Leah Greenblatt is a Critic at Large for Entertainment Weekly. She can be found on Twitter @Leahbats
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Plotwise, Carty-Williams tends toward certain tropes: missed cues, unlikely coincidences. But her unvarnished takes on depression, gentrification, cultural taboos, and casual racism — from the cringey sexual-chocolate puns of OkCupid prospects to the colleague who briskly dismisses \'all that Black Lives Matters nonsense\' in a meeting — cut to the bone. And her debut reads a lot like its smart, sensitive protagonist: full of flaws and contradictions, and urgently, refreshingly real.\
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Most people stretch to find enough material to fill a memoir; not visual artist Chris Rush, who only reaches his early 20s by the end of The Light Years — another blond Alice tumbling headlong into the kaleidoscopic wonderland of American counterculture in the 1960s and ’70s ... There’s a lot of darkness in Light, but Rush is a fantastically vivid writer, whether he’s remembering a New Jersey of \'meatballs and Windex and hairspray\' or the dappled, dangerous beauty of Northern California, where \'rock stars lurked like lemurs in the trees.\'\
RaveEntertainment WeeklyThe reckless, splendid circus of New York’s royal bohemia in the 1960s and ’70s—rock idols, cowboy poets, Warhol Superstars—surrounds Smith in her heady recounting of a halcyon era ... a captivating memoir ... In her inimitable, lyrical style, Patti Smith [pens] a poignant requiem...and a radiant celebration of life.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"... Lot spills over with life — funny, tender, and profane ... Much like Tommy Orange or Junot Díaz, Washington takes characters often consigned to the literary margins and drags them to the center — not as exotic objects of curiosity but as whole human beings, messy and defiant and drawn in full, vibrant color.\
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAmy Hempel’s Sing to It trails its author’s vaunted reputation behind it like an airplane banner ... [Hempel is] rightly famous for the clarity and impact of her lean, declarative prose ... Many of the entries here are only a few spare paragraphs, often not even enough to fill a single page. \'The Orphan Lamb\' is a tiny jewel of brevity — a perfect snapshot, everything clean and sharp and necessary ... Mortality runs through nearly every story — illness, injury, catalogs of lost and broken things — but there’s a cheerful fatalism to it all, too; a sort of so-what serenity prayer.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Whatever reams of research Scharer put into excavating Miller’s story she distills here into clean, consistently evocative prose. The glittering bohemia of 1930s Paris, the pastoral boredom of mid-’60s Sussex, the hollowed-out carnage of postwar Europe; all come equally alive on the page ... But none breathe more vividly than Miller herself: Fiercely independent but racked by self-doubt, desperate for affection and approval even as she chafed at sentiment, she spent decades fighting to find her voice. It was worth the wait.\
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"... electrifying ... a frank, bittersweet coming-of-age story that crackles with raw adolescent energy, fresh-cut prose, and a kinetic sense of place ... And Czapnik, a seasoned sportswriter, has written exactly the book that every smart, strange, wonderful teenage weirdo like Lucy deserves.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Beagin’s storytelling runs episodic and almost willfully odd — like a Jim Jarmusch movie dipped in Windex and adobe dust. But there’s light in the darkness too, and some true eccentric soul in her Vacuum.\
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"However we decide what defines a Great American Novel in 2019, it must feel a lot like what’s inside Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive ... the search for selfhood and manifest destiny seems so freshly recast in the frank intelligence and imagination of [Luiselli’s] telling ... Packaged like a sort of impressionistic scrapbook scattered with song lyrics, sketches, and Polaroids, the novel drifts almost dreamlike between the personal and political, finding beguiling detours and cul-de-sacs as it goes. By its feverish climax — the last 20 pages spill out in one single, streaming sentence — Luiselli isn’t just giving us a story, she’s showing us new ways to see.\
Leila Slimani Trans. by Sam Taylor
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Slimani observes [the book\'s turns] with a coolness that’s almost clinical, even as the feverish spark of obsession licks at the corner of nearly every page. Because Adèle’s appetites, of course, can’t really be sated — they’re as vast and shattering as this fierce, uncanny thunderbolt of a book.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"... a catalog of brutal truths and bad behavior that peels back the thin veneer of human sociability like so much cracked linoleum off an old bathroom floor ... While occasional swerves into a kind of nightmarish magical realism can feel less than fully realized, it’s the stories told in the viscerally intuitive vein of \'Cat Person\' that linger; pithy, raw-nerved explorations of shame and desire and monumental self-loathing ... You Know You Want This is a spiky, ruthless little book, as confrontational and ugly-honest as its title.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Few contemporary novelists have achieved the kind of rock-star status that Rooney has found with her 2017 debut, Conversations With Friends, and now Normal. Her writing is deceptively simple: cool, declarative, almost clinical. But it’s hypnotic too, shot through with a quiet impact and subdermal intimacy that feels both universal and thrillingly new.\
MixedEntertainment WeeklyNo shortage of secrets, lies, and social intrigue ... While it all hums along like a well-calibrated engine, Nine Perfect Strangers never quite hits the narrative heights of past work like BLL and The Husband’s Secret — though it does feel much more immediate and enjoyable than her last, the disappointly drawn-out Truly Madly Guilty. Moriarity has a way of nesting inside her characters’ heads and bringing them to life in a way that’s not just relatable but illuminating; we know these people not because they’re archetypes but because they’re so specifically, universally human ... the book’s innate breeziness often makes way for deeper reflections on grief, trauma, and recovery, and more than one surprisingly topical angle, too. But it’s also just good old-fashioned storytelling, full of feeling and well-wrought lines.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Let us now praise difficult books: the ones whose refusal to play by the conventional rules of form and storytelling confound and dazzle us, and maybe even aim to drive us a little bit mad ... Milkman is a strange animal; it asks a lot, but gives something back, too: the electric jolt of a voice that feels utterly, sensationally new.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Though Fire licks at the edges of something it never fully ignites, it’s still a sharp study in class, politics, and manifest destiny — a story that somehow never grows old, no matter how many times it’s told.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Lethem is in his element writing about this far-out West — ruthless, sunbaked badlands culled from the strange brain confetti of Hunter S. Thompson, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo ... More problematic to the story is Phoebe — both as a woman written not always successfully by a man, and as a protagonist you want to spend time with. Set against Heist’s cowboy cool, she’s a sort of chatty, maddening mosquito, buzzing with unfiltered thoughts and bad ideas; too often, their mutual attraction feels less like true romance than willful plot contrivance. But Feral’s desert politics and dystopian wit still cast a sort of spell: a wild-goose mystery not so much about why or where people died, but how.\
MixedEntertainment Weekly\"Stepping outside her Dublin Murder Squad series for the first time, French has constructed a sort of discursive, densely layered family drama disguised as a mystery ... The final revelations in The Witch Elm are startling, even if they don’t quite justify its 500-page length; a whodunit far more memorable for the why than the who.\
R O Kwon
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyR.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries... [is] hardly the first...to wrestle with the strange confluences of fate and consequence ... But...[the book does it] with such shrewd insight and graceful economy that the result feels gratifyingly new ... If Kwon’s often intoxicating prose has a fault, it’s that her characters all tend to speak in the same feverish, convoluted syntax of an M.F.A. grad. (These are smart kids, but still; Will’s an econ major.) In the end...[the] book... [doesn\'t seem] especially interested in definitive answers or happily-ever-afters. What...[it] offer[s] instead are stories that don’t try to outline or erase otherness but illuminate it, beautifully.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"...hardly the first novel to wrestle with the strange confluences of fate and consequence—or even the first to frame [its story] through the eyes of characters whose identities lie at least partly on another continent. But [it does] it with such shrewd insight and graceful economy that the result feels gratifyingly new ... Chariandy (whose previous novel was released only in Canada) traces that loss in paragraphs so clean and pared down, every sentence feels like a polished stone ... [a story] that [doesn\'t] try to outline or erase otherness but illuminate it, beautifully.\
RaveEntertainment WeeklyTo sleep, perchance to hardly dream at all, until days turn into weeks and months and eliminate the need to be awake for anything more than a snack, a little light housekeeping, and maybe a change of underwear. That’s all the unnamed narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s strange, exhilarating My Year of Rest and Relaxation wants ... If this all sounds grim or claustrophobic, it isn’t; it’s more like one long, unbroken conversation with your smartest, most self-destructive friend. Moshfegh writes with a singular wit and clarity that, on its own, would be more than enough ... But the cumulative power of her narrative—and the sharp turn she takes in its last 30 pages—becomes nothing less than a revelation: sad, funny, astonishing, and unforgettable.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Tommy Orange drags Indian identity into the 21st century with raw, electrifying immediacy ... Though their struggles aren’t necessarily new, they never feel less than real ... If anything, there’s too much intrigue here to truly do justice to them all, but what remains is the fierce drive \'to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, alive.\' ”
RaveEntertainment WeeklyBlundell (who has spent most of her career in YA, often under the pseudonym Jude Watson) casts her net wide: Season teems with angst-riddled teenagers and twentysomething grifters, townies and trophy wives and eccentric billionaires. But she weaves them all together seamlessly, landing somewhere in the smart, breezy sweet spot between Meg Wolitzer and Elin Hilderbrand.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Knoll’s 2015 blockbuster, Luckiest Girl Alive, earned inevitable comparisons to Gone Girl, though American Psycho seems like a better fit here. Her take on the collision of celebrity and fourth-wave feminism — with its hunger games and anxiety and self-conscious branding — is wickedly sharp, but it’s coldhearted, too. Knoll would probably just say clear-eyed, and she may be right, though that feels like a hollow victory: Beneath their buttery highlights and Instagram smiles, her women are all cold metal and calculation; Real Housewives dipped in Nietzsche. Still, they’re good, nasty fun to spend time with for a while — even though they would probably never deign to appear in a review like this if they knew they’d have to share the space with another woman, and come in second place.\
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Jennifer Croft
RaveEntertainment Weekly[Tokarczuk] seems to pour the contents of her incandescent mind onto the page; an endless, only tenuously connected series of synaptic flashes and sparks ... Taken all together, Flights has the quality of a dream, in both the best and most maddening sense; you almost feel as if you have to bend your brain sideways to follow its trail ... when her prose lifts off, it’s magical: electrifying, strange, and sensationally alive.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyWoven into Warlight’s pages are the fragments of several fascinating half-stories ... Ondaatje approaches most of them at a kind of lyrical but inscrutable remove.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThe title of Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest, You Think It, I’ll Say It, comes from its second story ... In it, two parents who socialize casually at their children’s shared school activities begin a private game to alleviate the boredom of another interminable soccer practice or bake sale. The only rules are wild speculation and brutal honesty ... It’s nasty and thrilling and it leads to trouble, at least for one of them. It’s also exactly the kind of scene Sittenfeld (Prep, Eligible) excels at: People smart enough to know better, and human enough to realize they can’t help it ... The majority of Think’s 10 tales (which have already been optioned for an Apple series produced by Reese Witherspoon and starring Kristen Wiig) center on a certain kind of Midwestern middle-class ennui — characters soured but not completely defeated by the Grand Canyon-size gap between expectation and reality.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyLet Me Lie’s Anna Johnson (oh, for an unusual surname, just once!) is less confused about the source of her pain [than other 'damaged' recent protagonists]. At 26, she’s freshly orphaned by her parents’ near-joint suicides, and a new mom to her own first child — conceived with her grief counselor, no less. But did her mother and father actually take their own lives? The answer...leads, eventually and inevitably, to a sort of piñata of sociopaths, a wicker basket full of crazy. And how much water can wicker hold? Not much, really, though the current ubiquity of novels like these seems to demand that the outcomes grow more outrageous with each new wave, as if we’ve become too saturated to accept anything less than a bonanza from our big reveals. And Mackintosh and [Alice] Feeney — both shrewd, skillful writers — obligingly deliver, even if the end reward feels a lot like diminishing returns.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Circe’s tale lacks the sweeping arc and central romance of Achilles. Her narrative is more episodic, a string of feuds and love affairs occasionally bisected by myth’s greatest hits (Prometheus, the Minotaur, Helen of Troy). But Miller, with her academic bona fides and born instinct for storytelling, seamlessly grafts modern concepts of selfhood and independence to her mystical reveries of smoke and silver, nectar and bones. And if the Circe that emerges from her imagination isn’t exactly human — technically, she can’t be — she is divine.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"It’s not wrong to say that Wolitzer writes \'women’s fiction,\' in that she draws fully formed female characters who speak to each other and have faceted ambitions and inner lives. But she’s also a keen humanist with a singular gift for social observation. And though Greer’s story may be ripe for timely 2018 hashtags, it’s not really just hers. Persuasion has three other often more compelling narratives inside it: Cory, Zee, and Faith, supporting players who become, in their own ways, the book’s thrumming heart.\
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"Rachman draws his characters with a specificity so sharp it borders on cruel ... after several hundred pages that seem like sad checkpoints (albeit wonderfully written ones) on a trail of beta-male woe, Teacher finds a lovely and unexpected grace note, a left-field redemption made even sweeter by its long and winding path.\
Luis Alberto Urrea
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...a big, messy, warmhearted epic, so overflowing with color and character its strands are sometimes hard to follow without keeping a homemade flowchart in the margins ... But Urrea’s Angels carries them all — good and ugly, broken and beautiful — without judgment, generous to the last breath.
RaveEntertainment Weekly\"Amy Bloom’s radiant new novel is rooted in extensive research and actual events, but her goal is less to relitigate history than to portray the blandly sexless figurehead of First Lady as something the job rarely allows those women to be — a loving, breathing human being. And she does it brilliantly ... an indelible love story, one propelled not by unlined youth and beauty but by the kind of soul-mate connection even distance, age, and impossible circumstances couldn’t dim.\
RaveEntertainment WeeklyIt would be easy to file Tayari Jones’ freshly anointed Oprah’s Book Club pick in the eat-your-vegetables domain of the Issues Novel, a timely polemic on race and justice. Instead it delivers something much warmer and subtler and more human — a deeply felt, fully lived-in love story ... it’s impossible not to feel altered by Marriage — not gladly, exactly, but still for the better.
RaveEntertainment Weekly...the McSweeney’s founder and prolific author does manage to illuminate the more arcane bits of history and production without devolving into Guy You Wish You Hadn’t Started Talking to at the Party. It helps that, as a writer who moves consistently between novels and nonfiction, he’s able to harness his considerable storytelling powers to shape Alkhanshali’s real life into such a compelling cinematic narrative. And that his muse somehow comes off as both a relatably messy kid and a modern-day swashbuckler, flawed and funny and refreshingly real. It wouldn’t be wrong to call Mokhtar an entrepreneur or an altruist, but he feels like much more than that, too: a living distillation of the enduring, endlessly elastic power of the American dream.
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
MixedEntertainment WeeklyA slick puzzle box that seems to take the tropes of every Lifetime lady-in-peril movie and toss them in a Vitamix at a rough chop … The brief chapters go by quickly, with one true hand grenade tossed in midway, but there’s something faintly airless in the machinations of its paper-doll players; trapped in their toxic pas de trois, they can’t quite seem to transcend two dimensions.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyHow you feel about [Weir's] follow-up will probably depend a lot on how much you enjoyed his talky, utilitarian style of left-brained storytelling the first time ... Nominally, Jasmine 'Jazz' Bashara is entirely different from astronaut Mark Watney: She’s Saudi Arabian, defiantly self-educated, and of course, female. Though those things are only strictly true because Weir says so; his character traits are effectively a thin skin stretched over narrators who feel less like recognizable human beings than fun, unusually chatty lawn-mower manuals with physics degrees ... Weir has an undeniable gift for bringing NASA-level knowledge down to earth; you may not close Artemis’ pages feeling particularly enriched or awed by the wonders of the cosmos, but at least you’ll know exactly how to weld an airlock in lunar gravity.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyCertain parts of Future Home feel both rushed and incomplete, maybe because the original 500-page manuscript was reworked so quickly on the heels of last year’s epic LaRose. But Erdrich operating at less than full capacity is still a stunner: a writer whose words carry a spiritual weight far beyond science, or fiction.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyThere are at least three or four Great American Novels pressed between the pages of Manhattan Beach: moody gangster noir; sweeping WWII romance; classic New York immigrants’ tale; timeless story of the sea … Fans who fell in love with Goon Squad’s tricky brilliance might find the narrative here almost too familiar; some moments channel the hard-bitten prose of Raymond Chandler, others the sea-dog flintiness of Hemingway. (Egan’s period research is impeccable, even if it sometimes distracts as much as it illuminates.)
RaveEntertainment WeeklyLittle Fires echoes several themes from Ng’s lauded 2014 best-seller, Everything I Never Told You, tracing the fault lines of race, class, and secrecy that run beneath a small Midwestern town. And again, calamity shatters a placid surface on the first page (that title is more than a metaphor). But here, she moves the action up from 1977 to the Clinton-era ’90s and widens her aperture to include a deeper, more diverse cast of characters. Though the book’s language is clean and straightforward, almost conversational, Ng has an acute sense of how real people (especially teenagers, the slang-slinging kryptonite of many an aspiring novelist) think and feel and communicate. Shaker Heights may be a place where 'things were peaceful, and riots and bombs and earthquakes were quiet thumps, muffled by distance.' But the real world is never as far away as it seems, of course. And if the scrim can’t be broken, sometimes you have to burn it down.
RaveEntertainment Weekly...the book’s Southern gothic aura recalls the dense, head-spinning prose of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. But the voice is entirely Ward’s own, a voluptuous magical realism that takes root in the darkest corners of human behavior ... Ward has emerged as one of the most searing and singularly gifted writers working today. Absorbing the harsh beauty of her writing isn’t easy; reading Sing sometimes feels like staring into the sun. But she also makes it impossible to turn away.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...there’s no doubt that Gabriel Tallent is a phenomenally gifted writer (it will probably be hard for any reviewer to resist a reference to his appropriate surname here). But Darling is also a difficult and often deeply unsettling read, the kind that overused phrases like 'trigger warning' were actually made for ... Tallent’s voice — particularly the way he writes about the natural world, in prose so dense and dazzling it feels almost hallucinogenic — is unforgettable, but it sometimes fails him when it comes to actual human dialogue; his characters tend to speak in either clipped monosyllables or grand peculiar paragraphs, oddly untethered from something they said or did two or 200 pages previously. And the book’s graphic depictions of physical and sexual abuse sometimes exhaust the limits of endurance and credulity. But Darling is a remarkable piece of work by almost any metric: Brutal, lyrical, and, for both better and worse, unforgettable.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyLife in Code is a consummate insider’s take, rich with local color and anecdotes ... Ullman has a pure passion for computing that doesn’t stop her from recognizing all the ways it can isolate and intimidate — or how unconscious bias works like a sort of snow blindness on the striving (and yes, still overwhelmingly white and male) dreamers who would call themselves disrupters. Like all great writers, she finds the universal in the specific, mixing memoir with industry gossip (cameos by Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, a wry Microsoft dig) and ancillary tales of house cats, dairy farmers, and Julia Child. Code is illuminating and unfailingly clever, but above all it’s a deeply human book: urgent, eloquent, and heartfelt.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyLike a more acid Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Misfortune gleefully torpedoes the saintly ideal of motherhood; the good ones may go to heaven, but the bad ones go everywhere.
RaveEntertainment WeeklySee is the product of 11 years of that obsession, and it’s a prickly, unsettling wonder: a story so tactile and feverishly surreal it feels like a sort of reverse haunting ... The table of misery is set, but is there motivation enough for murder? It would spoil Schmidt’s literary game to say too much. What she does do, in dense, swooning paragraphs, is build an indelible mood ... Schmidt’s style has its quirks. She drops definite articles, repeats phrases like incantations, and has a habit of turning unlikely nouns (termite, critter) into verbs. The vast gaps in her characters’ education and experience somehow still allow them to share the same distinctive voice. But her protagonist comes more fully alive than almost any character in recent memory, and the final pages are a wild, mind-bending revelation.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyMade for Love doesn’t so much unfold as spill out, a crackpot piñata of sex dolls, dolphin coitus, and droll postmillennial satire. Nutting’s surreal style is both manic and tender; her characters — the hapless Hazel, her coolly malevolent ex, a leathery, nippleless outlaw named Liver — read like demented refugees from a Kurt Vonnegut novel, dragged into the 21st century and deep-fried in Florida sunshine. But they’re endearingly human too: kooks and misfits who fail at love over and over, and still, against all evidence, try again.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyBarton‘s unsettling 2016 best-seller The Widow artfully toed the line between two high paradigms of British mystery: the cozy-crumpet kind, all village intrigue and old-timey secrets, and the Ripper-style savagery of much darker crimes. Her Child, released a scant 16 months later, does the same (and returns several characters, including Kate), though its impact is diminished some by conventional prose and plotting—an enigma that reads less like a true riddle than a slow-burn portrait of loss and survival wrapped, like that small body, in well-worn words.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyThe Husband’s Secret is a sharp, thoughtful read — a sneaky sort of wolf in chick-lit clothing...Liane Moriarty weaves Cecilia’s story in with those of two other women in crisis … But Secret isn’t all Down Under noir, either; even as these three women’s lives are blown apart, they still have jobs and families and mostly intact senses of humor, and they carry on … Moriarty ultimately can’t resist wrapping up her story lines with a bow that will probably feel too shiny and pink-petal neat for some. But you don’t need a husband or a secret to feel for her characters’ very real moral quandaries, and to want that shiny bow for them a little bit, too.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyBecause Meloy follows every character, it’s not a mystery where they’ve gone, though knowing hardly alleviates the tension. Alarmed’s sensational plot turns sometimes veer toward the innocents-in-peril machinations of a Lifetime movie, but Meloy has a keenly intuitive ear for family dynamics, first-world privilege, and all the ways that human nature can adapt to the unthinkable.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyHunger wears its identity politics—fat (the term she prefers), female, Haitian-American, queer—proudly, and Gay is a fierce, if not always focused, critic of the casual cruelties and willful ignorance obesity still elicits. Her writing can feel circular and sometimes contradictory, but the book’s short, sharp chapters come alive in vivid personal anecdotes ... And on nearly every page, Gay’s raw, powerful prose plants a flag, facing down decades of shame and self-loathing by reclaiming the body she never should have had to lose.
RaveEntertainment Weekly...one of the year’s most winningly original debuts ... Nearly every page is marked by some kind of breezy scientific anecdote or aside — pithy, casually brilliant ruminations on everything from meiosis and mitochondria to what makes rockets fly. That it’s all so accessible and organic to the story is one of the book’s most consistent pleasures. So is the texture and tone of Wang’s language, a voice so fresh and intimate and mordantly funny that she feels less like fiction than a friend you’ve known forever — even if she hasn’t met you yet.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyMoriarty is a fantastically nimble writer, so sure-footed that the book leaps between dark and light seamlessly; even the big reveal in the final pages feels earned and genuinely shocking … Praise for Moriarty seems to come with a faintly condescending asterisk, probably because her books do, in the broadest sense, fit the label ‘chick lit.’ But more than anything she feels like a humanist.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyThe book’s piled-on storylines lack the feverish, almost subdermal intimacy of Train, and Hawkins’ pulp psychology has only the soggiest sort of logic. Still, buried in her humid narrative is an intriguing pop-feminist tale of small-town hypocrisy, sexual politics, and wrongs that won’t rinse clean.
Omar El Akkad
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyEl Akkad, a Cairo-born journalist, has an innate (and depressingly timely) feel for the textural details of dystopia; if only his grim near-future fantasy didn’t feel so much like a crystal ball.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAs a journalist, Levy has delved into wild tales of 1970s lesbian separatists, South African marathoners, and modern ayahuasca disciples. In these keenly intimate essays, she turns the lens inward, recounting professional highs and personal lows (the brutal ruin of a marriage, a harrowing miscarriage) with lucid, unflinching immediacy. If Levy comes off as self-lacerating and self-regarding in equal measure, well, you can’t spell memoir without a 'me' and an 'i'…and her 'me' is still more interesting than most.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyButler captures the rites and rhythms of young manhood in intimate, clear-eyed detail, shifting nimbly between multiple perspectives, several generations, and two wars overseas. If a sudden swerve into melodrama in the final pages feels oddly off-key, it’s not enough to derail the story or diminish the impact of this distinctly American tale: a potent exploration of friendship, betrayal, and all the markers of masculinity that can’t be measured by badges and trust falls.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyNadia and Saeed take the chance, and begin a new kind of adventure—one that Hamid unfurls in deceptively simple prose, as spare and dreamlike as a fable. But Exit West’s mystical spin isn’t a gloss on geopolitical reality; nearly every page reflects the tangible impact of life during wartime—not just the blood and gun smoke of daily bombardments, but the quieter collateral damage that seeps in. The true magic of the book is how it manages to render it all in a narrative so moving, audacious, and indelibly human.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyEvery writer is a reader first, and Dear Friend is Li’s haunted, luminous love letter to the words that shaped her—from the flowery Chinese verse of her youth to the brilliant parade of poets, novelists, and Danish existentialists who helped see her through multiple hospitalizations for depression. (The heart wants what it wants; sometimes all it can stand is Kierkegaard.) Her own prose is both lovely and opaque, fitfully illuminating a radiant landscape of the personal and profound.
RaveEntertainment WeeklySaunders has finally produced his first full length novel — though that word hardly begins to convey the literary wonder contained within its pages, an extraordinary alchemy of free-verse ghost story, tender father-son devotional, and backdoor presidential biography ... Slipping between hallucinatory fragments of dialogue and real historical accounts, Saunders weaves a wild high-wire pastiche. He’s always been a dazzlingly clever voice in fiction, but Bardo is something else: a heartfelt marvel, sad and funny and surreal.
Joyce Carol Oates
MixedEntertainment Weekly...[a] fierce, provocative, and often maddening novel ... In Martyrs‘ best passages, she is mesmerizing—unleashing feverish streams of prose in great, incantatory swoons and laying her subjects bare without judgment or pity. But her enduring stylistic tics—the circular echoes and repetitions, the heavy italics for emphasis, the often 'arbitrary' scattering of 'quotation marks'—also begin to wear after nearly 750 dense, relentless pages ... One of Oates’ greatest gifts is her ability to extract universal truths and resonance from even the thorniest subjects. So when the book’s final paragraphs offer sudden, sunny resolution, it feels not just incongruous but strangely unsatisfying: a firebomb diffused in a wisp of smoke.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyWilson’s Perfect Little World finds its bliss in the vast disconnect between people’s best intentions and where they land—and all the spectacular ways they manage to sabotage and misdirect themselves in between ... Though heady concepts of nature and nurture dance around the edges, they never quite penetrate Wilson’s Little World. Instead, his story is like the Project: snug, quirky, and engagingly imperfect.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyInspired by a real-life case, the outlines of Emma Flint’s debut summon every classic noir chestnut: the vixen, the patsy, the shady detective, the cub reporter determined to set the record straight. Her actors are strictly familiar, and rarely surprising; they come and go and mostly play their parts. The exception is Ruth: In lean, palpable prose (Flint is British, though her New York vernacular never slips), she comes vividly alive—a flawed, complicated woman with thoughts and demons and desires that the prescribed world she lives in offers hardly any framework for, and even less forgiveness. As a whodunit, Little Deaths is standard-issue. As a character study, it’s a killer.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyHardly a shade of human intrigue—or a pivotal moment in 20th-century history—goes unexplored in Chabon’s vibrant, sprawling latest. Inspired by his grandfather’s deathbed confessions, Moonglow is a feast for fans of the Pulitzer winner’s magical prose but less satisfying for lovers of linear narratives. Following its leaps can feel like trying to reassemble a scattered pack of cards; you’ll find all kinds of aces, but never quite the full deck.
Laura Jane Grace
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyTranny—which pulls heavily from a decade of tour diaries— is actually a traditional rock bio in a lot of ways, full of road-dog debauchery, studio tales, and score-settling with ex-bandmates and managers. The physical transition, which doesn’t come until the last few chapters, feels almost like a postscript, and the prose swings between blistering and banal. But the book is also a powerful, disarmingly honest portrait of becoming.
MixedEntertainment WeeklySwing Time doesn’t have the electric jolt of WhiteTeeth’s Technicolor rhythms, but it does offer more insight—an emotional acuity that radiates through a series of small, beautifully crafted revelations. What it can’t do is make the central character come fully alive, or even feel crucial to her own narrative as the story begins to list and wander toward its shaggy end.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyChang packs her pages nearly as tightly as the Mercedes, piling on wry observations of everything from Asian immigrant culture and faded Southern gentry to fashion-blog etiquette and the boho bourgeoisie’s obsession with authenticity. If it all feels a little overstuffed, her breezy tangents and keen character sketches are also half the fun, and each Wang comes alive in their own memorable, messily human ways ... [Wang's] brash, bighearted debut smartly recasts what the definition of a quintessentially American story can be in 2016.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIn thoughtful, evenhanded chapters stacked with footnotes, Younge works methodically to uncover the unique patterns and hypocrisies of his adopted second home. (Though British, he has an American wife and spent a dozen years reporting from the States.) Another Day doesn’t offer solutions, because it can’t; it just makes it impossible not to care.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...[a] sad, funny, endlessly inventive debut ... At 600-plus pages, some of those threads inevitably snag or run on too long, but Hill weaves it all into the wild tragicomic tangle of his imagination.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIf the book ultimately falls short of the emotional impact its sweeping premise and seven-figure advance portend, it’s still a fresh, engaging entry in the eternally evolving narrative of what it means to be an American—and how human beings, not laws or dogma, define liberty.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly[Cora's] America is a still-new nation full of memorable color and characters, but it’s also raw and vicious, a place that punishes the best intentions on a whim and rewards the ruthless over and over again. While supporting players come and go, Cora remains at the center of it all yet just out of reach—less the heroine of her own story than a witness to outrageous, extraordinary history.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAt her best, [Havrilesky] is part Buddha and part Amy Schumer: wise, whip-smart, and profanely funny. Less dynamic, though, are Polly’s askers; overwhelmingly young creative types living in large coastal cities and struggling with romantic self-doubt or career ennui, they mostly seem interested in How to Solve a First-World Problem.
MixedEntertainment Weekly[Moriarty] loves to tease out a mystery, and it takes Truly nearly 300 pages to arrive at its relentlessly foreshadowed central event ... The book devotes so much energy to aftermath before reaching its big reveal that it begins to feel like a very special, very frustrating episode of CSI: BBQ. The last twist, though, is nearly worth the wait, and what sets Moriarty’s writing apart in the genre generally dismissed as chick lit has as much to do with her canny insights into human nature as her clever plotting.
Justine van der Leun
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyVan der Leun obsessively immerses herself in the case, combing court transcripts and police records, tracking down witnesses and friends and far-flung associates. Of the dozens of sources she finds, she grows especially close to convict-turned-advocate Easy Nofemela, who emerges as one of the most compelling figures in a story steeped in extraordinary characters and circumstances. And We Are Not Such Things—the title is taken from Nofemela’s pained response to a prosecutor’s portrayal of him and his codefendants as 'sharks smelling blood'—is an extraordinary book, if sometimes also an exhausting one: a dense and nuanced portrait of a country whose confounding, convoluted past is never quite history.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly\"...[a] harshly beautiful debut ... In saturated paragraphs and rich patois, Sun lays out the stark realities of an island whose entire economy relies on natural beauty, cheap labor, and limited resources—and explores what it means to live in a place where, as one character says, \'nobody love a black girl. Not even harself.\'\
RaveEntertainment WeeklyEven though it’s 713 pages, it often recalls some of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s best short stories, including 'Brokeback Mountain,' given her ability to infuse loss and heartbreak and beauty into the sparsest of sentences ... Pages melt away as readers zoom through the decades. Proulx’s story is bigger than any one man, one death, or even one culture: It’s about the effect civilization and society have had on the land. In her magical way, Proulx leaves the reader with an impression of not only a collection of people, but our people and the country that shaped us as we shaped it. This is Proulx at the height of her powers as an irreplaceable American voice.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...[a] lyrical, devastating debut ... Toggling between two continents, Gyasi traces black history from the Middle Passage to the Great Migration and beyond, bringing every Asante village, cotton plantation, and coal mine into vivid focus. The rhythm of her streamlined sentences is clipped and clean, with brilliant bursts of primary color ... As each character cedes their allotted chapter to the next, some emotional impact is necessarily lost, but it’s done in service to the larger sweep of the story—and the luminous beauty of Gyasi’s unforgettable telling.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyEmma Cline’s fierce, gripping debut is much less interested in the stock answers to what motivates a man like Russell or Charles Manson (ego, insanity) than the deeper impulses that tug an ordinary girl like Evie toward that kind of madness—and how she can come so close to breaching it that she still wonders, decades later, at the thinness of the line that held her back, how arbitrary it might be that her hands are clean.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAn endless roundelay of rivalries and crushes—she is enthralled by both a taciturn tattooed bartender named Jake and his best friend, Simone, a sophisticated older server—propel the story forward, though those intrigues ultimately resonate less than Tess’ sensual awakening to food: creamy, ash-dusted cheeses; anchovies drenched in olive oil; dense, fleshy figs like 'a slap from another sun-soaked world.' That’s the book’s true romance—the heady first taste of self-discovery, bitter and salty and sweet.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyDiSclafani gorgeously evokes Party’s midcentury setting, and the narrative unfolds much more elegantly than her dense 2013 best-seller, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. We learn Joan’s secret eventually, but for the reader she remains what she’s always been to Cece: a siren and a cipher.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyVarious discoveries, betrayals, and romantic complications follow, though nothing in Modern’s meandering plot moves with any particular urgency. Instead, Straub lets her characters fall apart and come together in their own messy, refreshingly human ways—always older, sometimes wiser, but never quite done coming of age.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyA Little Life is not a little book—at 720 pages it’s a massive, sometimes maddening read—but it is a little bit of a bait and switch: Roughly halfway through, the other characters move to the margins, and Jude’s story takes over. Yanagihara pulls back the black curtain of his childhood slowly and with great care; by the time every dark corner is illuminated, it’s devastating. But she begins to lean too hard on his tragedy and let Life’s other compelling narratives slip away ... It’s a shame to say that the final chapters sometimes feel like a slog when the book has so much richness in it—great big passages of beautiful prose, unforgettable characters, and shrewd insights into art and ambition and friendship and forgiveness. Flaws and all, it’s still a wonderful Life.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyLife (and a long battle with alcohol) prevented her from publishing regularly, but it’s all here in 43 autobiographical stories that read like one long, fascinating conversation full of switchbacks and revelations. Every detox ward, dingy Laundromat, and sunbaked Mexican palapa spills across the page in sentences so bright and fierce and full of wild color that you’ll want to turn each one over just to see how she does it. And then go back and read them all again.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyFortune’s six stories are mostly grounded in more familiar settings, but strangeness thrums beneath them all. The characters—a UPS driver in post-Katrina Louisiana, a cancer patient, a self-loathing pedophile, a mismatched pair of Korean defectors, the former warden of a Stasi prison—are all displaced in some way, exiled or lost or just gone astray. The best story may be the first: 'Nirvana,' a beautifully calibrated near-future fable about a Silicon Valley programmer who reanimates an assassinated president to help him cope with the illness of his young wife. But every one carves out its own little corner of weird, indelible humanity.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...Michael is one of five narrators in Gone and by far the book’s most vivid. If other characters recede in his wake, it also feels true to the impact of mental illness, and Haslett’s writing is at its best when he illuminates not just madness but what it means to witness it, too.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly[C]entral to the book is [Jahren's] friendship with an eccentric colleague named Bill who becomes her fellow plant-obsessive, platonic soul mate, and (sometimes literal) partner in crime. Her accounts of their ongoing dialogues can feel more clumsy than profound, but Jahren’s singular gift is her ability to convey the everyday wonder of her work: exploring the strange, beautiful universe of living things that endure and evolve and bloom all around us, if we bother to look.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyMarty and Ellie’s subsequent entanglement—interwoven with vivid glimpses into the life of the enigmatic Dutchwoman whose work gives The Last Painting of Sara de Vos its muse—is the narrative’s heart. And if the book’s more current segments don’t resonate quite as fully as the ones set earlier, it mostly feels like a testament to Smith’s singular gift for conjuring distant histories. In his hands, the damp cobblestones and canals of 1600s Holland and the shabby gentility of Eisenhower-era New York feel as real and tactile and tinged with magic as de Vos’ indelible brushstrokes.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyAs a novelist, Spiotta is cool in both senses of the word: Her books, including the prizewinning Stone Arabia and Eat the Document, are praised for their taut modernity and lauded by literary supernovas like Don DeLillo and George Saunders. But she can also be chilly emotionally, and it’s not until late in Innocents’ disjointed narrative that her remove falls away.
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyIt’s easy to see why Sweeney’s debut earned her a seven-figure advance and early praise from fans including Amy Poehler and Elizabeth Gilbert. Her writing is like really good dark chocolate: sharper and more bittersweet than the cheap stuff, but also too delicious not to finish in one sitting.
PositiveEntertainment Weekly...a taut reconstruction of a crime and a ruthless examination of marriage, told from the multiple viewpoints of not-always-reliable narrators ... The Widow is the kind of book you can zoom through on a long flight or a lazy Sunday: a smartly crafted, compulsively readable tale about the lies people tell each other, and themselves, when the truth is the last thing they really want to know.
RaveEntertainment Weekly...in dreamlike passages punctuated by bursts of startling physical and sexual violence, Kang viscerally explores the limits of what a human brain and body can endure, and the strange beauty that can be found in even the most extreme forms of renunciation.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyAlexander Chee details Queen’s reams of source material in the endnotes, and the richness of his research is evident on every page ... If the novel has a real flaw, it’s that Lilliet’s interior world never comes quite as alive as the three-dimensional one she moves through.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyMcKenzie has a pitch-perfect ear for a certain kind of California kookery, and even when she veers twee (your tolerance for anthropomorphized rodents may be tested), it’s hard not to be charmed by Veblen’s whimsy.
Mary Louise Parker
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyWhat does a busy, successful actress with half an EGOT and two young children at home do for fun? Apparently she writes a book—a really good one, full of funny, poignant, sometimes surreal missives to men she has known.
RaveEtertainment WeeklyHart’s graphic memoir is his attempt to process the crushing pain of his daughter’s loss, and it’s as harrowing and profound as any literary novel. In scratchy black-and-white panels, he traces the strange parabola of grief: 'You’re walking and falling. You’re hurtling and collapsing. You’re here and not here.'
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyRothschild knows her subject firsthand; she comes from one of the world’s wealthiest families and has spent decades moving in the rarefied circles depicted here. That gives the novel its insidery spark and smooths over some of her sloppier narrative tricks.
RaveEntertainment Weekly[H]er honesty is disarming, and buoyed by the same dry wit that makes her scenester-lacerating IFC series Portlandia so good. That’s how she artfully manages to transcend the backstage tropes of the rock-bio genre, and why Hunger should become the new handbook for every modern girl (and yes, boys, too) looking for the courage to pursue a life less ordinary.
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyGroff is a fantastically vivid writer, though baroqueness can get the best of her, and her protagonists’ flowery self-regard wears thin. Still, it’s hard to stop reading. Lotto and Mathilde may be exhausting, but they’re also almost as fascinating as they think they are.