Lidija Haas is an Senior Editor at Bookforum. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Harper's, The New Republic, and The London Review of Books. She can be found on Twitter @lidijalidijjja
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s no small accomplishment to wring so much feeling and suspense from an examination of stasis ... Riley — whose early novels were light on plot and heavy on hard-drinking, acerbic young narrator-protagonists from the north of England who entangle themselves with men in bands — has occasionally been misread through a lens of trendy melancholia. But her work, especially since the breakthrough of First Love, more closely resembles the sturdy yet delicate realism of the late 19th century — Chekhov, Stendhal — in which mundane objects, landscapes and exchanges are imbued with rich layers of social and psychological meaning that shift as they are turned under the light. Like Mary Gaitskill, whose contemporary subject matter has sometimes served as a distraction, Riley is among other things a moralist.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewEven the prose has been forcibly domesticated. Though the characters think in long, associative, run-on sentences, there is little of the wild, supple unpredictability for which stream of consciousness was invented. It’s more like anxious small talk, in which the chatterer, though theoretically freed from the civilizing influence of other people, compulsively censors and corrects herself ... Moss is concerned, here and elsewhere, with our responsibilities to one another, and with our interconnectedness—across geographical distance and historical time, across species and national borders. Yet my imagination fails me when I try to envision what The Fell, published last year in Britain, might signify to U.S. readers. I can think of no book I’ve read since moving to New York from England that has made me feel so foreign ... Each character at some point fears that Kate, missing on the Peaks, will die or come to serious harm, and yet for all of them—Kate herself included—the threat of social sanction, that \'the whole village will know\' she broke the rules, feels more frightening. In that sense, viewed as a study in repression and displacement, Moss’s defiantly uneventful novel becomes a psychological thriller.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewHall, the author of several previous novels, is best known as a much-decorated short-story writer, and Burntcoat carries a flavor of that form—in its lush intensity, its abrupt leaps in time and its reliance on mood and image and theme over scope or gradual development. There’s a quality akin to Marilynne Robinson, though Hall pays less attention to the intricacies of psychology ... an insistently poetic novel.
RaveHarpersGraham doesn’t allow herself the reveling in ruin and despair that sometimes tempts those who write about apocalypse ... Graham has long been breaking open the lyric voice, seeing how much of the vast, fractured, overwhelming present it can contain ... Her most thrilling poems hurtle through long, unpredictable lines that devour and spit out ancient echoes and internet detritus as they go, returning to unpoetic words such as normal till you feel the hideous adjustments they are hiding ... she in her poems remakes a world you can inhabit, one in which you sense what it is we’re letting go of, now, before it’s gone.
PositiveHarpers\"... while the book, which includes contemporaneous notes and letters, vividly portrays her relations with Freud, it situates that portrayal within an account of her self-inspection and development as an artist that would impress Rilke. Her writing has the same intensity and restraint as her paintings ... Hardest of all on herself, Paul makes clear that her inward focus and discipline require constant psychic struggle. It puts this book among the most intriguing accounts I’ve read of maternal ambivalence. Paul approaches her primal connection to Frank, her son by Freud, whom she leaves mostly to the care of her mother, as an existential threat ... Acknowledging that women have frequently been relegated to the status of muse, lover, object, Paul reclaims even that as an enviable talent: \'Their natural propensity for giving themselves up to the experience, combined with an aptitude for stillness, has made many women great muses to great male artists.\' Imagine someone capable of both these forms of channeling, able to use one to stoke the other. For an artist, no experience is wasted.
RaveHarper\'sLike a modern-day Mae West, Parton is endlessly quotable and fun to read about, but the book is also enriched by its glimpses of the women in Smarsh’s Kansan family, especially her grandmother, Betty, whose way of talking she borrowed for her title.
RaveHarpersA luminous book, it is illustrated with elaborate gilded grid poems by the ninth-century monk Hrabanus Maurus ... The saints, though, provide the book’s funnier and more alarming insights into human nature ... Weinberger wears his erudition with an understated elegance, and anyone who has read his political essays (which use the same wry method of collage) should find in these further-off horrors and follies a source of light relief.
PositiveHarper\'s Review...high-stakes lyricism infuses White Hot Light ... As material for art, emergency medicine, like the climate crisis, would seem, given its tendency toward unrelieved crescendo, both appealing and treacherous. Huyler, though, is an old hand, having published both poetry and fiction, as well as an earlier volume of memoir ... The mood of this one is shaped by the accumulation of years of clinical practice, accustomed disappointments, strokes of luck and grace ... At times his style owes something to the rapturous economy of Denis Johnson, and the people drifting in and out could well find a home in a Johnson story ... implicitly political—he lays bare the cruelties and humiliations of poverty, and of for-profit health care in particular—but maintains an elemental tone ... His job is a constant reminder that life has no narrative logic.
RaveHarpersThrough Tsuneno, a woman with no remarkable talents or aspirations, Stanley conjures a teeming world ... Tsuneno’s restlessness and bad luck make her a rewarding subject ... Stanley’s primary materials are letters from Tsuneno and her relatives, which are delightfully frank ... The couple squabble, divorce, and remarry, and Tsuneno’s fortunes continue their erratic, fascinating fall and rise and fall ... a lost place appears to the reader as if alive and intact.
PositiveHarpersA slim, idiosyncratic history of these structures and their appearances in literature—from Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father and grandfather engineered them, to Virginia Woolf, to Ray Bradbury—the book allows the reader flashes of Barrera’s emotional life amid the accumulated detail ... universality is key to the charm of Barrera’s subject. She’s aware of the lurking dangers of sentimentality, and of how unoriginal her lighthouse obsession is. It’s oddly cheering to know, while you fantasize about escaping everybody else, that most all of them are thinking the very same thing.
Dola de Jong, Trans. by Kristen Gehrman
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... despite its subject, The Tree and the Vine is lively, funny ... It doesn’t surprise me that the novel, though by no means sexually explicit, was initially considered too shocking to publish...Whereas Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, appearing under a pseudonym in 1952, notoriously provided a lesbian romance with a happy, or at least hopeful, ending, The Tree and the Vine accomplishes something bolder: It normalizes its characters’ unhappinesses, showing them to be just as complicated as anyone else’s ... Bea’s tendency to pathologize Erica’s sexuality — as a \'wrongness\' she sometimes sees as the result of a troubled upbringing — only highlights de Jong’s refusal to do so, and her recognition that, as with the image of tree and vine, a certain self-defeating twistedness is a natural part of the human condition. And here, when a character is endangered by her love of women, you know it isn’t the author who wants to punish her.
PositiveHarpersTelephone is concerned with systems of meaning and communication—how they can be constructed and derailed. And like any serious novel, it’s an experiment with these systems, a game that tests its own rules as it’s played. The text is pockmarked with untranslated phrases in Latin, French, and German; with descriptions of Zach’s arcane professional findings; and with series of chess moves ... These are clues as to how to read the story, yet they’re also, more affectingly, the tools Zach is using to try to make sense of and cope with what has happened to him—and none of them is remotely adequate to the task. The novel hints that whether one’s life is a domestic tragedy or a political thriller may depend mainly on emphasis, on how you interpret the world and which parts of it you pay attention to ... Zach is confronting forms of pain and injustice too vast to be understood. Like the events it mentions, the passage is hard to digest. Grief and guilt are like that, too.
PositiveHarpers...today’s most insouciant classicist ... It’s always a pleasure to watch Carson’s mind at play, and her minor works can have a swift, casual sharpness ... Naturally this isn’t the real Marilyn, whoever that may have been, and it doesn’t aim to be. Yet Carson’s slapdash Norma Jeane captures some qualities underestimated in too many conjurings of the original—the intellectual energy, Bolshie rebellion, and crude humor that underpinned her blonde-clown antics and helped make them indelible onscreen.
PositiveHarper\'sKavan’s narrators often experience social persecution or emotional isolation in climatic terms—fog and ice and other forces threaten destruction—making that time of world war, mass displacement, and imminent nuclear winter feel intimately connected to our own, in which looming environmental catastrophe provides an ever-available metaphor for societal and psychological ills. Meanwhile the increasingly anomic autonomy of Kavan’s stories only enhances their precision as reflections of the twentieth century, with its bomb shelters and mental institutions, its traumatized soldiers and alienated workers, its totalitarian bureaucrats and rioting students ... In Kavan, sardonic, absurdist humor shoots through the dark ... Kavan’s work, read in this form, spanning decades, is heartening in its willingness to strike out alone, growing only bolder, stranger, more adventurous. That tendency cost her many times, but readers eventually met her where she was, and now the things she depicted look more eerily recognizable than ever.
MixedHarpersThese references, though they impart the odd frisson, invite unflattering comparisons. Cain’s sentences are elegant and often suspenseful, but the narrative can’t fulfill the promise of their strangeness. Vitória lacks the stark self-pity of Jean Rhys’s heroines or the swooning, spiritual intensity of Clarice Lispector’s, and Cain doesn’t manage the magic trick accomplished by those predecessors, in which a mind becomes the world and all outside it vanishes. Meanwhile the social constraints that serve here as Cain’s artistic ones also feel too filmy and indistinct to sustain the requisite tension. Indelicacy makes a tacit claim as a feminist fable, in which Vitória attempts to carve out room for herself without either submitting to or being complicit in exploitation—but the book’s very ease makes it slight against its much darker lineage. It couldn’t have been written in the past it’s set in, yet it also doesn’t draw much from the time in which it appears. Genet spawned The Maids out of a true and violent story—it’s intriguing to consider what Cain might make from sturdier material.
PositiveHarpersThe novel’s warm yet depressive, gently apocalyptic tone—just like its sinewy form—is similar to that of Dept. of Speculation, but the new book carries with it an additional, grim implication that the world outside may be catching up with its sensibility ... the entire texture of everyday living is infused with the mood of political and ecological disaster ... Offill’s frequent jokes about depression, featured in both works, here unmask themselves as what they maybe always were: reminders of how nearly impossible it is to learn to live with things as they are.
Toni Morrison, foreword by Ta-Nehisi Coates
RaveThe Guardian (UK)This is a book not about racial difference (there is, after all, as Morrison notes, only one human race) but about the possibilities and responsibilities of literature. And what linger in the mind longer than Morrison’s arguments are her bold and delicate literary juxtapositions ... Though only slightly more than 100 pages, the book makes room for long quotations from other works, including Morrison’s novels, which she revisits with a characteristic sensitivity to how things are said, to what is left out of a work of art, and why ... Morrison will not let herself or anyone else off the hook, and the autobiographical moments in this book are among the most interesting and ambiguous ... Morrison gives an unusually concise demonstration of how truth in fiction works, or doesn’t, of where the line is between a self-serving distortion or reduction of someone else and an imaginative leap in service of a different and important form of truth.
MixedHarper\'sThe short book feels strangely capacious ... Not every entry earns its keep. Christle’s view of motherhood can seem cloying ... Yet the book’s effects are sly and cumulative, relying not so much on any one observation as on associations, echoes, contrasts—a method that reflects Christle’s view of art and life, the interdependence, the complex contagion and repetition of feeling and action and reaction that marks them. The Crying Book doesn’t command or seduce its readers, instead offering a developing sense of comradeship—if you choose to stay, you’re rewarded. It’s about grief and friendship, but only delicately so. Christle wants to preserve the particularity of experiences while illuminating what they have in common.
RaveThe London Review of BooksLevy is engaged in her own Duras-like technical experiments with time, and in her latest novel, The Man Who Saw Everything, has worked out how to ‘haul the past into the present tense without a single flashback’. In all her books the logic of the psyche – its fears and desires, fantasies and projections – trumps the more workaday narrative kind, but here what she has called ‘portals to the past’, and to the unconscious, have grown smaller and more slender such that they can appear in nearly every sentence without seeming to disturb the texture of daily living. Or rather, it’s the disturbances which make up that texture ... Levy ...conveys the way both the past and the future are constantly changing, the course of events predetermined only by our determination to repeat our errors. As she knows from Greek tragedy via psychoanalysis, what is not faced is what most powerfully recurs. Levy puts a characteristic twist on the kind of dramatic irony in which characters move towards a catastrophe they can’t foresee but the reader can: she shows how people avoid what they know about themselves ... The novel maps a self being pieced back together so that the weakest points show. It also addresses a moment in history that could feel like a bad dream or a bad joke, and Levy has always taken those seriously.
RaveHarper\'s... ambitious in scope, is honed to a precision that feels hard-won ... The politics of illness have rarely been limned with such clarity and grace. One of Boyer’s many gifts is for framing and juxtaposition, vividly exposing connections between structural injustice and personal suffering.
PositiveHarper\'sThe book thins plot and character into stereotype and shows, in taut, incantatory sentences, often laid out like poems, that the story nonetheless stays in motion; the reader still responds as bidden ... The reader is moved precisely by the young women’s dawning awareness of how little their particular gifts and desires may matter, how unoriginal and undignified are their pains and disappointments ... Shifts of grammatical mood and tense have palpable effects: much of the action takes place somewhere between the conditional and the inevitable, the needn’t-happen and the already-too-late. Suspense is sustained even within and between phrases.
PositiveThe GuardianSupple and incisive, with a gift for unexpected intuitive turns and juxtapositions, [Tolentino] was formed online, in the years she spent as an editor and writer for the Hairpin and Jezebel before becoming a New Yorker staff writer. And her work is marked by that environment – in which you must be swift, bold and flexible, playful but persuasive, willing to perform yourself close-up and ready to be attacked for it, constantly aware of how you’re seen, competing for elusive attention, preparing for immediate counterargument ... part of what her pieces reveal is that harsh, seductive, disorienting environment itself, as bleak and fragmented as it is glossy ... Perhaps it’s no coincidence that two of the strongest essays, the most sinuous and expansive, examine turf [Tolentino] has known intimately and returned to after an absence, as opposed to waters she still swims in ... Most striking are the moments that fully transcend the logic of a think-piece, the embodied metaphors that break beyond explicit argument.
MixedHarpers ReviewChurchland is a proud Humean who believes in obeying your natural sympathies and checking them as you go against the imagined perspective of an impartial observer. She favors this approach over the available alternatives on the grounds of evidence, pragmatism, and even, implicitly, ethic...Still, as a basis for doing philosophy per se, it has some obvious difficulties. You can accept that there’s a biological substrate to any given aspect of the human condition without assuming that more information about the brain will meaningfully deepen your understanding ... it seems uncontroversial to suggest that you can glean more about what it means to live and think by reading Ulysses than you ever could by shoving James Joyce inside an MRI machine ... The test of a moral philosophy is surely not where it begins so much as where it leads, and here the results are mixed. As Churchland admits, a system based on the glow of social approbation and affection versus the shame and pain of their inverse is vulnerable to all kinds of abuse. ... The severest dangers of essentializing in this way are obvious. Yet there are also other, subtler risks.
MixedHarper\'s...a startlingly sunny and audacious manifesto ... Bastani, co-founder of a left-wing, London-based media organization called Novara, gamely reclaims the stuff of dystopia for a more buoyant vision ... For some readers, this will veer too far into the realm of utopian fiction ... Yet the book’s power is in its reminder of how much convenient fantasy is already required to sustain the status quo ... The most affecting moment in the book comes before it begins, when Bastani acknowledges that he’s \'indebted to the many people who fought for a political settlement which gave me free healthcare and cheap education\' ... Bastani’s is an optimism regarding social life that’s sometimes hard to square with the underlying situation...[mixed with a] healthy suspicion of a spuriously depoliticized \'common sense.\'
Natalia Ginzburg, Trans. by Minna Proctor
PositiveHarpers...rich ... The web of connections between private and public life, between the intellectual and the emotional and the political, is delicately visible, only occasionally breaking the surface—an effect typical even of Ginzburg’s more autobiographical work ... Despite Ginzburg’s wry observational humor, the mood grows increasingly melancholy. Happiness is fleeting and only recognizable in retrospect, if it exists at all.
Daša Drndić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
RaveHarper\'s ReviewAs its title may suggest, the novel is structured somewhat like a scan of [Ban\'s] brain activity, which is to say that it’s associative, looping, digressive: thrilling and deliberately infuriating in equal measure. By the same token, it’s also, like several of Drndić’s other books, an experiment in how much of the horrific twentieth century one work of fiction can swallow without breaking apart ... the force of Ban’s anger and the leaping, unexpected connections he draws are exhilarating, restoring the reality of all those cutoff lives, along with the reader’s capacity to take in the scale of complicity involved—from the CIA’s harboring of Nazi war criminals to the tawdry record of Croat nationalism—and to register history’s shocks anew. EEG is a monument against the common notion that political convictions soften with age, as you learn to let the world off the hook. Neither Drndić nor her books did any such thing.
RaveHarper\'s[Herbert] takes on the dishonesties and self-deceptions that can keep the politics of an entire country rotten all the way down ... The book is both vivid and enthusiastically researched, examining each piece of available evidence to establish what must have happened at every stage and how it was obscured, then and later. Herbert re-creates the history of Torreón and its Chinese community, how they thrived and who saw them as an economic threat. (He favors all kinds of local color; the book’s title, rather brilliantly, is the nickname of the soccer team’s home stadium.) Here and there, he’ll allow his research to slip into empathic identifications ... Or he’ll offer a passing flash of self-revelation, just enough to place himself within the society he’s describing.
PositiveHarpersConsistently both startling and absorbing ... Immerwahr vividly retells the early formation of the country, the consolidation of its overseas territory, and the postwar perfection of its \'pointillist\' global empire, which extends influence through a vast constellation of tiny footprints—its approximately eight hundred military bases across scores of nations, dwarfing the twenty or so held by France, Russia, and my pretty-in-pink motherland combined. Much of this book’s power is in the details.
RaveHarpersWhat emerges from this braiding and reworking of disparate texts is a highly imaginative and politically deft portrait of childhood within a vast American landscape. The parents and their children—one of whom narrates parts of the book—see and imagine the same territory differently, their experiences and those of the young migrants traveling elsewhere in the desert overlapping and separating again to create a kind of patchwork representation of how America might see itself ... A rollicking tale that contains within it an extremely disciplined exercise in political empathy ... Luiselli performs a perspectival shift that shows the reader something she wouldn’t normally see, and also maps the past onto the present in ways that can reveal hidden contours in both.
Jamil Jan Kochai
RaveHarpersThis is...a funny, lightly surreal evocation of life in rural Afghanistan which partly aims, in entertaining American readers, to rouse their sympathy for the real-life Afghans who have been suffering under U.S. occupation for seventeen years now ... it’s driven by a profusion of tales within tales, which begin and break off, resume and recur, swerve or blossom into one another ... The magical elements don’t seem so much more far-fetched than the drones in the sky, and the book’s comic register turns out to be wildly elastic ... The comedy helps restore a sense of the weight and substance of individual Afghan lives for readers so inured to the large numbers of reported deaths over many years ... Toward the end, a crucial story that keeps surfacing in tantalizing fragments, about the death of Watak, Marwand’s uncle, is finally told in its entirety—in Pashto ... For these few pages, no concession at all is made to the English-speaking reader who up till now has been so lavishly entertained
RaveHarper\'s[Rooney\'s novels are] marvels of restraint, combining deft social observation—especially of shifts of power between individuals and groups—with acute feeling. Rooney is precise and leaves a lot unsaid, though the directness of her descriptions tends to belie this—she’s a master of the kind of millennial deadpan that appears to skewer a whole life and personality in a sentence or two, leaving the knots of anguish and confusion beneath ... The novel maps their relationship in intense bursts punctuated by carefully dated gaps, usually of several months at a time (though there’s one of only a few minutes). This narrowness of focus...brings the snippets we see of the social environment into sharper relief ... One other thing Rooney makes both real and sexy, incidentally, is sex—a feat more remarkable in the context of contemporary fiction than it should be ... Rooney’s protagonists are usually as funny and intellectually agile as she is.
Heike Geissler, Trans. by Katy Derbyshire
PositiveHarpersChillingly effective, not least for its accumulation of details, which seem both aggressively banal and freighted with an excess of symbolic meaning ... The ubiquitous linguistic debasement and corporate doublespeak is made strange and new again, the small humiliations and injustices pile up along with their psychological and social consequences.
PositiveHarper\'sLike other tales of old Hollywood, this one is full of tantalizing nuggets ... Hudson seems fundamentally unresolved. This seeming lack of resolution—in life and onscreen—poses a problem for a biographer even as it makes him compelling on film whenever a script leaves room for any ambiguity.
PositiveHarpers\"These [letters] are unusually frank by Plath’s standards, and they cover the brief period of greatest interest (both prurient and literary), during which she wrote her best and best-known poems ... The book provides, in the end, an account of an ordinary anguish out of which Plath produced something extraordinary.\
PositiveHarpersLaymon examines the many obstacles to honesty and how they infect both public and private life. He weaves a rich...colloquial self-interrogation in the service of a larger interrogation of the country he lives in. It takes in how deeply and variously his body has been marked by shame and trauma, by sexual and physical abuse, by the compulsive soothings and punishings of food and starvation and obsessive exercise, his anorexia often invisible to others because of their inability to see a tall black man as in any way vulnerable ... Time bends and stretches as slow, detailed scenes are followed by delicate slips into an incantatory future tense, conveying a predictive cycle of complicity and hurt.
PositiveBookforumTwo Southern belles on the run get catcalled one too many times by the same schlubby dude; they blow up his truck. A couple of rough-and-ready French chicks talk their way into an architect’s house...and point their Smith & Wessons at him. \'It’s clear to me,\' one of them tells him affectionately, \'that you stand out from our past encounters.\' Then she shoots him in the face. \'Get your fucking hands off me, goddamn it!\' yells a leader of the National Women’s Political Caucus at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, addressing the member of the white-guy network-news crowd who is trying to restrain her as she rages over their failure to cover her group’s contributions ... Furious women make for good montage. It’s true that the examples above are angry for very different reasons and channel their anger in very different ways; it’s also true that the first two scenarios are fictional. Still, together they give you a glimpse of the kinds of pleasures and frustrations on offer for readers of Good and Mad, journalist Rebecca Traister’s reported manifesto on feminism after Trump.
Luce D'Eramo, Trans. by Anne Milano Appel,
RaveHarper\'sLuce D’Eramo’s extraordinary novel Deviation...is, as its title may imply, a rejection of the idea that literary form can be neatly separated from psychic and political life. Autobiographical without ever being simply or transparently so, the story is so eventful that it initially threatens to make the style of its telling invisible—the content upstaging the form—when in fact the drama and difficulty of that telling will become central to the book. It’s no mean feat even to summarize the novel’s plot, which emerges in uneven, nonchronological, tonally disparate sections, written at different times and dated as such, their edges left jagged, the elisions and distortions of earlier parts revisited and highlighted in later ones ... A novel is the classic form through which to convey a drastic shift in individual consciousness. By dramatizing its own struggle to be written, this one displays the process of changing your mind and trying to take responsibility for yourself and your place in the world ... She keeps shedding her bourgeois skin but it always regrows, protecting her from what others must suffer, trapping her by turns in self-serving and self-punishing delusions ... She is aware of the way her memory continually alters the past and especially the self that occupied it. The book’s vividly drawn early sections are presented as memories long repressed ... Yet they are also revealed as highly artificial reconstructions that must be painfully torn down and reassembled to find what has been left out.
PositiveHarpersWhile continuing the discussion of existential and religious questions he addressed in earlier books, such as My Bright Abyss, in this latest work Wiman considers some of the central problems of a life dedicated to poetry—how the work must reach out toward something beyond it, and how one must nonetheless take the work seriously as an end in itself in order to produce any writing worth a damn ... If writers are striving for something beyond what they’re literally working on, Wiman wonders what that something could be—God? Death? There’s another possibility, the yearning for a more concrete ethical engagement with other people...and it is, intriguingly, one he barely considers. The spiritually inflected reaching-outward he recommends—love for poet friends, his wife, his daughters, to whom his study door is nowadays \'always open;\' the work of the oncologist who treated his cancer—never exceeds the bounds of private life.
PositiveHarper\'s MagazineMokhtefi handles some spectacular material in brisk, modest fashion. The inevitable doubts and conflicts that arise are not agonized over ... Mokhtefi focuses less on how her political allegiances developed, what she was or wasn’t willing to do and why, than on telling, in lively, lucid fashion, what happened and who did what. To do otherwise might have produced a longer and in some ways more substantial book. But it also seems possible that this readiness to minimize herself on the page is related to whatever capacity allows a person, over the years, to participate in politics, navigating the compromises involved.
PositiveHarpersNotes from the Fog, Ben Marcus’s new story collection, shows a persistent awareness of the violence involved in interpretation—of the difficulty of fully understanding something without in the process destroying it ... Notes from the Fog adopts a grimly low-tech vision of the future that mostly ignores machines and systems to work directly on bodies ... the wilder and more Swiftian the plots get, the more intimately the stories seem to evoke a lived reality ... Given the considerable range of these stories in tone and scope, it’s striking how neatly their concerns and techniques are prefigured by Marcus’s deceptively simple opening salvo ... This subject matter is a gift, a giant joke on the geopolitical import one’s home life can be felt to have, though perhaps it’s inevitable that not all...personal anecdotes can quite bear the weight this places on them.
PositiveHarper\'s[A Girl\'s Guide to Missiles] has a brilliantly overdetermined setup, one that yields both black comedy and sickening lurches of insight ... While still a child, Piper naturally isn’t equipped to question the broader context she’s living in, although there is the occasional kids-say-the-darndest-things moment ... This subject matter is a gift, a giant joke on the geopolitical import one’s home life can be felt to have, though perhaps it’s inevitable that not all of Piper’s personal anecdotes can quite bear the weight this places on them.
Christian Kracht, Trans. by Daniel Bowles
PositiveHarpersFramed by two highly aestheticized death scenes that balance precariously between real and unreal, the book is structured more by its images and digressions than by its nominal plot. Even the details snatched from history seem dreamlike ... for Kracht’s characters, even the merest nap can have a cinematic quality ... In Kracht’s novel, the politics of sleep are ambiguous, and everyone’s inner life (except perhaps Chaplin’s) involves a dreamy floating punctuated by bursts of real or imagined violence.
PositiveBookForumMost of the book’s pleasures are traditional ones, welcome reminders of how much an old-fashioned novel can do. It expands the sympathies of its readers, delicately explores the connection between historical experience and the everyday, and offers a picture of a whole social system and what it does to the people who inhabit it ... The personal is political here in a quieter way than in Gessen’s earlier novel ... If the novel contains an implied injunction for readers, it may be simply that we learn to pay closer attention.
PositiveHarpers MagazineThough the book is by no means a memoir, it does chart the development of Stein’s thinking alongside that of her subjects, and her willingness to explore her own limitations makes it a livelier and more moving study than it might otherwise have been.... [Stein] insists on questioning anything in the discourse on gender and transition that smacks of essentialism—yet she frequently realizes (and has the grace to say) that much of the rigid thinking she encounters is her own.
RaveHarpers... a sleek, lush romance... [Never Anyone But You is] a deftly conventional treatment of a stubbornly unconventional subject. Thomson’s [novel] is an extraordinary and rollicking tale, occasionally slowed down by his need to make sure that readers are getting the message.
PositiveThe New Yorker\"Despite its intermittently chatty tone, Sick is a strange book, one that resists the clean narrative lines of many illness memoirs—in which order gives way to chaos, which is then resolved, with lessons learned and pain transcended along the way ... By focussing on place, Khakpour implicitly situates herself in the long line of women who have been, as the writer-director Todd Haynes has put it, speaking of his 1995 film Safe, \'pathologized by their own dis-ease in the world\' ... Though she’s worn down by her mistreatment at the hands of some of her doctors, Khakpour seems unsurprised; as a woman of color, born in Iran, she begins from the assumption that many Americans will find her suspect. Her lack of defensiveness is perhaps the book’s most remarkable quality ... Khakpour’s decision to avoid explicit claims to scientific or literary authority is a bold move, one that draws attention to the ways in which women are expected to tell stories of sickness—and the ways in which their storytelling can affect their chances of accurate diagnosis and effective treatment ... Rather than wrestle her subject into more comfortable territory, Khakpour forces her reader to deal with unrelieved uncertainty ... She dramatizes a paradox: solidarity with other sufferers is a source of both comfort and information, and yet it can also lead you to be written off as one more member of the herd of suspected malingerers.\
PositiveHarper\'sThough Groff moves adroitly through an impressive range of lives, times, and places, the stories often seem propelled more by a supercharged pathetic fallacy than by action and character. The storming, punching, chasing rain alone displays a frightening autonomy, while the landscape and fauna seem to make metaphor on a monumental scale ... The pages are full of cascade, swamp, and drift; everything and everyone seems on the slide ... the reader senses that the refuge of the mind has been invaded, and is beginning to flood.
MixedHarper's MagazineFundamentally, he writes, it is the manifestation of desire, especially the desire to be liked or at least watched, that evokes disgust ... No surprise, then, that Mann takes the effort to embarrass himself so much further than Feigel does, offering up his petty ambitions and insecurities in excruciating detail, sparing no undignified angle, letting no vain or histrionic thought go unshared.
PositiveHarper\'sHers is a quest narrative, exploring ideas about freedom that she finds in Lessing’s biography and work—how, and at what cost, it might be found, sexually, politically, socially, intellectually, in passionate love, or alone in nature—and weaving them into an account of her doubts and concerns about the course of her own life and marriage ... Feigel is an attentive reader, but the slightly riskier part of her venture is its demand that attention be paid to the inner workings of her life, a life that is extraordinary only in its advantages. In the course of writing the book, she becomes aware that the sense of unfreedom she chafes at may have more to do with her own oppressive \'eagerness to please\' ... Feigel’s goal is to describe her feelings and discoveries in as much detail as possible.
RaveHarper\'s\"Kushner’s great gift is for the evocation of a scene, a time and place, and the atmosphere this book most frequently conjures is one of pervasive claustrophobia ... For the reader, there’s a familiarity to all this that only adds to the sense of walls closing in—we seem already to know the violence and boredom of the prison routines; the unintentionally comic institutional language; the casual sadism of the guards; the systems for smuggling in contraband; the alliances, power struggles, and racial divides among the inmate population. Most of all, there’s the claustrophobia of the narrative itself: the combination of constant risk and limited possibility, the sickening strain of knowing something bad could happen at any minute and that nothing good ever will.\
Tracy K Smith
PositiveHarper\'s\"The year 2017 was, I presume, an awkward, anxious moment to be named poet laureate of the United States. What the writer owes the collective and where she fits within it is a fraught question at the best of times, one subject to frequent border disputes. Yet Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith’s first collection since her appointment, considers the state of the union with characteristic grace ... Smith seems to want to show a country to itself, and a people — not just an American people, either. This can yield false notes (I could have done without the penis and rape metaphors in \'A Man’s World\' and \'The World Is Your Beautiful Younger Sister,\' respectively), but for the most part she is too attentive to overgeneralize. Some of the most striking poems here are the simplest.\
PositiveHarper\'sSlender, tricksy, and absorbing, this new book announces itself \'A Fiction\' on the cover but, inside, protests the label at every opportunity ... Long, liquid sentences seem apt to induce a trance even as they keep drawing the reader’s attention back to the only immediate reality, which is that we are reading Murnane’s words. His account of distraction, the mind’s constant wanderings while reading and writing, creates a mise en abyme in which we read and think about him ruminating on his reading and thinking about reading and thinking until the book rather gloriously threatens to swallow itself whole.
MixedThe Guardian\"At times Michelle Dean\'s Sharp feels like a zany game of Twister ... Yet her argument might appear to be right there in the subtitle – The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion – it remains frustratingly vague ... By including so many writers about whom so much is already widely known, Dean has set herself an impossible task – there’s just not enough room to say much that’s new in the breathless sweep from one woman to another, and what links them is often tenuous, except in the case of those who were friends (such as Arendt and Mary McCarthy, whose relationship is given a separate chapter) ... In the end, even though Dean has chosen her women precisely for their exceptional qualities, the form of the book tends to imply once more that female writers must occupy the same category. It’s always fun to read about these women as social and professional creatures – where they published, whom they seduced, how they treated one another – but perhaps inevitably, given how little many of their intellectual projects had in common, Dean doesn’t always pay enough attention to what each one was saying, and how she said it.\
Clarice Lispector, Trans. by Benjamin Moser & Magdalena Edwards
PositiveHarper\'s\"Pulsing descriptions of her inner struggles make up the bulk of the novel, driving it forward in an ever-recurring epiphanic rise and fall ... As children, Virginia and Daniel play in a clearing \'where everything that had to happen in somebody’s life hurried up and happened, and that’s a good hint at how the novel is structured, as a forested tangle of terrors and extremes where the usual elements of plot — domestic violence, secrets revealed, humiliations endured, arguments, unsatisfactory affairs, a hit-and-run — have to squeeze themselves into the clearings in between, a paragraph or two at a time. For my money, Lispector could have left even more out. The Chandelier doesn’t measure up to the likes of The Passion According to G. H.. That novel’s intensity is more ruthlessly controlled, and its reaches must confront race, class, shame, God, humanity, and nature while locked for the book’s span in a single mind, in a single room ... You could say that Lispector’s method involves neither showing nor telling but provoking. That may be as good an answer as any to the question of what a writer owes her public.\
PositiveHarper'sVarious facts and stories in Blue Dreams feel familiar — the hit-and-miss development of antipsychotics, MAOIs, and SSRIs; the cynical machinations of drug companies and the routine compromises of psychiatrists — yet the result is a vivid and thought-provoking synthesis. Some of the book’s most striking insights come when Slater, rejecting mainstream psychiatry’s Whiggish claims about increasingly precise diagnoses and constant drug innovation, inverts them to reveal a different form of optimism: older treatments that have fallen out of fashion, often because they’re harder to patent or to make a profit from, still offer promising avenues for exploration ... If Slater has any discernible bias, it’s in favor of human connection, of relationship, despite the messy and unpleasant side effects — the dangerous power imbalances — that this, too, can bring.
PositiveHarper\'s\"I might not have made it up the slope of Part 1 but for the rigorous constructedness of the book’s world and its sentences. Throughout the novel there is a sense of shimmering, almost Nabokovian artifice, only without the great man’s exuberant glee in showing the authorial hand — here, we’re never allowed to forget that the author is not a self-delighting puppet master but an anxious young woman … In the end, the novel succeeds admirably on its own terms. By gently politicizing her book’s aesthetic asymmetry, Halliday manages to have it both ways.\
PositiveHarper\'sSigrid Nunez’s sneaky gut punch of a novel, is a consummate example of the human-animal tale ... \'Find the right tone and you can write about anything,\' the narrator says of her most famous predecessor in canine romance, J. R. Ackerley. The Friend’s tone is dry, clear, direct — which is the surest way to carry off this sort of close-up study of anguish and attachment. More for aesthetic than for moral reasons, the narrator gives up her attempt to write about a group of traumatized women with whom she’s been volunteering to slowly, painfully, construct instead the book we’re reading. Someone is being played here, but whether the game is at the reader’s expense or the subject’s (the dead mentor’s) remains deliberately unclear.
RaveHarper\'s MagazineThe Friend, Sigrid Nunez’s sneaky gut punch of a novel, is a consummate example of the human-animal tale. It presents itself as a thinly fictionalized grief memoir in which an unnamed, Nunez-like writer, after the suicide of her beloved mentor, adopts his heartbroken Great Dane, Apollo ...tone is dry, clear, direct — which is the surest way to carry off this sort of close-up study of anguish and attachment. More for aesthetic than for moral reasons, the narrator gives up her attempt to write about a group of traumatized women with whom she’s been volunteering to slowly, painfully, construct instead the book we’re reading. Someone is being played here, but whether the game is at the reader’s expense or the subject’s (the dead mentor’s) remains deliberately unclear.
MixedHarper'sThere was an uncomfortable dissonance between the cheerful tone of Monk and my own overriding feeling while reading it, which was a dread akin to that I might feel on seeing a child totter into oncoming traffic ... My interpretation of Mokhtar as a specifically American hero is evidently the intended one. US citizens like him 'bravely embody this nation’s reason for being, a place of radical opportunity and ceaseless welcome,' Eggers writes, before closing his prologue with a rousing call to arms...That’s some 'authentic frontier gibberish' all right (to quote Blazing Saddles), but I’m struck especially by the phrase 'irrational exuberance,' more usually associated with housing and tech bubbles whose sudden burstings have disastrous consequences. Eggers seems to mean it in a good way, but that isn’t how it reads to me.
RaveHarper'sThe book is in part an artful homage to one of V. S. Naipaul’s most surprising works, In a Free State. Without announcing his experimental intent too loudly, Mukherjee rips the meat of the novel (imagery, incident, social insight, feeling, mood) from the bones (narrative and character development in the usual sense) and feeds his readers only the richest pieces … The book is divided into five stylistically disparate parts—ranging from an urbane first person to omniscient narration to hurtling stream of consciousness—that look in on tangentially connected lives … From its opening pages, Mukherjee’s narrative has an eerie, haunted quality. The most comfortable lives here are lived surrounded by disquieting, spectral presences. It’s an unaccustomed form of realism.
PositiveThe GuardianGay’s tone shifts between a breezy, conversational style and something harsher, and she recounts painful events in short, almost incantatory sentences ... Gay alludes to or summarises difficult conversations, but rarely recounts them in full, and the overall effect is often one of claustrophobic intensity, as if the reader is trapped inside her head much the way she describes feeling caged in her flesh. Some of the book’s repetitions may be due to its origin in shorter pieces written for various publications, but most reflect the near-constant frustrations of living in a body the world both fixates on and refuses to accommodate.
Malin Persson Giolito
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe novel is structured as a courtroom procedural, yet it clearly has ambitions beyond that, addressing Sweden’s underlying economic and racial tensions. Characters often conform to social as well as narrative type, and we can’t ignore the connections between the two ... the weakest sections of her story [are the ones] in which Maja recalls a series of lurid parties, tearful breakups and tense family dinners, and explores the ins and outs of Sebastian’s dime-store psychology. In the end, the novel’s emotional logic keeps it on a fairly conventional path, but it nonetheless points to issues beyond its own frame.
PositiveBookforumThe Idiot is in one sense a coming-of-age story of a fairly traditional kind, and yet Selin's developing consciousness is a stranger and more fun place to be than most: She sets about not knowing what she wants with rare energy and purpose, and meets the pains and indignities of youth with an unfailing, almost cheerful curiosity ... Although the sheer entertainment her prose offers doesn't require that we constantly think about how it works, Batuman is an unapologetically literary creature. She knows that the way you tell a story is the story ... The Idiot is a portrait of a mind examining itself and everything else, an argument for the occasional generous error, and an incidental confirmation—not in its plot but in its execution, which is the only way a novel can confirm anything—of the theory that it's possible to make anyone fall in love with you.
RaveThe New RepublicWhile Swing Time, is superficially smoother and more conventional than NW, it makes a remarkable leap in technique. Smith has become increasingly adept at combining social comedy and more existential concerns—manners and morals—through the flexibility of her voice, layering irony on feeling and vice versa ... Smith’s feeling for class is unnervingly precise ... Swing Time’s great achievement is its full-throated and embodied account of the tension between personal potential and what is actually possible.
PositiveBookforumWhat is most distinctive in her writing is its tone, a sweetly ironic, melancholy deadpan that makes you feel she’s looking straight at the things she describes, not quite wide-eyed and not quite world-weary ... One of Witt’s great strengths as a reporter is the steadiness of her gaze: She looks long enough to notice both what is valuable in the seemingly comical or bizarre and what’s ludicrous in the ostensibly normal ... At times, Witt’s tone makes it hard to know how to interpret the material she presents ... it can’t be that there’s nothing between a depressing status quo and a 1960s wet dream—and the in-between is where Witt’s subtle gifts come into their own.
PanHarper's MagazineIf the connections between work, commerce, and love seem fuzzy in Weigel’s telling, perhaps that’s the point. We all know that the economy determines many of our social and sexual mores, but the details of how it does so are hard to tease out with any precision...Weigel’s intuition that our dating lives feel unsatisfactory not just because of human error and the vagaries of love but because they reflect in every detail the unjust, exploitative economic and political system within which they take place, is a very dark one — this, too, surely, is the stuff of horror movies, where the threat is both inside and outside us, not to be escaped. That she has chosen such a worthy foe makes it seem all the stranger that when the time for battle approaches, Weigel turns coy. What exactly are these mysterious new ways of loving and living toward which she hopes we will direct our efforts?
PositiveBookforumStreisand's is a classic underdog narrative, and it seems every biographer must note the odds she overcame. Some of the details are fairy-tale-like... Others are frankly bizarre... Neal Gabler, in his thoughtful and enjoyable book-length essay for Yale's 'Jewish Lives' series, Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power, claims this meant 'too Jewish,' which seems plausible ... She often seemed to be rehearsing her own painful story on-screen and on record, a transference that was unique in its overtness: There are plenty of stars who might be said to embody a single theme in much of their work, but as Gabler puts it, where others express that theme in subtext.