother of All Questions can be read as a very recent history of feminism, one that can give readers, to borrow the title of a book Solnit published during the Bush administration, hope in the dark ... it's strange that Solnit doesn't acknowledge at all what has happened since 2014, the ways language has failed to prevent a forceful resurgence of old-school attacks on the freedoms of women, minorities, LGBT people, and the poor ... Also unacknowledged in Solnit's book, though, is what happens when these newly widespread principles—the importance of having your voice heard, of telling your story, of 'breaking silences'—are co-opted and used to fight against justice and equality.