Lily Meyer is a writer, critic and translator from Washington, D.C. She’s a regular reviewer for NPR Books, and has written for the Atlantic, Electric Literature, Longreads, the Poetry Foundation, and more. She studied creative writing at Brown University and the University of East Anglia, and her story “On Being Human” won the Sewanee Review’s First Annual Fiction Contest. She is a two-time fiction grant recipient from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
RaveNPR... impressionistic, sweetly illustrated ... Not having seen the musical, I can only guess — but I can testify, with great pleasure, that the book stands on its own as a soothing and uplifting, if somewhat nebulous, experience of art, as well as an argument for the reincarnation of hope in the American project ... The resulting effect is much more like reading a book-length poem than reading a play, though few poems or poetry collections come filled with charming illustrations of trees, dancers, and party-hatted dogs ... Kalman\'s pre-existing tendency toward endearing nostalgia suffuses the book, rendering it both sadder and sweeter than the text alone could ... The drawings are lightly at odds with Byrne\'s words, transforming their plain optimism into a more nuanced appeal ... fundamentally, appealing in both senses of the word. Byrne and Kalman may not offer a narrative arc, but they have an argument of sorts to make ... will probably not persuade entrenched partisans to peek out from the hole of their views. But to readers already inclined toward connection, and for those aspiring to \'live for different ideals,\' it can be a source of both aesthetic pleasure — those illustrations! — and some solace. In a world full of books purporting to explain how we arrived at this fractured, chaotic American moment, there is peace in opening one that attempts neither diagnosis nor prescription. More importantly, though, American Utopia provides a certain companionship in hope
PositiveThe AtlanticRemote learning asks us, as Cappello does, to reimagine the humanities lecture as a teaching tool that works even, or especially, for the distractible listener. To Cappello, in fact, distraction is the heart of the form. She argues that lectures are a tool for sparking thought, not for imparting information ... Cappello’s preference for deep but diffuse attention makes her close intellectual kin to the writer and artist Jenny Odell ... Odell seeks \'hidden springs of ambiguity and inefficiency\' in contemporary life; Cappello suggests that lectures could provide exactly that, though only if speakers release themselves from the obligation to impart maximum knowledge in minimum time. In fact, she asks them to take less seriously the obligation to impart knowledge at all ... If I can meaningfully orient students’ minds toward new possibilities, then, by Cappello’s standards, I have provided a valuable service, even if, by the end of my writing class, half my students are ruminating on possibilities that have little to do with writing. What matters—in a lecture, and an education—is, after all, thinking itself.
RaveNPRThe writer Nicole Krauss has, in the last two decades, acquired an enormous, devoted, and deserved readership. Her novels, which tend to juxtapose the broad philosophic questions of how to be human with the narrower — though still large and perplexing — issues of how to be a contemporary Jew, work in the magic-adjacent tradition of Bruno Schulz and Franz Kafka, with a little Rothian earthiness mixed in. The short stories in To Be a Man, which is Krauss\'s first collection, are as philosophically inclined as her novels, but in other ways, they represent a significant and exciting departure from her previous body of work ... the collection has no weak links. However, it does have a standout: The title story is the collection\'s best, likely because it melds Krauss\'s two major lines of inquiry. \'To Be a Man\' seeks a new and nonviolent order for both Jews and men ... \'To Be a Man\' is at once moving and pitiless. It is a daring story even in the context of a daring collection, and it proves wholly that aesthetic simplicity has not reduced the scope of Krauss\'s intellectual and creative powers at all.
RaveNPR...thorough, forceful, and ambitious ... It is slightly more surprising, and entirely admirable, that Missionaries represents a major stylistic shift from Redeployment, in that it is, quite explicitly, a novel of ideas ... the novel\'s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: It tries to be as all-encompassing as its subject ... a deeply ethical novel, and one that often pauses to question the purpose of war and possibility of redemption for combatants of all kinds. It is also a very well-built narrative ... The plot may not kick off till the book\'s halfway point, but once it moves, it moves. Klay is able to write kidnapping and murder without sensationalism; he never loses track of his moral questions, even while toggling between interiority and thriller-paced action ... Missionaries may wobble and drag at the beginning, but by the end, its humanity, like its purpose, is clear.
Anne Helen Petersen
PositiveNPR... a brisk, impassioned addition to an emergent mini-genre of journalistic nonfiction: books that rigorously describe and critique a single manifestation of late capitalism ... Petersen is quite clear that readers do not have the power to save themselves from burnout. Eliminating it will be \'a structural battle,\' which means \'the only way to move forward is to create a vocabulary and a framework that allows us to see ourselves — and the systems that have contributed to our burnout —clearly.\' This is a smart and attainable goal and one that Petersen succeeds in identifying ... relies heavily on personal testimonies that come from a diverse but still white-skewing group of interviewees who are nearly all women. Odd as it is to write this phrase, the male perspective is sadly absent here, which has significant implications in terms of race and class. For instance, Petersen never considers the effect of police brutality on Black men\'s burnout, or burnout in communities where traditionally male jobs — coal mining, say — have dried up. She is also prone to overfocusing, in various guises, on \'the \'obnoxious\' task of maintaining appearances,\' which, while onerous and a sure source of burnout, may not have merited more airtime than, say, the burnout-inducing effects of worse-than-obnoxious tasks like feeding children while living in a food desert ... Petersen might remind me here that \'[t]here\'s no burnout Olympics\' — true, but it bears noting that better research and prioritization would have strengthened Can\'t Even as both a portrait of burnout and a call for solidarity. Still, the book is effective, if imperfect, in both roles, and its flaws may serve to invite more writers into the necessary conversation Petersen has begun. She plainly hopes so. Burnout, Petersen argues, will end only with sweeping labor-policy changes, meaning that it will end only when we \'vote en masse to elect politicians who will agitate for [reform] tirelessly.\' Can\'t Even offers more than enough motivation to cast such a vote.
RaveNPRJack is not a novel that offers answers to the urgent moral question of American racism. Nor should it ... [Robinson] traces a relationship from its complicated inception to its immensely troubled and moving maturity, and, in so doing, asks American readers to consider both the cruelties of our country\'s racist recent history and the utter potential, for white Americans in particular, of accepting that we are intrinsically able to do harm.
PositiveNPRThis translation, the first to appear in the United States, is quite clumsy, but even rocky sentences and questionable word choices can\'t fully obstruct Mukhopadhyay\'s sweetly rollicking story.
RaveNPRWhere Freshwater refuses traditional storytelling, Vivek Oji adopts the form—though never the spirit—of traditional crime fiction, seeming to glory in the genre\'s conventions before slyly subverting them ... It\'s always impressive to see a writer transform between novels in this way, but Vivek Oji would be impressive regardless. Emezi deftly tucks doomed romance and family drama into mystery, then, slowly but surely, reveals their true aim: to construct a portrait of love triumphant over death ... Emezi abandons death to focus on the complicated joys of Vivek\'s life, which I very much do not want to spoil for the reader, but which are joyful indeed ... If Emezi keeps one norm from crime fiction, it is their use of stock characters ... Literary writers and critic often scorn characterization this flat, but Emezi uses their stock characters effectively as points of contrast to the mutable, grieving Kavita and Osita—and, more importantly, to Vivek. Instead of getting flattened by death, Vivek becomes more vivid on each page. He glows like the sun, impossible to look at directly yet utterly charismatic. I missed him when the novel was done.
MixedThe Atlantic... six short, beautifully structured essays written largely in her characteristically gleaming prose ... instead of social insight, which Smith admits is not yet available, she chooses self-organization. The turn inward is entirely logical, but the structuring impulse does not bode well ... Its essays are short, tight, and glossy: pleasurable to read, but coy and cagey with their fundamental subject, which is death ... structure helps Smith turn from death ... her consideration of racism as deadly contempt is the only idea that Intimations sees through from beginning to end.
Seong-Nan Ha, Trans. by Janet Hong
RaveNPRHa\'s writing derives its strength not from updating or subverting known tropes, but from her ability to create — and Hong\'s ability to translate — an atmosphere so sinister it becomes impossible to tell the innocuous from the dangerous, the supernatural from the mundane ... Ha writes with keen social awareness, consistently meshing feminism with class criticism ... Her protagonists\' exhaustion and frustration work in tandem with her spooky prose, ultimately reminding readers that our world can be as dark as any fairytale.
RaveHyperallergic... a vivid, captivating, and excellently argued work that makes a compelling case for the importance of \'intellectual communit[ies]… made up entirely of female minds\' ... a remarkable balancing act, and one she achieves through her respect for her subjects’ art ... . Now, Doherty argues, it’s past time to break new ground: to look for artists as marginalized as female writers, painters, and sculptors were in postwar America, and create new ways to offer these artists unprecedented community and support.
Sara Mesa, Trans. by Katie Whittemore
RaveNPRFirst, some warnings: Do not read Four by Four at bedtime, during heightened pandemic anxiety, or while feeling in any way susceptible to agitation. This is a profoundly agitating book. From its first scene, in which a quartet of teenage girls try and fail to flee their ominous-seeming boarding school, menace pervades Sara Mesa\'s prose. She rapidly makes clear that something is rotten not only at the school, but in the borderline-apocalyptic Spanish society around it. Mesa, who has published six novels and three story collections, is lauded in Spain as a rigorous, empathic chronicler of working-class experience, and here, socioeconomic disparity proves to be the root of horror ... Mesa is remarkably patient in revealing the latter. For the novel\'s first three-quarters, she lets a sense of wrongness simmer and grow, creating suspense so strong I could barely set the book down. She deftly mixes immersive narration and relentless creepiness with incisive class commentary; by the novel\'s end, I was appalled both for its characters and for my own world.
RaveHyperallergicLaing herself is a watcher that would make [Grace] Paley proud. Her outward-looking essays are by far Funny Weather’s strongest. Among the book’s finest sections are \'Reading,\' which is devoted to book criticism; \'Funny Weather: Frieze Columns,\' which combine art criticism with cultural commentary; and \'Artists’ Lives,\' a vivid series of biographical sketches ... Laing is remarkably good at conjuring paintings rather than summarizing them ... Laing is a tremendously gifted genre-mixer, and her writing flourishes most when its topic requires her both to observe and to imagine, if not invent ... Of Funny Weather’s essays, the Frieze columns are the bluntest, the oddest, and the best ... Funny Weather is an invitation to Laing’s imaginary museum, where minds if not bodies meet, and where true hospitality resides.
RaveNPRThanks to France\'s 132-year colonization of Algeria, the two countries are thoroughly intertwined — a relationship Adimi explores with nuance and determination in her third novel, Our Riches, newly translated by the excellent Chris Andrews. Moving adeptly from colonized Algiers to the present day, and from a beloved bookstore\'s birth to its near-death, Adimi at once offers a love letter to literary culture, Algerian independence and the city of Algiers ... Adimi braids her plotlines together deftly, never lingering long before moving on. This approach could seem hurried or superficial, but here, it works beautifully ... In her collective sections, Adimi writes capital-H History with real force. Her description of French police brutally repressing a pro-independence protest in 1961 is gut-wrenching ... This is rightfully harsh writing, but Our Riches is not always a harsh book. Often it\'s sunny, sometimes downright seductive ... quick, masterful tonal switches ... Even when writing in her most historical mode, she slides easily between emotions and perspectives ... Always, Adimi prioritizes the emotional account over the factual, devoting more time and writerly care to small-h history than to the capital-H kind ... is, above all, a loving book ... This kind of thorough, patient description always expresses commitment. In Our Riches, it feels like devotion — to Algeria, and to the world of literature.
Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett and David Boyd
RaveNPRBreasts and Eggs will appeal to readers who delight in finding the female intellect prioritized on the page; if you like Sheila Heti, you\'ll love Mieko Kawakami ... combines conversational and structural looseness with a bracing, exacting reflection on the fundamental strangeness of having a female body ... Her voice and concerns are so vibrant and present she practically levitates from the page; long after I finished Breasts and Eggs, Natsuko has remained with me, like a distant friend.
RaveNPRArtist and writer Lauren Redniss creates books like no one else\'s. She mixes art, design, and rigorous research with a prose style that is at once assertive, journalistic and poetic. The results, though strictly based in fact, seem at once like graphic novels minus the familiar panel format, longform essays enriched by full-page drawings, and plays driven by monologue ... Redniss\' Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West certainly feels expansive ... Oak Flat moves seamlessly between settings, and between voices. This motion puts Redniss\' stylistic, empathic, and intellectual gifts on great, and equivalent, display ... Redniss\' ability and willingness to erase herself is perhaps more remarkable because she is a highly gifted writer, and a highly flexible one ... On each page, she advocates both subtly and explicitly for patience and respect. She takes to clear heart the fact that the \'contested copper under Oak Flat...is older than the earth itself. A mine [there] would operate for about 40 years.\'
Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, trans. by Eric M B Becker
PositiveNPR... the novel is never frivolous. It is thoughtfully observed and calmly experimental, reading less like traditional fiction than like the transcribed thoughts and questions of the smartest person you know. It\'s reminiscent of the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli\'s early work, and shares with Luiselli a fairly elevated tone. Pereira de Almeida tends toward big words and complex phrasing, a stylistic choice that can often backfire in fiction, but not here. Her circuitous prose style, which Becker renders as relaxed and conversational, sucks the reader rapidly into Mila\'s wandering thoughts.
Rebecca Dinerstein Knight
PositiveNPR... strange and delightful ... The pleasure of reading Hex comes largely from Nell\'s insistent belief that her life is priceless. Even at her lowest, she never doubts that she deserves beauty and joy, if she can find them. This is unusual in contemporary fiction ... In another writer\'s hands, Nell might seem loopy, or like a manic pixie. Dinerstein Knight occasionally skates close to the latter edge. What saves her is her prose style, which oscillates between abstract, conversational, and straight-up weird.
RaveNPR... chaotic, tumbling, and beautiful prose ... The resulting memoir is, like Tallent\'s fiction, highly internal. It runs on emotional mapping and mining. Unlike her fiction, though, it\'s messy. Tallent\'s sentences in Scratched are rife with commas, and often run half a page. She dips into her perfectionistic mother\'s head with an omniscient narrator\'s abandon. She jumps around in time without concern for reader expectation — which is not to say her timeline is hard to follow. Nothing about reading Scratched is hard. To the contrary: It is a pure and consuming pleasure. Its messiness feels both defiant and intentional, a middle finger raised to perfectionism ... Tallent\'s juxtaposition of style and structure with subject matter is her memoir\'s big victory. It\'s also refreshing to read. Mainstream literary writing, I think, has tended toward perfectionism of late ... reminded me how exhilarating disorderly writing can be ... Its prose ranges from very plain to very elaborate, with the beauty of the former cast into relief by the latter ... a performance of, and appeal for, urgency. It\'s a call I hope other writers will be able to heed.
MixedNPRSweet, gigantic Avo provides much of the book\'s charm, while his conniving cousin keeps the plot moving. The result is engrossing, but McCormick doesn\'t quite get the ratio right. Fewer gimmicks, ultimately, would have served The Gimmicks well. It may be telling that McCormick is at his best when writing in a mode of total sincerity. He does this mainly while his loosely omniscient narrator is trailing Avo, the most endearing of the book\'s characters by far ... In its third act, it rockets along, safely wrapping up each character\'s literary and moral trajectory. There are bombings and murders, but mostly offstage ... Because McCormick shies away from the details of these acts, Ruben remains shadowy throughout. Though he and Avo are theoretically the novel\'s co-stars, both structure and storytelling make Avo into its lone hero. His arc is truly affecting, and thought-provoking in a way his militant cousin\'s should be, too. But The Gimmicks, in the end, is more about wrestling than guerrilla warfare; more about scripted brutality than the real thing ... I, for one, wanted more.
PositiveThe Atlantic... expertly blends 19th-century and modern diction ... Steering [her] protagonist toward liberation, [Beams] seem to suggest that an honest reckoning with misogyny might produce not only solidarity, but also change.
PositiveThe AtlanticSlowly, Thomas turns her characters’ collective diet obsession into a source of warped female solidarity, which makes for a strangely destabilized reading experience ... Oligarchy uses the familiar phenomena of adolescent copycatting and boarding-school insularity to cannily—and eerily—create a world that feels women-focused but proves to be the reverse. Outside fiction, misogyny and thin privilege—to borrow a term popularized by the writer Cora Harrington—have a comparable, if more diffuse, effect. For girls and women, thinness comes with a measure of social acceptance that often serves as an incentive to lose weight, even if that process is arduous, time-consuming, expensive, or dangerous. In Oligarchy, too, bodily control seems to bring the girls closer to power. But more often, it distracts them, or stands in their way.
Nona Fernandez, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveNPRThe Chilean playwright and fiction writer Nona Fernández\'s Space Invaders, translated into English by the masterful Natasha Wimmer and nominated for a National Book Award, is as addictive as its video game namesake. Fernández writes in short chapters, rarely more than three pages, and each one slides by quickly, but lingers like a dream. The effect is that of being haunted ... an unsettling, compelling portrait of childhood in dire political times, and of the lasting impact of historical trauma ... [the] dreaminess, combined with Fernández\'s unsparing and unsentimental handling of the Pinochet dictatorship\'s crimes against its citizens, gives Space Invaders a certain kinship with Roberto Bolaño\'s short novels By Night in Chile and Distant Star. But for readers of Chilean literature, its most intriguing resemblance is to Alejandro Zambra\'s story collection My Documents, which was published in Chile a year after Space Invaders, but translated into English four years earlier. Like Fernández, Zambra filters coming-of-age stories set in the Pinochet regime\'s waning years through the development of technologyHer use of those games, particularly of Space Invaders, is excellent. She beautifully de-familiarizes the classic alien-shooting idea, emphasizing its strange, pixelated violence.
PositiveThe Atlantic... vivid, sensitive ... Palmer treats this desire for risk-free conviction with respect, but his greatest interest lies with John Howard, who chooses wrongly to take Mary’s word ... Ultimately, though, the novel gives John redemption for his credulity, and credit for his kindness. Palmer seems to argue that to reach for belief, on any level and with any margin of error, is human. There’s merit in an open mind.
Silvina Ocampo, Trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan
PositiveNPRThe stories in Forgotten Journey are vignettes, for the most part...This briefness lends them the dreamlike quality of Surrealist paintings, or of childhood memories. Ocampo was fascinated with childhood, which she treats unsentimentally, often with an Edward Gorey-ish form of brusque violence ... She\'s always swift, never sentimental. For Ocampo, emotion resides only in memory. Even death in the present is impossible to reach...
Silvina Ocampo, Trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Powell
PositiveNPR... strikingly 20th-century ... written in a high-modernist mode rarely found in contemporary fiction ... [Suzanne Jill Levine, Katie Lateef-Jan, and Jessica Powell] have captured Ocampo\'s Surrealist style beautifully, creating translations powered by image and mood rather than character or plot.
MixedNPRAll Slate\'s tone-setting puts a critic in a tough position. If I dislike Little Weirds, or find it in various ways wanting, am I no longer a friend to the world? Am I guilty of killing wild creatures? Or can I be a friendly, wild-creature-loving accepter of vulnerability and still wish that Little Weirds demonstrated more of the tonal range, irreverent wildness, and utter self-exposition that characterize Slate\'s stand-up? I do wish all of the above. Mostly, I wish that Little Weirds were weirder, and more intimate ... slides by smoothly and vaguely. Slate\'s essays tend toward the short, casual, and mildly silly, and her language strikes a balance between oddly flat statements and endearingly specific word choices enlivened by the occasional Seussian rhyme ... But Slate\'s rhymes and specificities disguise the fact that her essays\' content is quite mainstream and sometimes fuzzy. She writes, without much detail, about the end of her marriage, her grief over Donald Trump\'s electoral victory, the joy she takes in family and friendship, her hopes for a bright romantic future, and her steps toward self-acceptance and self-love ... Because she shies away from it in Little Weirds, however, her essays often fall a bit flat ... is full of soft and lovely moments ... I prefer Slate in Stage Fright, in which she imitates skeletons, invites viewers into her grandmother\'s closet, and talks about sex in an alarming and hilarious baby voice. Those weirds are the right weirds for me.
RaveNPR... boundary-pushing, or boundary-expanding ... Croft writes much of Homesick in this flat, precocious-child tone, using short, present-tense sentences to great effect. For balance, however, she weaves in her own photographs, each captioned with a brief, distinctly adult musing on the main narrative ... Croft moves gently, though not lightly, through this time in Amy\'s life. She balances depression and self-harm with growing artistic self-discovery ... As Croft\'s prose becomes more descriptive and complex, the photographs she includes move toward childhood, featuring images of her sister post-surgery ... Croft\'s photos, mixed in with her text, create continuity between memoirist and protagonist, despite their differing names. Her musings on language and occasional inclusion of Cyrillic script serve the same purpose. They make Homesick into a translator\'s Bildungsroman, one in which art is first a beacon, then a home.
Ed. by Lise Funderburg
PositiveNPRFunderburg offers little narrative structure, letting essays meander rather than grouping them. The result is a relaxed, pleasant reading experience, more like dinner-party conversation than a panel discussion ... The caretaking essays, which mainly center on memory loss, are surprisingly pithy, often handling colossal grief with stoicism and unromantic wit ... Not one essay veers into sentimentality. Most are quick and chatty, emphasizing voice and anecdote above all. Only Skurnick plays with style in a meaningful way. As a result, the collection can blur together slightly. But individually, the essays are strong and sharp; they will reward the reader who dips in and out, who alternates several books rather than reading one at a time. Apple, Tree is a sweet, smart collection, and—it has to be said—a perfect gift for a parent you love.
PositiveNPR... a snappy, clear-minded attack on the fashion industry\'s rampant labor and environmental abuses ... At no point does Thomas shame consumers. But she does ask us to change our ways ... is most flawed when it comes to those consumers that cannot afford slow fashion. The only options Thomas offers are luxury rental, consignment, and resale, which for many remains prohibitively expensive.
PositiveNPRThat oral history, often punctured by Ah Hock and Su-Min\'s interactions, forms the bulk of We, the Survivors, a conceit that is the novel\'s only flaw ... Ah Hock is an excellent protagonist, among the best I\'ve encountered in years. He\'s lovable and empathy-stirring, and his mix of remorse, acceptance, and hope is profoundly moving. Reading him is a pleasure, as is reading Aw\'s prose. Aw is a beautiful writer who — this is rare — excels at switching beauty off, or dimming it almost to nothing. When Ah Hock describes his childhood home or the tilapia farm he managed before the murder, Aw\'s language becomes lush and lovely, standing in stark contrast to the rough, brusque phrasing he uses when Ah Hock describes the abuse of refugee and migrant laborers that he saw often as a young man. This kind of modulation is unusual, and very powerful. It gives the novel a raw, immediate feeling, as if Ah Hock\'s past were pressing at the edges of his present ... But Aw too often releases that pressure by turning from Ah Hock to Su-Min ... A corollary issue in We, the Survivors is that Aw seems barely more interested in crime than Su-Min is. Though the novel theoretically builds to the explanation of Ah Hock\'s crime, its true energy comes from his reflections on his life ... Aw\'s explorations of structural injustice would have been perfectly clear — and perhaps even sharper — if relayed only through Ah Hock, and his narrative would be more powerful without the interruptions. Often as I read, I found myself wondering why Su-Min was there.
MixedNPR...for the first time in Zink\'s career, the comedy never quite works ... Sentence to sentence, Doxology is still very funny. Zink is a vivid, voicey writer exceptionally gifted at both wryness and character development ... In D.C., Doxology loses its way ... Arch political commentary takes over the novel. Zink\'s sentences get less funny. Music and religion all but vanish from the novel, replaced by social orthodoxies ... Once the election starts, Doxology\'s ideas mostly end. Zink hews too closely to events — first Pizzagate, then the Standing Rock pipeline protests, then Flora\'s off to canvass in western Pennsylvania — and spends too little time digressing from or meditating on them ... It all feels a bit downloaded from three-year-old text threads, lacking perspective on events too recent to warrant rewriting otherwise ... With more fully realized ideas, Doxology could have been a comedy of belief ... Instead, it mostly pokes fun, and pokes some not-so-old social wounds in doing so.
PositiveThe AtlanticContemporary fiction has a rich vein of women writers exploring the bravado of male artists in order to demonstrate the limits it imposes. This proves an effective way to undermine the myth of male genius; rather than condemn the trope outright, these novelists complicate it until it crumbles ... By writing her male virtuoso from the inside and outside, Horrocks creates a wrenching portrait of overconfidence as a destructive force ... Reading The Vexations, I often thought about its predecessor, Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower, which offers a brighter telling of a similar story. Whereas Horrocks writes her boy genius’s life as a tragedy, Fitzgerald approaches her protagonist’s early years as comedy ... Fitzgerald’s method beautifully reverses the sad trajectory on which Horrocks—working within biography—sets Satie. Fritz buys into the myth of male genius, but his family teases him and prods him out of it. They push him to grow up, which no character in The Vexations does for Erik. Comparing the two men underscores the hazard in Erik’s commitment to himself as an artist. He picks art over humanity, and despite his work’s lasting musical importance, he ends the novel with no audience at all.
Mario Levrero, Trans. by Annie McDermott
RaveNPREmpty Words is never boring. Levrero is too talented a writer—and McDermott too talented a translator—for that. The narrator is funny and self-deprecating, earning the reader\'s affection with his half-earnest efforts to quit smoking and fully earnest diatribes against his wife\'s cat. Reading his exercises is relaxing, like sitting at the kitchen table and chatting with a friend. As a result, the novel slides by effortlessly, so smoothly written that it\'s easy to miss the bits of plot peeking in ... [There\'s] a charming narrator, winning in his self-deprecation and humor, and so the reader increasingly roots for him ... the writer\'s joy in writing shines through.
Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake
RaveNPR... an invaluable work of art history and a revealing precursor to the literature of #MeToo ... In Gilot\'s telling, which is without fail warm and empathic, Picasso emerges as domineering, sexist, and borderline abusive ... she is a highly intelligent young artist to whom her former lover\'s artwork is as intellectually exciting as their relationship was destructive ... Throughout the memoir, Gilot takes control through her artistic intelligence. She describes Picasso\'s methods and compares him to his contemporaries, filtering their work through her own exacting critical eye. Gilot is exceptionally good at describing art ... But periodically she moves into full lyricism ... Gilot does spend significant time describing Picasso\'s artistic methods and ideas. This seems not like subordination, but like study. It also underscores the extent to which her attraction to him relied on his art ... The book\'s intellectual heft is in its art criticism, even as its emotional arc lies in Picasso and Gilot\'s unequal romance. Only by appreciating both can readers accord Gilot the respect she deserves.
RaveNPRIn Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Sesay combines the released Chibok girls\' stories with her own journalistic experiences to powerful effect. Sesay is a briskly opinionated writer, and from the first chapters Beneath the Tamarind Tree presents a forceful combination of reportage and social analysis ... Where Beneath the Tamarind Tree sets itself apart is in its exploration of the Nigerian government and the international media\'s complicity in silencing the Chibok girls\' voices, and those of their parents and of the Nigerian activists fighting for their release.
RaveNPR... oddball-brilliant ... a spirited defense of the maligned millennial generation. It\'s also an innovative work of climate fiction, a nuanced and empathic family story, and, for my money, the summer\'s best novel thus far ... Hauser is a beautiful, no-nonsense writer, with a particular gift for atmosphere ... As science, this is pretty wobbly. As emotion, it works.
PanNPR...nothing new. The Gifted School\'s plot is far less extreme than the college admissions scandal, mainly because it centers around transgressions somewhat smaller than bribing the Georgetown University tennis coach to pretend your child plays tennis ... Their liberal-centrist idea of goodness could be fertile ground for social commentary, but Holsinger rarely delves deep into political issues. The novel inhabits a safer tension: Its characters believe they are good people, but are not. The problem is that most of them are bad characters, too ... Gifted School is an exercise in frustration, with only the sourest glimmers of schadenfreude. Unlike the real-life college admissions scandal, the cheating on offer here is too familiar to be entertaining. The bad behavior is predictable enough that the novel\'s suspense leaches away by its midpoint, leaving us with nothing left to do but wonder if four privileged children will get into a magnet school.
RaveNPRInland is a Western, set in the drought-stricken Arizona Territory in 1893 and alternating between two familiar Western protagonists ... Familiar, too, is [Obrecht\'s] raconteur-ish narrative style, which is loose and digressive, with occasional Spanish and a faint old-fashioned patina. In other words Inland is a classic story, told in a classic way — and yet it feels wholly and unmistakably new ... This is a crucial difference between Inland and earlier Westerns, whose heroes tend to be white Protestants. Lurie is loosely Muslim, as are many of the minor characters in his plotline ... Lurie spends...Inland in flight, which means that unlike most Western heroes, he has no ability to stake a claim. As a result, Lurie\'s part of Inland cannot be a story of dominion or conquest. Instead, it becomes a platonic love story ... Inland is a novel built on the need to be heard. Nora talks ceaselessly to Evelyn, and Lurie talks ceaselessly to Burke ... Obreht offers a new representation of the West, both in the characters she chooses and the emotional rigor and range with which she writes. The result is at once a new Western myth and a far realer story than many we have previously received — and that\'s even with all the ghosts.
Gabriela Ybarra, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveNPR...masterfully translated ... In elegant, flat prose, Ybarra links her grandfather\'s very public murder to her mother\'s swift and private death from colon cancer. In doing so, she puts the increasingly popular form of autofiction to exceptional use. The Dinner Guest is a seamless blend of art, politics, and private life ... The Dinner Guest takes on the floating spirit of a re-enactment. The novel is anxious to enter a past reality, but unable to do so. This anxiety gives fiction a purpose in a book that otherwise could have been a memoir. Ybarra uses her imagination as a literary battering ram, breaking down the door to the past ... The Dinner Guest has a helpless energy that novels like Karl Ove Knausgaard\'s My Struggle and Ben Lerner\'s Leaving the Atocha Station ... Ybarra is far from the first writer to use autofiction for political purposes ... But she makes that decision remarkably clearly, and executes it remarkably well ... The Dinner Guest operates as a fuller obituary, a memorial to both Ybarra\'s mother and her grandfather. It is a quiet act of public mourning, and of resistance to public memory.
RaveWashington City PaperLevin tells this story with a forceful combination of empathy and rigor ... Levin never psychoanalyzes his subject, but his reporting is more than enough to demonstrate how a life defined by rejection, suspicion, and stereotype turned Taylor into a con artist ... The Queen is a moving effort to redeem both women’s humanity, and a powerful reminder to ask what stories lie behind the ones that catch the public eye.
MixedNPRWhat is the book trying to achieve? For much of The Moment of Lift it\'s impossible to tell. Gates goes long on heartwarming anecdotes, short on argument. She writes often about lifting women up, but it can be difficult to tell how she expects readers without tech fortunes to do so ... If Gates had fully owned her goal — writing a book that would strengthen some readers\' abortion-rights convictions, and open other readers\' minds to a women\'s rights argument — she would have turned her rhetorical question into a call for advocacy. Most readers don\'t have the ability to create change by sector, and creating change person by person goes only so far. Most people don\'t have foundations, but most people can advocate for egalitarian laws and support the candidates who will pass them. It\'s too bad Gates didn\'t focus on that kind of lift.
RaveNPRThe narrator...is longing for a story to tell ... And God, does she tell it well ... a Tinder-age Portnoy\'s Complaint ... The great trick of Fleishman Is in Trouble is that it cons the reader into siding with Toby. Brodesser-Akner demonstrates how women get suckered into acquiescing to misogyny by suckering both narrator and reader—and then showing us what she\'s done. When I saw her trick, I was floored ... Brodesser-Akner...uses a lot of intelligence, a lot of anger, a great sense of humor and a whole new variation on the magic we know from her magazine work. The result is a maddening, unsettling masterpiece, and, yes, you will be moved and inexplicably grateful at the end.
PositiveThe New YorkerBenedetti cuts out sensory detail, as if not only Santiago but his family were confined to a concrete cell. The result is profoundly lonely. In style and structure, Springtime in a Broken Mirror reproduces the isolation that its characters feel ... [Benedetti] never imagines his own return to Uruguay, which took place a few years after Springtime in a Broken Mirror was published. Nor does he break the wall between himself and his characters. He never writes about them, or to them. The divide remains intact ... In 1983, Benedetti wrote in El País that \'dis-exile will be a challenge as arduous as exile was in its moment, and may prove even more complex.\' The final chapters of Springtime in a Broken Mirror contain that knowledge, or fear. Benedetti’s characters will suffer through dis-exile, isolated from each other and perhaps from themselves. Santiago’s spring will be like a mirror with \'a broken corner\'—but, even then, both the mirror and the spring are \'useful.\' Benedetti’s honest reflection of exile is, too.
RaveNPR\"It\'s a good story, but one that, in the hands of a less talented or more self-glorifying writer, could easily have become an unbearable book. It\'s easy to imagine an endurance-racing memoir filled with nutrition-gel meals and competitive fury, capped by a bit of victorious gloating. It\'s equally easy to imagine an overly sanitized book, all landscape description and no saddle sores. Thanks to Prior-Palmer\'s excellent prose and rigorous honesty, Rough Magic is neither. Instead, it\'s an unusual pleasure to read ... Prior-Palmer writes with a dash and boldness few writers possess; her language seems sui generis ... Her final hope is not to win the race — though she wants that, too — but to let the race make her free. Rough Magic seems to stand as proof that she succeeded. And as I read it from the skyless comfort of my couch, I briefly felt a bit freer, too.\
Pola Oloixarac, Trans. by Roy Kesey
PositiveThe Atlantic...Dark Constellations is a slim allegory written with a chat forum’s acrid wit ... [with] a provocative core idea: that colonialism was a massive invasion of privacy, and that technology is on track to rival it ... Oloixarac portrays humans as a grabby, greedy species struggling to control as much of others as possible ... The only character in Dark Constellations not interested in controlling others is Piera ... With Piera, Oloixarac seems to underscore the impossibility of stepping away from power in a world in which science overrides ethics ... Oloixarac focuses on the intellectual through line from colonization to technological domination.
RaveLongreadsThe elegance of Alcott’s writing poses an interesting contrast to her heroine’s inner life ... The loveliness of Alcott’s writing stands in contrast to Fay’s austerity. At times, the two tug against each other, Fay trying to make herself ugly...while Alcott insists that every paragraph in the novel be beautiful ... Alcott does not offer full redemption to any of her three protagonists. Nor does she offer complete answers to her readers. She could easily have presented AIDS activism as a correct middle way: successful, radical, non-violent protest designed to save marginalized lives. Instead, she skates away from suggesting any one way to resist, or to behave. As a result, America Was Hard to Find is a messier, grayer novel ... What lasts is America itself, and the ethical trouble inherent in living in a nation powerful enough to destroy another, or to send a man to the moon ... But does Alcott think inward change is possible? America Was Hard to Find seems to present a world in which no matter how far we range, we’re each uniquely contained in our own histories, our own set of previous decisions
Lina Wolff, Trans. by Saskia Vogel
PanWords Without BordersA new novel by the Swedish author reads like a caricature of sexism in the literary world that ends up being as sexist as its misogynous protagonist ... At no point does Wolff work to develop his character or to provoke empathy ... The problem with writing a novel about a sexist jerk, though, is the sheer amount of time the reader has to spend with that jerk ... The sentences feel mechanical, the dialogue drags, and the characterization and description are flat and vague ... This descriptive dullness cannot be laid at the translator’s feet ... There is no seamless communication to be found in The Polyglot Lovers, nor is there seamless communication between book and reader. The flat language and narrative structure make empathy with Ellinor and Lucrezia challenging ... Her feminist critique gets lost ... The novel submits to the male ego.
Erin Lee Carr
PanNPR\"I expected Carr\'s memoir, All That You Leave Behind, to elicit the same level of feeling [as at a live event]. On the page, however, she is much less successful at getting her emotions across ... [Carr] moves rapidly from scene to scene, never lingering on the complex emotions that memoirs are built to investigate. As a result, All That You Leave Behind functions far better as a portrait of David Carr than as one of the writer herself. She consistently lets her father overshadow her on the page ... [Carr] traces her struggle to get sober while processing her father\'s death, but nearly every scene ends with a blackout; she never tries to find out what happened, nor does she give voice to her sister, her best friend, and her boyfriend, all of whom were present throughout. Nor does she fully examine an earlier attempt at sobriety, after her drinking began to threaten her career ... As is, the book provokes both gratitude and empathy. But Carr\'s significant writing, in which she investigates herself with the rigor she brings to her journalistic subjects, is yet to come.\
PositiveThe Atlantic\"As Forché changes, so does her memoir’s language. Her writing becomes quicker, less inclined to linger. Perhaps to replace the poetic writing of the memoir’s early chapters, she begins including notes she took in El Salvador, which function as prose poetry ... [Forché] remembers as much as possible, and the resulting memoir, once read, is difficult to forget.\
PositiveNPRA book with spies in it, not a spy book. Friedman chose the Arab Section to prove a point. My grandfather believed in Israel as a place of refuge for European Jews, but for Jews like Gamliel, Havakuk, Isaac, and Yakuba, it was more complex than that. Yakuba had no other homeland. Gamliel, Havakuk, and Isaac only had homelands outside Israel if they were Arabs, and yet Jewish and Arab identity have always been considered mutually exclusive — which is why they emigrated to Israel. They weren\'t alone. After 1948, Israel filled with Middle Eastern Jews. Today, nearly 53 percent of Israeli Jews have roots in the Arab world. To Friedman, understanding that fact is crucial to understanding Israel ... an important book...Americans are not accustomed to hearing about Israel\'s complexity, or its diversity. We are rarely asked to consider Israel as a country that is, as Friedman says, \'more than one thing.\' Any serious defender or critic of Israeli politics should consider this a serious problem. Meaningful opinions require nuanced understanding, and Spies of No Country offers that.
PositiveThe Atlantic...a sprawling epic that unfolds with the wild detail of a Hieronymus Bosch painting ... a massive, complicated work with a straightforward Hegelian opposition at its heart: Colonialism and anti-colonialism collide, and the resulting clash transforms Serpell’s fictional Zambia ... [Serpell] highlight[s] how easily surveillance can masquerade as progress, and expose the subtle ways colonialism persists in contemporary political life. To do this, Serpell emphasizes global financial disparities ... but there’s far more of [Ursula] Le Guin’s idealism to be found in Serpell’s future, which, by the novel’s end, looks newly and radically free.
RaveNPR\"... astonishing ... Despite the beauty of Toews\' prose and the constant, delicate humor of August\'s self-effacing perspective, I resisted [August as the narrator], and by extension the novel, for as long as I could. Why, I kept thinking, is a man telling this story? Why can\'t the women tell it themselves? But soon I understood: Women Talking reverses the patriarchal structure under which these women live. Until this moment, intellectual discourse in Molotschna has been reserved for men. Now, women\'s ideas are the center, and they get to make a man write them down ... though Toews\' writing is simple and often funny, her ideas are difficult in the extreme ... Toews\' emphasis on names and definitions serves to highlight how precise her own writing is, and how smart. The intelligence on display in Women Talking is as ferocious as it is warm. Women Talking is a profoundly intelligent book. It is an indictment of authority and a defense of belief.\
PanNPRBusch, a practiced art and nature writer, dislikes social media and networked culture: that much is clear. What she neglects to explore is why ... When Busch moves in details, she does so strikingly well. Her best essays, \'Invisiphilia\' and \'Across the Natural World,\' are richly allusive and digressive ... But in her society essays, Busch casts detail, and often beauty, aside. In the collection\'s first essay, on imaginary friends as a stage in childhood development, she pivots without warning from her chosen topic to a long digression on the damages of social media. Her writing about imaginary friendship is replete with research, literature, and anecdotal evidence; her writing about social media is full of sweeping we-statements, with only one source cited and no examples or anecdotes at all. Not only does the digression fall flat as a result, it drags the rest of the essay down with it ... This proves to be a pattern. Time and again, Busch condemns online visibility without exploring it ... Busch does not seem open to counterarguments. In general, she refuses to attend to perspectives that don\'t match her own ... fails intellectually because Busch never accesses the bodies of work that don\'t suit her ... Busch set out to create an antidote to visibility culture, but all she does, in the end, is expose herself.
RaveThe Atlantic\"Sea Monsters derives little energy from what happens to Luisa, or from how she changes during her travels. Instead, it works like a poem, gathering steam through image, repetition, and metaphor ... Like a magician, Aridjis is obsessed with elusiveness; like a symbolist, she far prefers imagination and metaphor to plain sight ... the novel’s satisfactions come not from character growth or plot resolution, but from the evoking of emotion through symbols ... Few novels operate this way, but many poems do. I found that Sea Monsters frequently conjured Elizabeth Bishop’s \'The Fish,\' with its rapt attention to the fish’s real and imagined body. The victory at the poem’s end comes not from catching or keeping the fish, but from having beheld it. Observation and beauty create meaning ... The novel’s strength lies in its ability to turn to the next magic trick, the next detail, the next sight. Those sights are all the more impressive when conjured solely from language. By opting out of fiction’s conventional prioritization of plot or character development, Aridjis foregrounds her ability to develop images and metaphors. The result is seductive in its multiplicity.\
PositiveNPR\"Guestbook is not exactly a book of ghost stories, though its subtitle disagrees. It behaves more like a short story collection than any other literary form, but reading it feels akin to walking through an art exhibit, each piece linked in ways that are ineffable but clear ... Without fail, [the book is] unexpected, subtle and moving. Shapton excels at evoking emotion through absence, which is, perhaps, a skill borrowed from more traditional ghost stories ... Guestbook is a profoundly sympathetic work, and one filled with yearning. That yearning, like a ghost, lingers long after the stories are done.\
RaveNPR\"In his two previous books... Abdurraqib demonstrated his expertise at compressing massive emotions into minimal space. Here, he takes that skill up yet another notch. He has a seemingly limitless capacity to share what moves him, which means that to read Go Ahead in the Rain, you don\'t need to be a Tribe Called Quest fan: Abdurraqib will make you one. His love for the group is infectious, even when it breaks his heart ... Abdurraqib does not shy from his sadness over the group\'s breakup or Phife Dawg\'s death, but Go Ahead in the Rain is not a sad book. Instead, it\'s steeped in gratitude and joy ... Without fail or hesitation, [Abdurraqib] invites the reader into the text. Even his deepest dives into history and technique have a come-with-me spirit ... I have been listening to A Tribe Called Quest my whole musically conscious life, and yet Go Ahead in the Rain made their records sound new ... This comes from deepened knowledge and understanding, but it also comes from absorbing Abdurraqib\'s love, which reinvigorated my own. This, too, is a way of reaching for the future: to write about music so beautifully and intelligently that readers are moved to love it, or reminded to love it more.\
Maria Gainza, trans. by Thomas Bunstead
PositiveNPR\"... Gainza, in a gorgeous translation by Thomas Bunstead, mines María\'s elusiveness — and allusiveness; she\'s great with a well-placed quotation — to create a highly compelling life story told almost entirely through art ... María\'s descriptions of art are one of Optic Nerve\'s great pleasures. Without fail, they are lyric but unpretentious, imaginative and compelling ... [The descriptions of art] might seem a bit over-intellectualized, but thanks to Gainza\'s dry wit and realism, it\'s the reverse ... Gainza\'s own artistic tactic, it seems, is to keep her narrator\'s sense of discovery alive throughout the novel. With each chapter, María finds a new artist to love, and, in doing so, accesses a new part of herself. It\'s a pleasure to watch her do both.\
Michael Muhammad Knight
PositiveNPRAs intellectually diverse as a book can get ... When Knight is in professor mode, Muhammad is perfect. He is scholarly but never dry, learned but never a show-off. He\'s superb at providing frameworks to fit new ideas in, and at helping readers reassess old ones ... problems arise when Knight can\'t pick a persona. When he fails to settle into personal writing but opts not to go academic, he flounders ... chapters can seem disorganized, and Knight\'s tonal switches can be disorienting ... a highly personal project. It\'s valuable — and aggravating — for precisely that reason, which Knight knows ... a book designed to seduce, educate, and irritate its audience into curiosity about Islam and Muhammad, and on all three fronts it succeeds. By the end, it\'s clear that 40 introductions are nowhere near enough. Knight\'s readers will want many more.
Roberto Bolano, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
PositiveNPR\"The Spirit of Science Fiction lacks the gemlike precision of Bolaño\'s other short novels, and replaces the latent doom that fills his later work with a sense of possibility ... The Spirit of Science Fiction is not the right place to start reading Bolaño. It doesn\'t have the astonishing force of 2666 and Distant Star, the momentum and humor of The Savage Detectives, or the formal perfection of By Night in Chile and Last Evenings on Earth. But once you\'ve read those books, come back to this one. It\'s a joy to watch such a brilliant stylist practice his moves, and to see such a brilliant mind expand on the page.\
PanNPR\"The premise of Sharma Shields\' second novel, The Cassandra, is excellent ... Unfortunately, Shields strays far too frequently into neatness and cuteness, and so The Cassandra leaves no questions in its wake ... as a novel, The Cassandra leaves much to be desired. Because Mildred never truly reckons with the philosophical and emotional problems that her premonitions create, the reader never has to. Because she never truly fights to be heard, the reader never has to listen. By the end of The Cassandra, Mildred is literally and figuratively mute, and we have no reason to be sorry.\
PositiveNPR\"Roupenian\'s debut collection, You Know You Want This, demonstrates that her work is special. You Know You Want This is very good. For many readers, it may prove deceptive as well ... Roupenian\'s stories are extremely easy to read. She\'s worked out a way to write short stories that have no stopping points. They build steadily and discursively, and even the stories that jump years or decades seem to happen all in one breath ... [Roupenian] took risks on every level. There are genre switches, shock endings, even a fairy tale. There\'s plenty of superficially risky sexual content: submission, humiliation, knives. The collection\'s truest risk, though, is its directness ... This is blunt, fun, evocative writing.\
Wendy Guerra Trans. by Achy Obejas
RaveNPR\"Revolution Sunday is a complicated book, and a challenging one. It mixes poetry and prose, autofiction and hyperrealism, intense sensory detail and complete logistical vagueness. It has a plot, but not one that provides much momentum, or even meaning ... Achy Obejas does an exceptional job translating Revolution Sunday, especially as the novel turns inward. Her English prose is as intense and reckless as Cleo\'s Havana. In a less confident translator\'s hands, Cleo would lie flat on the page. Thanks to Obejas, she shimmers with life ... Revolutionary Sunday is a dirty novel, full of corruption, deception and betrayal. Guerra is a fearless writer, and she\'s lucky to have a fearless translator. Together, they make Revolution Sunday more vivid than life.\
Monica Muñoz Martinez
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksMuñoz Martinez does not promise that her work can fix the present. Her final thought is this: \'At best, learning from crimes of the past will help inform current debate about immigration, policing, and national belonging.\' At best. She makes no claims that history will necessarily repeat, or that it can be prevented from repeating. Instead, she writes to help Americans understand our present and share our past. History, she knows, weighs a lot more than myth. It’s harder to carry. No one should have to bear it alone.
RaveNPR\"... shaggy, conversational, and unabashedly poetic ... It\'s as real a depiction of falling in love as you can read ... Death and Other Holidays brilliantly balances humor and anger, sorrow and beauty. Vogel\'s subjects may be grief and death, but her writing reflects life as we live it, life with its many intricate, unnoticed balances.\
Armonia Somers, Trans. by Kit Maude
RaveNPRA wild, brutal paean to freedom. It\'s a challenging book, one that took nearly 70 years to make its way into English ... like a written Dalí painting ... Somers\' feminism is profound, and complicated. Though she does not shy away from brutality, the assaults she writes are not gratuitous. The Naked Woman is a novel about liberation, with a protagonist committed wholly to freedom ... Not all of the novel is this challenging. Somers\' language is freewheeling and fantastical, and so are her scenes ... Somers didn\'t want to be considered a member of the Generación del 45, and it\'s not hard to see why: No one on Earth could keep up with her.
PositiveNPR\"Why We Dream is a spirited, cogent defense of dreams and dream-telling ... Though Robb delivers a solid crash course on Freud and Jung, she\'s a science writer and her interests tend toward the lab, not the couch. Crucially, she takes no interest in the paranormal, except as entertaining detail.\
Lacy M. Johnson
PositiveNPRIn the first essay, Johnson describes what she wants ... \'I like the idea that justice is anything that makes way for joy, that makes the condition of joy a possibility again.\' This sounds utopian, and it might be, but The Reckonings is not a book about changing the world. It\'s philosophy in disguise, equal parts memoir, criticism, and ethics. It has bits of Eula Biss, Leslie Jamison, and Simone Weil, but its patron saint is Grace Paley, whose essays are much too infrequently read. Like Johnson, Paley was committed to bearing witness and, like Johnson, she believed, stubbornly and eternally, in joy ... The 12 essays in The Reckonings are 12 beginnings. Each one deserves great consideration, while you read it and long after. Each one leaves the work up to you.
Maria Sonia Cristoff, trans. by Katherine Silver
PositiveNPR\"... False Calm is far more closely related to Dorothea Lange\'s photographs from the Dust Bowl [than to Bruce Chatwin or Antoine de Saint-Exúpery\'s work]. It\'s not exploration; it\'s portraiture ... False Calm\'s lightning-rod nature is both the book\'s great strength and great weakness. It makes the narrative feel mobile, episodic, loose. Each town only gets one chapter, and Cristoff never returns to a place or a theme... there\'s sometimes not enough story to satisfy ... But False Calm remains beautiful. It\'s worth reading as a collection of impressions, an act of witness, and a tribute to the lives Cristoff encounters. Where it falters as a book, it still succeeds as a record.\
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
RaveNPR\"No comparison can convey a book\'s intellectual heft, and Friday Black is as intellectually hefty as fiction can get ... Adjei-Brenyah has some serious powers himself. The energy in his fiction is wild, barely controllable yet perfectly controlled ... Adjei-Brenyah fits big emotion, big action, and big thought into each story.\
Frances De Pontes Peebles
RaveNPRFor years, my gold-standard beach read was David Mitchell\'s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet ... But for the first time, I\'ve found a competitor in Brazilian-American novelist Frances de Pontes Peebles\' historical epic The Air You Breathe. It has even more to offer than Jacob de Zoet: murder, extortion, Hollywood glamor, the entire story of samba, and, of course, sexual longing and an exceptional cast of characters ... The writing, often perfect, can get a bit too glittery. Dores is sometimes prone to big pronouncements about human nature ... In other words, The Air You Breathe sometimes gets corny ... The Air You Breathe is genuinely exciting to watch. Even in its imperfections, it grabs your attention.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Trans. by Anne McClean
PositiveNPR\"The Shape of the Ruins might try your patience. The wandering can be a challenge, and its structure takes a long time to cohere. Though each of the novel\'s sub-stories echoes and influences the rest, they still feel sub-. You will still wonder when you get to return to the present day, to Vásquez and his cranky muse, and that wondering sometimes slows the book down. In those moments, you will be thankful for Vásquez\'s faultless prose. Be thankful for his translator, Anne McLean, too. She\'s worked with Vásquez on all his official novels, and is so talented she might be psychic. In her English iteration, The Shape of the Ruins moves forward with gravitational pull. Move with it. The novel\'s many fake-outs, its resets and restarts, are worthwhile.\
RaveNPR\"The character is nominally Kathy Acker, but her life is Olivia Laing\'s. The best way to put this might be that Crudo is a memoir in drag. We get the outer trappings of Kathy Acker — her dead, dysfunctional mother; her breast cancer; her body of work — but Crudo starts in 2017, when Acker has been dead for twenty years, and the character\'s daily life and inner landscape are pure Laing ... You just have to roll with it — consider it a price of admission to a novel so breathless and gripping that it offers no reason for doubt.\
Laura Van Den Berg
RaveNPR\"Richard isn\'t a zombie — that would be too silly, and too neat. Van Den Berg doesn\'t do neatness. She does elegance. She writes with off-kilter beauty and absolute relaxation; the less peaceful a sentence should be, the more peaceful it is ... You could read The Third Hotel as an ode to watching. You could read it as a fever dream, a horror movie, a love letter to film theory or Cuba or women who keep secrets. The Third Hotel is a novel that operates in symbols and layers, which means you can read it however you like. There\'s no one ending, no right answer, and as a result, it will take away your internal compass. It will unmoor you, send you wobbling around your house in a haze. It will slide some eels under your skin. My recommendation? Let it. We can all stand to learn some new truths.\
PositiveNPRThe Cost of Living is filled with the feeling of travel, and yet one of its main preoccupations is home ... Levy would never tell another woman to live the way she does, or to live any one way at all. She\'s too sophisticated a feminist for that ... she\'s thriving in this new, uncharted life. Her work is, too ... For writing this good, the cost of living is plainly the right price to pay.
RaveNPRIs there a writer more profound and less pretentious than Lydia Millet? In her novels and story collections, a dozen in all, Millet deals out existential questions like playing cards, and like any good casino dealer, her hands never shake. Her newest book, Fight No More, could easily be her most philosophically confident and complex work yet ... Even by her own high standard, Millet is exceptional in these moments of possibility. She writes them with equal parts wildness and straightforwardness, certainty and the certainty of impermanence.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe Perfect Mother is a novel about internalized sexism, specifically as it relates to motherhood. And I do mean motherhood, not just privileged, gentrified Brooklyn motherhood, though I wish that weren’t the book’s context. The Perfect Mother could have been set nearly anywhere else in the United States, and should have been. Still, I hope its message will resonate as far past Park Slope as Molloy clearly intends it to. She seamlessly integrates commentary on the wage gap, on unpaid maternity leave, on male abuse of power in the workplace. Each protagonist has a demon of her own to fight, and with it, a new angle on the fundamental question of how a woman can reject the world’s beliefs about who she should be.
PositiveNPRPart of me wishes Feigel had devoted less space to Lessing the woman, and more space to Lessing the writer. How did she learn the intellectual freedom she needed to write? Once learned, how did she sustain it? On freedom as a woman, though, Feigel is exceptional. This is just as true when she writes about Doris Lessing, or her characters, as when she writes about herself. She embodies Lessing\'s \'determination to always be complicated: to question everything — not only what those around her thought, but what she herself thought.\' Critical memoir can do this better than any other form. Free Woman is worth reading as a piece of complicated thought, and one that\'s funny and sexy and frank, to boot. And if you haven\'t read The Golden Notebook, don\'t worry. I promise, you\'ll go buy a copy the moment you\'re done.
RaveNPRUnusually for a literary novelist, Kauffman has no fear of overt feeling. When she explores an emotion, she does it with absolute candor ... the brilliance of The Gunners is that it helps you. Kauffman teaches you the right way to read her prose ... The Gunners is a wide-open novel. It's a statement against stoicism and evasion ... Another thing literary novelists don't often let themselves do is write novels with morals, or messages, but The Gunners has one. It's clear, though not easy: Accept your emotions. Feel them bluntly, plainly. Allow yourself to flinch. There isn't a better way forward. Not in life, and not, I suspect, on the page.
Clarice Lispector, Trans. by Benjamin Moser & Magdalena Edwards
RaveNPRIt\'s a shaggy stop-motion masterpiece, plotless and argument-less and obsessed with the nature of thought. Virgínia, the protagonist, floats through the world like Emerson\'s transparent eyeball, taking everything in and trying desperately to put together an idea coherent enough to let back out ... the energy level of The Chandelier is so high it\'s close to unsustainable. Every page vibrates with feeling. It\'s not enough to say that Lispector bends language, or uses words in new ways. Plenty of modernists do that. No one else writes prose this rich ... Reading The Chandelier requires a high level of acceptance, in the way that poetry does. Acceptance, and also humility. You can\'t expect to understand it all, and Lispector warns you not to try.
Luis Alberto Urrea
RaveNPR...when I started reading Urrea's latest novel, my expectations were through the roof. And yet, somehow, he exceeded them ... The setup may sound like a tearjerker, but the book's spirit is irrepressibly high. Even in its saddest moments, The House of Broken Angels hums with joy ... The vulnerability on display in this novel is what makes it exceptional. It radiates from every character on the page, and from the author, who based Big Angel on his own brother Juan. And all that vulnerability, combined with humor and celebration and Urrea's vivid prose, will crack you open. At least while you're reading, this book will make you vulnerable, too.
RaveNPR\"Alarcón is an empathic observer of the isolated human, whether isolated by emigration or ambition, blindness or loneliness, poverty or war. His stories have a reporter\'s mix of kindness and detachment, and perhaps as a result, his endings land like a punch in the gut ... Alarcón is nearly always oblique. Even the title story has no one political point. There\'s a dead dictator, but the story isn\'t about his death, or about the dictatorship. It\'s about a man who wants, on a purely personal level, to be free. That\'s what the whole collection is about: people who want to be free. Alarcón writes about them with a grayscale beauty that few writers can achieve, or try to. His purpose isn\'t to approve or condemn, or to liberate. He\'s writing to show us other people\'s lives, and in every case, it\'s a pleasure to be shown.\
Emma Reyes, trans. Daniel Alarcón
RaveNPRIt's easy to see it as a found document, a work of accidental and miraculous genius ... Her writing is exceptional. Several times while reading, I gasped out loud at the beauty of her prose. It's some of the best writing I've read in years ... total fidelity to her childhood view of the world is what makes The Book of Emma Reyes seem deceptively unlike a memoir. As a narrator, Reyes never tells us what the arc of her story will be. She doesn't analyze, accuse, or defend. She just lets us watch her survive, and then grow. In the final letter, Emma steals the keys of the convent in which she's lived for years. The book ends as she creeps out the door, frightened but determined. 'I realized,' she says, 'it had been a long time since I was a girl.' There's the adult Emma Reyes, addressing the reader directly for the first and only time. It's the perfect ending. And it's a classic memoir ending, too. She might not be her artist self yet, but she's ready. She's all grown.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveNPR\"...an exceptional example of the short-and-creepy form ... This is where Schweblin comes closest to Pedro Páramo. Rulfo\'s novel is half surreal tale of the afterlife and half political critique: Comala, where it\'s set, is a town of the dead because Pedro Páramo, its sole landowner, starved his tenants to death in a prolonged act of cruelty and rage. Fever Dream is an eco-critic\'s version of the same plot ... translated perfectly by Megan McDowell, who for my money is the best Spanish-to-English translator around. Schweblin writes with such restraint that I never questioned a sentence or a statement. This is the power of the short novel: Stripped down to its essentials, her story all but glows. Which makes sense, after all. It\'s toxic.\
PositiveThe MillionsThe writing is equal parts elegant and chatty, with a great sense of humor. It’s full of Big Ideas but never feels like a lecture.