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.
Kim Hye-Jin tr. Jamie Chang
PositiveNPR... demands a taxing quantity of empathy from its readers and protagonist alike ... a tiny, blunt book ... he narrator\'s prejudice is nearly unbearable to read. Yet Kim is equally clear that Green\'s mother, repellent as she can be, deserves empathy often didactic, privileging message over plot. Kim lets both Green and Lane deliver monologues about their right to acceptance; she also lets the narrator monologue, if only to the reader, about the precarity of her life. None of these passages are lectures, though: Kim gives them such emotional heft that they can only be pleas. Jamie Chang\'s translation, which is plain yet highly precise, amplifies this effect. She leaves no ambiguity in the text, which means the reader cannot hide from the intensity of the narrator\'s feelings. Ultimately, Concerning My Daughter turns into a confrontation — not just between Green and her mother, but also between Green\'s mother and the reader. Understanding, in this book, has to come from all sides.
Elisa Shua Dusapin, trans. Aneesa Abbas Higgins
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewBegins in a whirl ... In just a few sentences, using nothing but visual description, Dusapin plunges her readers into both the novel’s setting and Claire’s jangled state ... Dusapin explores the blurrier borders of language. Despite its tumultuous opening, the novel is a slow, meditative portrait of one woman finding herself, as well as a moving reflection on language’s capacity to divide us from others — and ourselves ... Gets its power from emotion, not events ... Much of the pleasure of reading The Pachinko Parlor in English comes from Higgins’s delicate translation. It’s a formidable challenge to translate a novel that deals so centrally with language, and Higgins manages to call the reader’s attention to both the beauty of Dusapin’s writing and the linguistic and cultural switching that demands so much of Claire’s energy.
PositiveAtlanticWhat better form than the novel, then, to help us remember the first stages of the pandemic anew, rather than avert our eyes in retrospect? ... Elizabeth Strout’s newest novel, Lucy by the Sea, achieves this goal imperfectly but beautifully. Strout is among the great living American writers, known for prose that is the literary equivalent of Shaker furniture: so elegant and sturdy that, though Strout frequently engages with current events, her writing often seems entirely detached from contemporary literary trends. This is not true of Lucy by the Sea, if only because it comes as part of the first trickle of COVID-centric novels ... The book can feel like a time capsule ... Its early chapters can read less like a novel than a record of how the pandemic’s earliest stages looked and felt for those of us who were lucky enough to be able to shelter indoor ... Communality is limiting, too: It means that Strout is giving readers an account they may already know, rather than escorting them into the specificities and oddities of someone else’s experience, as fiction can so uniquely allow. Not until later in the novel do the quirks and messy contours of Lucy’s life begin to appear—and, with them, the book’s true ability to explore absence and grief ... Novels that deal successfully with a collective event like the pandemic tend to hinge on the interplay between the historic and the personal. Lucy by the Sea, too, eventually finds that balance ... The pandemic Strout evokes becomes Lucy’s pandemic, strange and isolated and just as peculiar as any real person’s. When that happens, the book loosens up—becoming, finally, as wise and idiosyncratic as any novel can be.
PositiveNPRPostcolonial family novels are a major mode of modern and contemporary fiction, ranging from Gabriel García Márquez\'s magical-realist classic One Hundred Years of Solitude to J. M. Coetzee\'s quiet, barbed Disgrace...Titaua Peu\'s Pina belongs to this tradition,but, crucially, it takes place not in a former colony but on Tahiti, in French Polynesia, where independence is an ongoing effort and debate...Peu evokes Tahiti with rough, unsentimental grace; Jeffrey Zuckerman, who has translated writing by French speakers from across the globe, translates chatty prose with force and fluidity...Pina itself is a fluid, sprawling novel, telling the freewheeling story of a Tahitian family whose \'fates go any which way, barely any detail in common\'...Peu writes brutal scenes with wrenching immediacy, though she never lets the reader forget that the truest sources of violence in Pina are colonization and poverty...Ultimately, she maintains a tighter grasp on this idea than the plot, which moves so far and fast that it can be difficult to remain invested in the novel\'s events...Still, investing in its characters, Pina especially, is impossible to avoid.
RaveThe Nation... bracing ... is at once a fierce condemnation of American reading culture, which Castillo rightly sees as racist and consumerist, and a fervent ode to reading’s potential ... Although How to Read Now is technically about reading, it doubles as a work of refreshingly blunt literary criticism. Its essays are so thoroughly linked by their worldview that the book often feels less like a collection than a single, impassioned argument on behalf not only of thoughtful, ethical reading, but also of fiction designed to be thoughtfully, ethically read—fiction that is both a world unto itself and a lens through which to examine the world around us ... Castillo’s arguments on behalf of unexpected reading are, therefore, not only striking but vital. How to Read Now compels us to dispel any incurious approach to both books and the world.
RaveNPRThuận is an intensely poetic writer. She relies so heavily on repetition that Chinatown\'s text often seems to have refrains, like a ghazal or villanelle would. In many writers\' hands, this strategy could be deadening, but Thuận excels at creating momentum through language, and Nguyen An Lý translates that momentum beautifully. Chinatown exerts a near-tidal pull on the reader. I swallowed it down in one gulp.
RaveThe AtlanticRoss Feld praised Guston’s capacity and willingness to imbue even \'the most upsetting or disquieting imagery\' with \'a shaggy, even goofy friendliness\'...He wasn’t wrong about the friendliness: The hoods look like Hershey’s kisses crossed with Moomins...Yet painting the Klansmen approachably doesn’t defang them...By depicting them so crudely that it can take a moment to identify them, Guston arguably tricked his viewers into lingering—and then urged them not to look away...Feld celebrates Guston’s willingness to paint everyday objects, and to do so in what he implies is—and what I certainly see as—a stereotypically feminine way... Guston, though, embraced his \'histrionic impulse,\' imbuing household detritus with dignity and menace, and transforming it into the “ever-present still life that surrounds the embarrassingly, even tragically human.
RaveThe AtlanticIt’s easy to see why it has reached cult status. Nevada is a delight to read ... Maria is stuck in her own existence; Nevada bears witness to her stuck-ness. It was among the first contemporary novels to treat a trans woman’s story in a complicated, nuanced way, not relying on transition for storytelling momentum or treating it as a guaranteed happy ending ... I’d argue that Nevada is also important for a different reason: It is among the first great bookseller books. Bookselling—by which I mean working in a bookstore, as opposed to owning one—is labor, and Nevada is as much about class and labor as it is about transness and gender. Of course, the two are thoroughly intertwined, both because money affects transition ... succeeds at telling Maria’s specific story precisely because Binnie pays attention to the details, and horrors, of her work ... Binnie evokes the mundane reality of bookselling in detail vivid enough that stockroom dust practically rises from the page ... spiky and enjoyable ... Nevada isn’t about the reader, which is to say it’s not about the giver. It’s about Maria, who has no interest in anyone’s empathy—and yet she, too, tries to display her own ... both a good and an important book for precisely that reason: Binnie lets readers look squarely at the world Maria inhabits, complete with the limitations of a grinding, ill-paid job. It’s easy, once we’ve done that, to understand how badly she needs something more.
RaveNPRLahiri mixes detailed explorations of craft with broader reflections on her own artistic life, as well as the \'essential aesthetic and political mission\' of translation. She is excellent in all three modes — so excellent, in fact, that I, a translator myself, could barely read this book. I kept putting it aside, compelled by Lahiri\'s writing to go sit at my desk and translate ... One of Lahiri\'s great gifts as an essayist is her ability to braid multiple ways of thinking together, often in startling ways ... a reminder, no matter your relationship to translation, of how alive language itself can be. In her essays as in her fiction, Lahiri is a writer of great, quiet elegance; her sentences seem simple even when they\'re complex. Their beauty and clarity alone would be enough to wake readers up. \'Look,\' her essays seem to say: Look how much there is for us to wake up to.
Cristina Rivera Garza
RaveNPR... [Rivera Garza\'s] work, which reads like a hybrid of reportage and Juan Rulfo\'s haunted fiction, wriggles into the cracks between emotions. Her most recent stories, especially, are full of the spooky, drifting sensation that sets in at some stage of processing loss: not quite fury, not quite sorrow, but the sense of a new and possibly permanent void ... Sarah Booker, Rivera Garza\'s longtime translator, handles the majority of the stories here, and does so beautifully ... Not many writers, regardless of fluency in their target language, are ruthless enough to self-translate. Rivera Garza is ... frankly, once you get used to the New and Selected Stories\' eerie strangeness, it\'s hard to pick a favorite, or convince yourself to set the book down.
Alia Trabucco Zerán, tr. Sophie Hughes
RaveNPRTrabucco Zerán, well translated by Sophie Hughes, is a moving, imaginative writer ... strives to put its readers in its subjects\' minds, but not in the sensationalistic manner of books like Jim Thompson\'s The Killer Inside Me, which inhabits a sociopathic protagonist\'s thoughts. Instead, it applies a thoughtful feminist lens to stories as painful as they are gory ... This mix of emotions is one that Trabucco Zerán manages expertly, and one that will speak to any reader seeking a serious consideration of female violence ... an ethical approach to true crime — still rare, like translated nonfiction, but hopefully both will become more common every year.
Alejandro Zambra, tr. Megan McDowell
PositiveThe AtlanticZambra uses Pru’s reporting to create a collective portrait of artistic adulthood. But only through Vicente does Chilean Poet become truly communal in its outlook ... It is a testament to Zambra’s skill that I can so readily imagine the continuation of Vicente’s life. It is also a testament to Chilean Poet’s hopefulness, which, while cautious, runs so deep that the book seems almost to have predicted Boric’s victory. Boric campaigned on a progressive vision of Chile’s future, one that would be hospitable to even the most marginalized of the poets Pru interviews. That would make sense, really. As Zambra points out in \'Experiencia,\' Boric—a man committed to the collective good, and a serious reader of poetry, if nothing else—is a Chilean poet too.
PositiveNPR... naïvete is key to both novels: it saves Heti\'s self-examination from seeming self-obsessed. But autofiction has lost its innocence ... Her tough-to-classify new novel, Pure Colour, forsakes both autobiography and detail, though it retains her commitments to philosophy and to the spirit of innocence ... In practice, however, Pure Colour can feel less like a real novel than like a bedtime story for adults: it mixes real and surreal elements, often veering into creation myth or Socratic-style dialogue. It is, frankly, difficult to say how successful the result is: Pure Colour is simultaneously wise and silly, moving and inscrutable. It is also indisputably working hard to be new. Reading it is refreshing, even when it fails to satisfy ... Mira\'s confusion and unhappiness give Pure Colour its depth ... In fact, Pure Colour works better when it\'s weird than when it isn\'t. Heti is very good at getting readers to share Mira\'s sad, baffled wonder ... Pure Colour aims to refresh readers\' perceptions of the world as we see it: to turn what seems set and complete into an \'anarchic, scrappy\"\' first draft. Its creation passages mainly fail to do so, but its Mira passages succeed.
RaveNPRDarnielle shifts his vantage point on suffering without losing or lessening his willingness to confront it ... Soon enough, he\'s in the house, neck-deep in an idiosyncratic and imaginative research process, which Darnielle evokes exceptionally well. It helps that his prose is assertively, beautifully wrought ... It is very challenging to write compellingly about research; Darnielle pulls it off here, both because his sentences are so good and because Gage has such strong opinions about his craft ... All this shifting and breaking of narrative can be disorienting; the letter is emotionally wrenching. As a result, Devil House becomes progressively less enjoyable to read — which is, of course, Darnielle\'s point. Gage\'s method is letting him down; so is his creed.
RaveNPRPond is so unusual, and so unsettlingly pleasurable, that I thought it would be greedy to hope Bennett\'s new novel, Checkout 19, would be better. Lucky me: it is ... Bennett is too committed to the oddity and specificity of her again-nameless narrator\'s ideas to ever fall into the worn grooves of other people\'s. Indeed, the novel is explicitly committed to the privacy of thought ... Not many people are able to live this way; not many women or working-class characters get written this way. For the rooted among us, reading Checkout 19 can be utterly jarring. It is a portrait, like Pond; it\'s also a call to come at least a little undone. Yes, really. It really is.
RaveNPR... unmistakably, the work of an autodidact. Nathan\'s curiosity is evident on every page; so, too, is the breadth of his interests ... objects of study may seem scattered, but Nathan effectively weaves them into a sharp, passionate, and frequently scathing plea for artistic ethics in what he calls \'fascist times\' ... Not all his jumps are easy to follow, but every one works. His intellectual roving, chaotic though it may sometimes feel, renders Image Control not only fascinating but genuinely exciting. It can be a real pleasure to watch Nathan build scaffolding between his ideas ... Image Control can be frustrating at times: polemical, hyperbolic, messy. But the book\'s aggravating moments stem from, and are redeemed by, its intelligence, originality, and heart. Cultural critics rarely frame their work as explicitly ethical, and Nathan\'s insistence on doing so is refreshing. He transforms the idea that images need linguistic context—which could be reduced to a defense of wall text in art museums—into an ethical system that defends human complexity against the ever-flattening pressures of both consumer capitalism and creeping fascism. As proof of concept, Image Control more than succeeds.
Joy Sorman tr. Lara Vergnaud
PositiveNPRSorman uses her protagonist\'s suffering to critique the medical establishment, with its massive imbalance of power between doctor and patient ... Her detached tone, which Lara Vergnaud makes crisp and stylized, adds to the sense of novel-as-critique: often, Sorman\'s narrator seems to be speaking in voiceover, as if Ninon were the subject of a documentary. This strategy serves to alienate the reader from Ninon, precisely as Ninon\'s pain alienates her from her mother and from her peers. Life Sciences is a lonely book — and, for that reason, an effective one. Unsympathetic as Sorman\'s style may feel, it forces the reader to reckon with what Ninon is going through.
Claire Vaye Watkins
RaveThe AtlanticWatkins riffs lovingly on [autofiction] ... [And] shows that autofiction, as much as any other mode of writing, can be escapist ... No matter how much the fictional Claire may seem like the real Watkins, readers can’t just decide the two are the same ... Watkins seems to use Claire’s flight westward to dramatize fiction’s improvisatory potential: Her novel becomes structurally looser and shaggier with every chapter ... Watkins’s freewheeling excavation of her family’s story may be frustrating to readers seeking more allegiance to reality: So many of us feel irreversibly beholden to loved ones, history, or convention. But I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness...is not slickly false. [It\'s a] messy, bighearted book that prioritize emotional searching.
MixedThe Atlantic... often reads like a wild search for hope in the face of bleak reality ... the plot more or less becomes nonsensical: I cannot in good conscience recommend the final act of this book. But Ferris’s central idea—that fiction offers the fantasy of escape from mortality—remains both convincing and clear. It’s hard not to sympathize when Jake, hating his efforts at autofiction, starts yearning for \'new adventures, happy ends.\' Who doesn’t want to pretend death isn’t coming for us all? ... [a] messy, bighearted book that prioritize[s] emotional searching.
PositiveNPRMcGregor renders this drama and its fallout, which occupies the majority of the novel, in his habitually spare prose. He is one of the few great living minimalists, able to mix deep pathos with wry comedy in a sentence too short to need a single comma. His work bears a certain resemblance to the laconically off-kilter Joy Williams, but seems more deeply influenced by the stutter-step repetitions and evasions common to everyday speech. Often in Lean Fall Stand, his sentences seem less to follow in sequence than to be shingled atop each other, either sharing or hiding meaning ... Lean Fall Stand is at its weakest, though by no means weak, in Anna\'s section, which never quite rises out of ambivalent-wife tropes. Her hesitant loyalty to her husband becomes too much the book\'s guiding spirit — and it is an affecting one, but not necessarily urgent. McGregor raises no real question of what Anna will do ... Every sentence in Lean Fall Stand serves, in its style, as a quiet reminder of how difficult it can be to represent ourselves to others ... Lean Fall Stand is more optimistic about communication than one might expect. McGregor\'s characters may rarely have a clue \'what to say, or how to say it,\' but, fumblingly, they try.
Laurent Bienet tr. Sam Taylor
RaveNPR... a work of absolutely unfettered historical invention ... is at once a profoundly thoughtful book and a very playful one—though Binet, who is unpretentious but extremely academic, plays on a fairly high level ... Even at its most intellectually elevated, though, Civilizations is a page-turner. Credit here goes to both Binet and his translator, Sam Taylor, whose English prose is clipped, opinionated, and vivid. Sentence to sentence, Civilizations reads less like other novels than it does like excellent researched nonfiction: I wouldn\'t be surprised if Binet, Taylor, or both count Robert Caro as a stylistic influence ... Binet\'s invented history is, event by event, as enjoyable to think about as it is to read. From a postcolonial perspective, it is satisfying to see Atahualpa take over Charles V\'s Spain, then survey Europe and determine swiftly that \'this world would be his.\' It is more enjoyable still to watch him become an enlightened despot, banning the Inquisition and creating a \'Europe of tolerance\' based on religious freedom and agrarian reform. Binet perhaps devotes too much energy to pointing out the absurdity of Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, when seen from the outside ... the rare novel that manages to wear its ethical investigation lightly without minimizing its own questions. Binet seems to genuinely want to know to what extent conquest and the cruelty it inevitably produces are reducible, redeemable, or escapable. He also plainly wants to play around. This duality is, perhaps, a more mature writer\'s version of the historical push-me-pull-you nature of HHhH. Binet now gives himself full freedom to visualize, but he still holds himself responsible for his visions. As a result, Civilizations is a serious success, in every sense of the word serious. If you read one novel this fall, make it this.
MixedNPRAlthough White Malice is framed far too expansively, it overflows with fascinating information, original research, and bold ideas ... Williams relies heavily on archival research in her work, and she deploys primary sources to powerful effect when describing Lumumba\'s rise, his rule, and the war that led to his fall ... [White Malice\'s] final chapters rove between countries and topics, sometimes sliding into conjectures about other un-provable CIA misdeeds. It is unfortunate that Williams lets herself get distracted in this way, and more unfortunate still that her desire to write a book applicable to all of Africa\'s post-colonial history overshadows her excellent, infuriating work on the CIA and Patrice Lumumba. Were this a narrower book, it would be a better one by far.
RaveNPROften while reading Real Estate, which is a playful, candid, and a supremely elegant exploration of Levy\'s concept of — and desire for — home, I found myself wishing that she would come sit down with me ... Levy often makes me a greedy reader, eager for much more than she offers. I mean this as very high praise. Her writing, especially in her memoirs, tends to take the form of short, lightly lyrical sections, some no more than a paragraph long. Each one holds a beautifully distilled idea, a question worth returning to, or a description so cockeyed and lovely it begs the reader to linger. In Real Estate, Levy reserves her prettiest writing — which, I should note, is never, ever flowery — for her \"unreal estate\": the dream house she designs and redesigns throughout the book ... vibrant and kinetic, never predictable and yet always direct. Like all Levy\'s books, it is as good on the second read as the first, if not better. Few writers are able to give so much so swiftly. Levy\'s hospitality on the page is a delight.
Carolina De Robertis
PositiveThe NationIt is a thoroughly political book—defiantly political, even. Its protagonist is so devoted to improving the collective lot of Uruguay’s citizens that he barely comprehends the idea of a personal life ... In his guerrilla years, the protagonist seems constantly to be convincing himself of his own correctness. This habit can become irritating and repetitive, but it serves a clear purpose: He can sustain his militancy only with ceaseless reminders of how much urgent work there is to be done. In prison, these reminders turn into painful, guilt-laden questions, which de Robertis uses to give the novel its momentum ... The failure to depict...stark conditions slightly undermines de Robertis’s commitment to complexity: Life on the ground, after all, is more complicated than life in revolutionary or reformist rhetoric. Still, The President and the Frog achieves a considerable feat. It turns the tools of literary fiction—free indirect discourse, deep character study, weird conceits like a talking frog—into a call to political, moral, and historical attention ... The President and the Frog asks its readers to think seriously about the weight of taking political action, then suggests that they take it.
RaveThe AtlanticI felt intensely grateful for the high level of granular political—now historical—detail in Nawaaz Ahmed’s debut, Radiant Fugitives, a sprawling, compelling novel ... Thanks to Ahmed’s vivid prose and his capacity to write heated dialogue, his dive into late-2000s politics is anything but dull ... Radiant Fugitives is a systems novel, not a domestic one ... His quick point-of-view switches and brusque manner of delivering backstory swiftly make it clear that he is less invested in any one character than in the larger questions he examines through them ... Political fiction, Ahmed seems to realize, has no need to fear granularity or retreat into interiority. Writing down details, as any diary-keeper will tell you, is personal no matter what.
Mieko Kawakami, tr. David Boyd and Sam Bett
RaveNPRHeaven is a raw, painful, and tender portrait of adolescent misery, reminiscent of both Elena Ferrante\'s fiction and Bo Burnham\'s 2018 film Eighth Grade. I cannot, in good conscience, endorse it without a warning: This book is very likely to make you cry ... If Kawakami were a more conventional or sentimental writer, Kojima would be the narrator\'s first love. Instead, she occupies a blurrier space in his life: Their friendship is intermittent and baffling, rooted less in their personal connection than in Kojima\'s brittle teenage idealism ... This trajectory is unusual: How many novels about bullying, or about adolescents, end with liberation via nihilism? In Heaven, though, the narrator\'s embrace of meaninglessness seems, much like his friendship with Kojima, to be a necessary but impermanent developmental stage.
PositiveHyperallergicUsing a mix of art, military, and intellectual history, [Saltzman] argues that controlling art is a powerful way to control hearts and minds ... Plunder is at its best when Saltzman describes — and dissects — the philosophical and nationalistic underpinnings of France’s art kleptomania ... she joins a growing number of artists, gallerists, journalists, and critics holding museums accountable for their collections’ pasts, and their own ... Plunder asks its readers to look at art museums through a combined historical-ethical lens. Many of us could use that skill in the present, too.
PositiveThe NationBedford is refreshingly committed to portraying writing not as a calling or craft but as work ... [Bedford] directs Friends and Dark Shapes not toward the broad social implications of freelance work or toward solidarity across the vast spectrum of the gig economy, but on the practical and ethical problems it poses for the narrator. Ultimately, the novel asks a question that is rarer than it should be in fiction, if infinitely common in life: not how should we handle our lives, but how should we handle our work? ... Within pages, we know this will not be a survival story. Instead, it occupies a hazier space, one in which need, choice, insecurity, and aspiration shift and blend ... At the novel’s end, [the narrator] is still freelancing; she’s discovered her desire to commit to a different life but has no idea what it will be. Her closing action is smaller, in the novel’s terms, than abandoning her self-employment: She moves into a new apartment. Bedford leaves her readers to hope that move will be the first of many.
MixedNPRIn the sycophantic poetry community, Wiese declares, praise springs from \'monstrous insincerity,\' and is, therefore, deadly. As a critic who strives to be completely honest, I can\'t help but take this proclamation as a bit of an insult — what am I, chopped liver? — but still, I know it holds truth. In general, I feel similarly toward Dead Souls. Riviere is sharp and funny, and he fills his novel with insights that are both rude and correct. It is undeniably a smart book, and, in certain ways, a good one. That said, it is unreadable ... Dead Souls plainly takes inspiration from two writers: Thomas Bernhard, king of the single-paragraph novel, and Roberto Bolaño ... It is my personal, unshakable belief that writing without paragraphs is a middle finger to the reader, which suits Bernhard; his books are rageful howls. Dead Souls is a gripe. Gripes, by me, should have breaks in them ... Riviere\'s is fundamentally dried out. It is a collection of ideas with no emotion. Why turn to fiction for that?
RaveHyperallergicCusk’s first post-trilogy novel, Second Place, hews closer to the novel’s standard shape. Second Place is a fiercely odd, even unfashionably allegorical book. Structurally, though, it isn’t abnormal at all. It’s an epistolary novel — the most old-fashioned form! — and one that uses all of fiction’s standard tricks. I’d be disappointed if it weren’t so bafflingly good ... In the highly inventive Second Place, Cusk uses fiction as a tool to turn readers away from art, toward life.
RaveHyperallergic... supremely good ... Bechdel thrives at odd intellectual intersections. She’s a research magpie with a sense of humor, constantly given to tucking illuminating facts or quotations where they might seem not to belong ... Bechdel’s epiphanies are, in general, either short-lived or belated, and yet they add up to deep wisdom.
MixedHyperallergicNemerov is a beautiful writer, and his evocation of Frankenthaler’s groundbreaking artistic process (she invented Color Field painting) is a delight. Yet his structural conceit hobbles the book, and his paternalistic attitude toward Frankenthaler undermines both his gifts and hers ... Fierce Poise’s structural issue is a simple one. Each of its ten chapters centers on a single day in Frankenthaler’s life ... This formal decision provides immediacy, enabling Nemerov to write mainly in scene. However, it also causes him to write too quickly, prioritizing events over emotional and intellectual development. As a result, Frankenthaler’s inner life too often appears as backstory or, worse, as cultural context ... Nemerov’s disregard for Frankenthaler’s interiority may connect to his broader stance toward the book ... Gender amplifies this effect. Nemerov is sometimes sharp on the constraints imposed on women of Frankenthaler’s generation, yet elsewhere seems blinkered at best ... Fierce Poise has pleasures to offer. Nemerov is excellent on Frankenthaler’s devotion to work, her socially taboo careerism ... But his Frankenthaler seems not unkempt in the slightest. Had he written a more unkempt portrait of her as a person, his book would be stronger by far.
Pola Oloixarac, tr. Adam Morris
RaveThe AtlanticMona [...] leans wholeheartedly on crime fiction. Oloixarac is an exuberant genre-blender ... Mona reads like Rachel Cusk’s Kudos on drugs ... Mona is, for example, both resilient and hedonistic—or rather, she’s resilient through hedonism ... Mona’s theorizing could put some readers off, or make them long for Elmore Leonard’s snappy, comic crime writing ... But the novel’s headier passages nonetheless do important work, helping Mona slowly explain to herself, then accept, her complicated reactions to her rape and her vulnerability as a woman. This nuanced acceptance helps Mona succeed. So does Oloixarac’s genre-mixing, which leads to originality of thought and technique. If her novel’s abstractions are extremely literary, its acknowledgment that total safety isn’t achievable owes a debt to generations of crime fiction.
PositiveNPRInfinite Country is less concerned with Talia\'s quest to reunite with her family, though, than with the choices and circumstances — and cruel immigration policies — that led to their initial separation. In swift chapters that bounce between characters and chronologies, Engel moves from Talia\'s parents\' courtship to their emigration to their forced split, and traces their fight afterwards to survive as individuals, and as a family. Engel packs a lot of event and emotion into a slim novel ... Infinite Country relies more on detailed narrative summary than on conventional scenes. Engel sometimes lingers in her characters\' inner lives, but only Talia gets a scenic outer one ... This is an unusual choice, and an impressive one ... To be clear, Infinite Country is not meant to center on character. Its fragmented, summary-focused form clearly prioritizes ideas — how do we define home? Family? Safety? — above all else. But these ideas aren\'t abstractions, and Engel\'s characters aren\'t flat. Nuanced, dimensional characters exist to provoke emotional responses, not intellectual ones, which tells me Engel is out for both. If she let her novel descend from the air more often, or if she\'d chosen to cover time in chunks rather than swaths, the ideas and characters in Infinite Country might have coexisted more fully, and better amplified each other as a result.
Yoss Tr. by David Frye
RaveNPRFor readers similarly attached to Chandler, Raymond will be a delight. His narration is an immensely charming Philip Marlowe impression: goofily self-conscious, often laugh-out-loud funny, and perfectly translated. (I shudder to imagine how hard translating pseudo-Chandler must have been; Frye deserves a tip of the fedora Raymond never takes off.) Red Dust is pastiche at its finest, and it delivers a happy ending that seems to warm even Raymond\'s robot heart.
Mauro Javier Cárdenas
RaveHigh Country News... a fast-paced, vibrant setting, written in colloquial language and symbolized by airports, movie theaters and malls ... He writes in English, but Aphasia uses occasional Spanish, and its spirit is one of blending and border collapse ... This mixing of space and time is, astonishingly, neither confusing nor frustrating to read. Rather, it feels familiar ... It also echoes the deeper divide of existing between countries, establishing roots in a new place while tending to connections in an old one ... Aphasia is a novelistic portrait of the internet’s ability to help us elide geographical and personal borders. It dramatizes our growing ability to occupy multiple narratives at once — and proves that literature itself can do the same.
David Diop, tr. Anna Moschovakis
RaveNPR... astonishingly good ... Alfa understands that his revenge is growing ghoulish; he understands that France as a colonial force is exploiting his bravery and his grief; he understands, even, that he is in part responsible for Mademba\'s suffering, which is perhaps the novel\'s most harrowing thread. But Alfa\'s understanding cannot free him. He is, in effect, doomed by his own comprehension. Diop\'s prose, which is at once swift and dense, captures that effect well. He and his translator, Anna Moschovakis, wall the reader into Alfa\'s mind and his story, refusing even the smallest glimmer of light.
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.
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, trans. by Michele Hutchison
RaveNPRRijneveld writes poetry as well as fiction, which shows: Their prose, in Michele Hutchison\'s superb translation, shows a poet\'s interest in small, slow details. The novel, which is set on a dairy farm in a small village, is at once spare and luminous, haunting without calling attention to the fact. Rijneveld\'s sentences linger, as does their 10-year-old protagonist Jas\'s grief for her brother Matthies, who dies in the novel\'s first pages ... Bad dreams are a risk for readers here, but Rijneveld manages their novel\'s painful content delicately and well. Even the most wrenching scenes never seem gratuitous; they are thoroughly worth the emotional effort that Rijneveld asks their readers to make.
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.