PositiveLos Angeles TimesHeartbroke falls within this tradition of writers fixing their lenses on the underbelly of small-town and rural America, examining the dark things that happen there before they entrap you into empathizing with people you might never meet in life—or want to. Bieker’s characters do bad things, sometimes terrible things. You want to yell at them ... It’s terrible to watch but also fascinating, because their terrible choices carry a whiff of the mundane, the ordinary, and when they survive—if they survive—you can’t help admiring them for it ... Heartbroke isn’t the stuff of bedtime stories, but it is embroidered with the stuff of American myth ... At particular moments, Bieker’s vignettes have the quality of a postcard sent by a Quentin Tarantino character, if that character grew up in Del Rey reading Flannery O’Connor and Annie Proulx ... Heartbroke is not quite our world, but it is very much of our world. It’s a place where the myth of the West is inseparable from the deflation of the American dream—a water-thirsty landscape in which we are all left to pull ourselves up by the straps of our turquoise boots and continue on as gracefully as we can.
RaveLos Angeles TimesReading and rereading novelist Kathryn Davis’ new memoir, Aurelia, Aurélia, I felt revisited by this crystal-clear realization — over and over again ... This tendency to sidestep reality has allowed her to successfully transcend the conventional let-me-tell-you style of memoir in favor of something rarer, more ethereal ... Aurelia is set in a cerebral atmosphere that lives in the \'ghost-moment,\' or that time between a piano key being depressed and the dissipation of its reverberating note ... Davis’ slim but dense memoir is beyond scene, beyond self, beyond body ... These seemingly disparate facts are connected by Davis’ own loose memories, strung together by an assured stream of consciousness. When Davis allows them proximity, they cohere into a feeling of grief infused with pattern and meaning. To read it is to move through the darkened interior of the author’s mind.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesIt isn’t that you must have had an abortion or a miscarriage or a pregnancy or even a vagina to be interested in reading Christine Smallwood’s first novel; it’s whether you have the stamina to spend 230 pages inside a deeply analytical brain struggling to make sense of a body that is itself struggling to process what is happening to it ... Time in this slim yet yawning book is slippery ... Dorothy is an interesting thinker and Smallwood can write a sentence. Yet at times they border on tenuous or tedious ... Occasionally, Dorothy’s allusions [...] resemble the clumsy spackling of a doctoral dissertation ... More interesting than her self-aware displays of knowledge are Dorothy’s blunt-edge observations ... These pared-back moments allow for breath, space, the slightest inflection of humor — and, most important, a rare glimpse of the narrator free from the anxiety of literary influence ... For her part, Smallwood is talented, and her work is unafraid of wading into the thicker, more literally visceral parts of female experience. I look forward to her next experiment in dissecting the sticky oddity of liminal existence.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesLooking back to 2017, it seems quaint that such an event might have made waves in the femi-verse, and yet … and yet. Toggling between satire and clear-eyed sincerity, Self Care is nothing if not extremely on the nose ... Though the turmoil at the center of Self Care is entertaining, its twist ending a clawed swipe at the irony of the scarcity myth—the zero-sum foundation of capitalism—it’s not the thing that kept me reading. Instead, it was Stein’s deft navigation of the shades of superficial feminism, the lexicon of start-up culture and the tone of a generation reckoning with how to be honest with itself ... Stein...has a knack for aping the internet’s rhythms and tics, and her fluency in its hyperbolic headlines, fluffy PR-approved statements and off-the-cuff Slack missives is superb (though the rendering of these elements, in text bubbles and press release formatting, felt a little twee). Self Care is peppered with delicious, hateful details ... The pile-on eventually becomes a game for the reader, an updated, feminized riff on American Psycho. How many yuppie New York allusions can you spot? ... Published in a time of overlapping national emergencies, Self Care looks like a fully formed artifact, a portal back to a moment when catty tweets, the takedown of wellness charlatans and the spectacle of startup scandals felt urgent.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveLos Angeles TimesLittle Eyes operates on the tension created by dread, situating Schweblin within a canon of writers (Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison) whose rendering of horror ultimately exposes the gorgeous, rotten and wounded parts of ourselves ... a lucid reality drawn with clinical precision that unburdens the reader from grappling with the absurdity of furry robots on wheels but also creates the illusion of solid ground. At no point does Schweblin subject her world to internal interpretation; she leaves this job to the reader, trusting us to extract our own conclusions and project our own anxieties onto her surreality.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesIn fewer than 250 pages, the 28-year-old has captured the touchstone millennial tension between sardonicism and sincerity—the electric ambivalence of figuring out how to be a person in these times ... Exciting Times is a funny novel (both haha and weird), resisting the pull of melodrama in favor of a sharp point of view and an intense concern with language ... In many cases these dissections are clear-eyed and vivifying, arriving at a deeper set of emotional meanings. At their best, such moments elevate the book from a tale of amorous hijinks into something more nuanced. In other cases, it can feel as if the author has sashayed in to perform a high-wire act of semiotics—which not only hinders the narrative flow but risks alienating the reader, even as it reinforces Ava’s neuroticism and insecurity ... That tangle of revulsion and attraction to Ava’s perpetual ambivalence—and the accompanying desire to reach out from this side of the looking glass and gently assure her this is simply a condition of being human—is one reason to keep reading.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesTemple is an excellent writer ... Clearly an omnivorous reader and researcher, Temple has stitched together a textured patchwork of spiritual myths, enlightenment allegories, anecdotes of saints and levitation theories. She swings between Olivia’s arc and these magpie nests of ideas like an acrobat leaping from one trapeze to another. Sometimes these digressions foreshadow; other times they function as parables, pointing out religion’s absurdity and false promises. Often, I found myself more interested in these stories than the main narrative, seeing them through Temple’s lens as interpreted by a woman wounded by the futility of seeking ... For a certain kind of reader (raised perhaps on Tartt, Temple’s more plot-forward forebear), this structural experiment may prove tedious, backgrounding what purports to be a thrilling narrative in favor of a rich meditation on the nature of desire and belonging, on what is lost while chasing illusions and on the scars of growing up a girl. To paraphrase another cliché of the seeker, the journey is far more interesting than the destination ... Despite the improbability of Olivia’s circumstances, the story of four wayward girls attempting magic is a diverting one, especially when woven through with Temple’s sensually wrought landscapes and delicious impressions of adolescent hunger. At times, The Lightness is overwritten, concerned with the shape of itself in a way that derails the locomotion of the narrative (like the occasionally self-indulgent Tartt), but it’s also a promising quality in a debut novelist, possibly auguring great things to come.
Deb Olin Unferth
RaveLos Angeles Times...insights into chicken civilization are scattered throughout Deb Olin Unferth’s kaleidoscopic sixth book ... The architecture of this very real industry (which could stand as metaphor for any of the behemoth industries that seem to stork-drop products and services on demand) is sickening and overwhelming, yet Unferth never traffics in gratuitous shock. Instead, her sentences and constantly shifting point of view are embroidered with a great deal of unexpected tenderness and optimism ... the inhabitants of Unferth’s Midwestern galaxy are compelling, frustrating and utterly, haplessly human in their ability to contradict themselves while falling into and out of breathless, befuddled love. Somehow, through a delightful conjuring ... Though Barn 8 is a political novel punctuated with excellent, terrifying reporting from inside the belly of the American agricultural beast, it is not a diatribe; rather, it’s a call into the universe, a probing that asks: What if we the disconnected, we the too connected, we the individual data sets decided to do something, even if it felt like an impossible activist fantasy?
Samin Nosrat, Illus. by Alice MacNoughton
RaveSaveur...Nosrat\'s talent for elegantly and exuberantly articulating technique and the science behind it is rare. It\'s equally rare that the resulting book is actually useful and a pleasure to read ... in a decade, your copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat may be dogeared, some pages flecked with oil, vinegar, and wine, but it will not have fallen victim to library dust bunnies, its cover faded with a decade of water rings. It has a sense of permanence ... The very ordinary-ness of salt, fat, acid, and heat becomes extraordinary with the addition of MacNaughton\'s richly watercolored flavor wheels, charts, and delightful instructionals ... Illustrations are analogue when deployed in magazines like Cooks Illustrated or Mark Bittman\'s books, but here they feel like the inverse; they add a peep hole through which to observe cooking differently. Flipping through what could have been a straightforward, practically photographed book is transformed into an experience something like culinary synesthesia ... each recipe is the best version for the purpose of cooking at home wrapped in language that will welcome in all levels of cooks across generations for decades—and perhaps the next century—to come.
PositiveLos Angeles Times... weird, dreamy ... A batty, playful satire, Temporary twists the jargon and anxieties of a millennial gig economy into a dreamscape of spires and scaffolding through which we swing as our narrator seeks out her steadiness ... Time and space do not apply in Leichter’s world, and her fabulist ability to transport her narrator from murder shack to bomb-dropping blimp situates her among writers whose work some might label magic realism, slipstream or even surrealist ... But it would be reductive to pin Leichter or any one of these writers to a particular genre; the delight of reading their work is inextricable from the ecstatic cartwheel sensation of wondering, what is this? Temporary telegraphs this feeling exactly—the childlike knot of enchantment and pleasant disorientation of a spell properly cast. Leichter’s work also feels as if it mimics the strangeness of internet teleportation—the zooming, swooping quality of entering and exiting worlds with little more than a click—without replicating its didacticism or alienating effect ... In the trippy, shape-shifting architecture of Temporary, we come to discover that the landscape around us is constructed on shaky foundations, but also that there’s comfort in uncanny in-betweenness.