MixedThe Boston GlobeIt’s not clear that using David Copperfield is the best way to tell Demon’s story ... Kingsolver must make clear Demon’s straitened circumstances. She hangs markers of poverty — the coal country location, a town considered \'right poor\' — like wind chimes on Demon’s single-wide trailer to catch her readers’ ears ... In Kingsolver’s depiction of her Appalachian setting, virtually no one gets out alive. Kingsolver makes little mention of Appalachian history or resilience ... In seeking to raise awareness of child hunger and poverty in the United States, Kingsolver turns her characters’ lives into tales of misery and the inevitability of failure. Her characters wallow in dark hollows with little light, condemned to forever repeat the horrific mistakes of previous generations. She makes the people of Appalachia into objects of pity, but in doing so, also intimates that falling into drug abuse, rejecting education, and \'clinging\' to their ways are moral choices that keep them in their dire circumstances ... Novels entertain, and many have also argued that reading novels increases our empathy for others. But one of the problems with social novels intended to heighten our understanding is that in writing about traumas, the writer risks turning suffering into entertainment, and stripping the characters of agency ... Demon Copperhead becomes a form of poverty porn, a slum tour where pity is the price of the ride. Those on display can only stare back.
Laurie Lico Albanese
RaveThe Star Tribune... vivid and emotionally rich ... Isobel\'s synesthesia is a gift as a seamstress, but as Albanese ramps up the tension in a harrowing plot, it becomes evident that her belief in her gift has skewed her sense of others. A world built on visual difference offers us back only our distorted reflections. In order for Isobel to survive, she will have to learn to apprehend what lies beneath the cloth she stitches for others.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThe Pakistan-set half of Shamsie’s narrative is by far the more effective. In poetic prose, Shamsie details the small ways friends imprint themselves on each other: the secrets shared, the mutual pop-star crushes, the books passed between them, how a best friend can become a fixture in a family home. In Pakistan, the girls are hemmed in by a surveillance society in which confidences cannot be shared over tapped phones ... From the very start of the second half, the narrative feels forced. It opens with a jarring gimmick: back-to-back media profiles of the two friends, published in 2019, 30 years later and half a world away from their schoolgirl days in Karachi ... Power corrupts, we already know, but what effect does it have on two women who have promised to trust each other no matter what? Where does the principle of loyalty stand in relation to every other principle in our lives? Where should it stand? These are profound questions, but Shamsie’s answers feel too schematic, if only in contrast to the rich and deeply personal tone of the first part. There are, to be sure, powerful moments in which we can see how little a person changes — or rather how much a person’s youth has determined her course — even when removed to another part of the world, a system that seems (at least on the surface) to work differently ... It’s to Shamsie’s credit that, by the end, we know the systems aren’t any more different than the people running them. Yet it still feels that we have learned this at the expense of the characters. Maryam and Zahra are revealed merely to be two distinct archetypes of the \'good immigrant\' who are set on a crash course. At a time when soundbites and tweets have become our principal ways of communicating, Shamsie, a brilliant novelist and a subtle writer, felt a need to shout. Rather than letting us hear the echoes of a girlhood and another country in her grown characters, she loses faith in her readers to sense their vibrations.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe body blows felt when an evocative scent hits is familiar to those who know that a long-ago grief can be summoned in a single breath. Giddings salts her cloudlike prose with these types of immersive sensory details ... Giddings takes readers on a journey of magical realism, but in doing so, she asks readers to question how such a world functions against a reality where oppression has circumscribed human possibility. Magical realism creates a possibility of rebellion that lies outside the reach of a surveillance society, but it\'s one that requires creation of a separate reality. Unable to effect real political change, is it better to retreat? And can individual acts of magic have any effect on systemic violence? ... Part of the brilliance of Giddings\' novel is that the larger questions she is asking are subtle, and readers who are looking for immersion in a magical world of female autonomy will find much to love ... As the summer of our discontent scorches us sere, the coolness of Lake Superior\'s waters and the promise that an alternative world is a boat ride away is a soothing balm. But beneath its surface, The Women Could Fly boils as hot as a witch\'s cauldron.
John Wood Sweet
RaveThe Star TribuneAs Wood carefully lays out and skillfully argues, Sawyer\'s power would rely on her ability to convince men to act on her behalf ... As Wood carefully lays out and skillfully argues, Sawyer\'s power would rely on her ability to convince men to act on her behalf ... The result is a masterful and sweeping account of life in 1790s America, where the tensions between classes, the role of the men who enslaved people in determining justice and the enforcement of patriarchal gender roles would each play a part in Sawyer and Bedlow\'s fates. The book also provides additional context for understanding the hurdles in present-day America where even now, 60% of rapes are never reported, and only 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail.
RaveLos Angeles TimesA fascinating medical history ... As Fitzharris works her way through various types of trauma...she chronicles the rise of the various medical arts brought to bear in treating them. She threads into such discussions cultural commentary and a social history of ableist notions of beauty and health ... Fitzharris successfully balances the story of plastic surgery’s growth with a compassionate attention to those whose wounds made it possible. Photos that document the \'before and after\' faces of patients are chosen with due care.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesIt’s hard to pick a time when a novel like Ann Leary’s The Foundling wouldn’t speak to where we are ... Leary does a brilliant job of showing how the need for emotional attachment...can cloud a person’s judgment ... Leary’s novel is ultimately a hopeful one, in which empathy and critical thinking reveal the structural vulnerabilities of such pyramids — built as they are on fabrications, compensations and contradictions that eventually undermine their foundations. Leary is optimistic that reason will prevail.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeMiles is a scholar-in-residence for the Maine Humanities Council. She brings all of her powers as a journalist and outdoors expert to bear in telling Julie and Lollie’s story ... What ultimately motivates Miles to continue her investigation is the official silence. In the wilderness, the stillness is broken by the creaking of the trunks of pines, the soughing of branches, the chitter of small animals and birds. But the silence imposed on the case of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans brought no sense of peace; it left behind grief and rage, feelings to which Miles gives voice in this passionate book.
RaveBoston GlobeWinslow...brings his sharp interpretive skills to Virgil’s Aeneid, and makes the events at Troy and the founding of Rome into a riveting gangster tale. He makes me wonder why I had never before seen the Trojan War as the obvious fight between rival criminal gangs ... In City of Fire, he returns to his New England roots for this new classic he says took him decades to write ... Winslow is a master of pacing. Action and erotic sequences fire the adrenaline, while tender scenes feel languid and warm. He shades the relationship between men and women in noir tones. Tough guys don’t always get their way. Noir women are wicked smart, and press their advantages against how men’s low assumptions of women make them weak ... Winslow has been lauded for the ways that his previous crime novels confront social issues. He has interrogated the ways that borders work between us, that we’re weak at the border when we build insurmountable walls to shore them up. One that runs under the surface of Winslow’s novel is that it’s not just the faults of individuals that cause these men to fail. But here, rigid definitions of who gets to belong in \'our thing\' create fatal weaknesses among them. The refusal to think outside their constricted notions of masculinity and honor hobbles them
PositiveStar TribuneFascinating ... The glimpses of McGrath\'s life makes the book into a diptych depicting American manhood ... Riverman is rich with detail about small-town America, those little communities that have made their livings off the commerce generated by waterways. Embedded in the narrative, however, are multiple anecdotes about the ways that class intersects with the picture ... But unspoken in McGrath\'s story are issues of race and gender. I\'m a woman who has spent much of her life participating in outdoor recreation; it is hard to imagine how less free a woman or a person of color would be to show up in town after town as a lone traveler ... For men like Conant, the domestic life, the settled life, was impossible. And despite his own success, one senses that McGrath, too, wishes to feel the freedom he sees in Conant\'s itinerant journey. What emerges is a story that wends its way through the fluid state of American masculinity in our tumultuous times.
RaveThe Boston GlobeNewton’s beautiful and complexly nuanced Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation...brings her astute mind and her engaging writing style to explore why people are so intrigued by what they find in their ancestral past, and whether recent findings in genetics support notions of inheriting the temperaments or intellectual or athletic gifts of our forbears ... While Newton could have settled for comparing the stories she heard as a child with what she found through genealogical research to reveal a singular family portrait, she presents instead a rich and powerful understanding of the ways that linking ourselves to our family tree provides a sense of connection that helps us feel grounded ... The memoir parts of Newton’s book read like a suspense novel, and part of the pleasure of the book is watching Newton play detective.
MixedThe Los Angeles Times... tantalizing but blithe ... In what I’m worried is not a coincidence, the book’s clearest outsiders are two of the non-WASPs: brainy, unattractive Eleanor, the anti-Cleo, and Santiago, the overweight, unpartnered Peruvian. It’s hard not to think of them as magical minorities, helping the messy beautiful white people see themselves more deeply ... The relationships themselves rarely feel lived-in ... Internal emotions are described in similar ways — voice-overs clumped at the ends of chapters sharing how a character had \'really\' been feeling ... Maybe this comes down to a lack of social context. The servers who support the characters’ lifestyles are barely remarked upon. The homeless or the \'gypsy\' begging in the street are objects of distaste. And the voyage of discovery is taken along a river of self, with society and its greater problems hidden away along the banks. With the exceptions of Eleanor and Santiago, Mellors’ characters ignore the outside world. It isn’t clear whether the author intends this as social critique ... This is Mellors’ debut novel, and it’s clear that she knows a world built on flash and substances (but not substance) is bound to crumble. She has written some extraordinary sentences and shows a great talent for dialogue. And she cannily sets Gen X artists who found a way to combine art with commerce against millennials who were raised to grasp at shiny objects that wound up beyond their reach ... There’s nothing wrong with writing books that are ripe for adaptation...But the type of enlightenment presented in certain novels, in which easy access to money makes chasing one’s art a matter only of finding oneself, ignores a world on fire with chaos and inequality. And it tends not to make for great TV either.
RaveThe Star TribuneEvison\'s Small World features some of the standard elements of a disaster plot ... But Evison complicates and enriches the narrative by providing not only a back story for each of his passengers, but a historical explanation for why each of them are here. In many ways, his characters represent archetypical stories, but they are infused with humanity in his capable hands ... By setting his characters in an American epic, Evison reminds readers that all of us are descended from those who endured hard times ... It is a rich inheritance, and Evison\'s telling of those stories is riveting.
RaveLos Angeles Times... glittering language...brings emotional resonance to the effects of monstrous policies ... Hadi’s discombobulation after landing in America is conveyed in synesthetic detail ... The color blue recurs a few times in Zgheib’s narrative, and its various shades create compelling illustrations of how emotion tints experience ... Zgheib evokes all those emotions, summoning empathy for the victims of policies crafted in an empathy vacuum ... There is Hadi’s pain but especially Sama’s postpartum saudade. The author makes no attempt to soften the pain, which the reader shares. And yet much of her novel is hopeful. The separation comes in like thunder to break a happy story apart. Zgheib’s poetic language serves her well in conveying that story. But much of its power lies also in the playful way Sama and Hadi experience new love, the sense of open possibility that immigration can still represent.
RaveThe Star Tribune... she engages readers in heady discussions while simultaneously telling entertaining tales about her Minnesota childhood ... readers can anticipate scintillating discussions of subjects such as psychoanalytic theories, Plato, Bourdieu, Jane Austen and the Brontes. Hustvedt\'s enthusiasm for her subjects and the ease with which she discusses them make it a delight to plunge into the deep end of a subject previously unknown to the reader ... Hustvedt is brilliant at exploring how our various reactions to disrupting boundaries plays out in notions of the monstrous, the chimerical, and their perceived threat ... On rare occasions, Hustvedt reveals her own blind spots when it comes to perception. In several essays, she does a tremendous reading of language, translation and conscious thought. The languages, for the most part, were transmitted orally or in written text. I found myself wondering how some of her conclusions might have shifted with the incorporation of languages like ASL, that rely on a variety of body clues to convey meaning. I imagine it would make a fascinating topic at Hustvedt\'s next fascinating salon.
RaveLos Angeles TimesGangi finds a way in Carry the Dog to write a novel of ideas — not a favored American genre — that takes up critiques of visual culture within a very personal context: a novel about aging and coming to terms with childhood trauma ... By placing these conundrums inside the body of a 60-year-old woman experiencing a long-delayed coming of age, she speaks to the many women I know who are going through this transition ... When such a change is touched on in books or film, too often it’s a source of tragedy, even madness. Gangi, in refreshing contrast, argues that invisibility is freeing. Once Bea sides not with her observers but with her own self, she gains empathy for those around her. Photography presents a flat world to us; absent the dimension of time in which the events were occurring and absent the interior emotions of its subjects, any knowledge gained from a photograph will always make an object of the photographed. It is hard to really see yourself in a world built solely on what can be seen.
RaveLos Angeles TimesHaunted ... Subtle but powerful ... In Stine’s novel, the relationships are what keep the survivors going. Even in times when basic needs necessitate constant work, love and art create lives worth getting up for. In Trashlands, Stine builds a world in which dark times have descended. And yet, she insists, the things that make us human persist. This is her ballad to love in a time of darkness — future and present.
RaveThe Star Tribune... comprises words and illustrations that illuminate Chang\'s path back into time. In a series of letters addressed to those who play a part in her memories, she explores with tenderness and compassion the ways that all of us construct our stories of what lies both in our family\'s past and in our own lives ... The letters that she writes to people from her past show readers how much of what we call \'memory\' are the stories we tell ourselves and others, how we make narratives of sense impressions and snatches of remembered conversations. The photo collages she assembles gesture toward the ways we create our pasts ... the work of a gifted poet, a wordsmith who is conscious that absent a chance to be an eyewitness to the past, we are left to spin our own webs of emotional significance and nostalgia.
RaveLos Angeles Times... a radical genre game both hilarious and deadly serious ... As the murders escalate and make national news, Everett summons horror tropes in service to notions of what justice might look like. And by visiting violence on the descendants of Till’s killers, he examines the notion of collective guilt — the way it festers in the absence of reckoning or reconciliation ... Everett’s enormous talent for wordplay — the kind that provokes laughter and the kind that gut-punches — is at its peak. He leans on the language of outrage and hyperbole to provoke reactions a history book could never elicit ... If white readers who live outside the South believe themselves to be \'in\' on Everett’s joke, they too are in for a surprise. The rash of revenge he unleashes captures those responsible for horrors far beyond the Jim Crow South, eventually implicating virtually all of us ... Everett makes clear that the sins of the fathers fall upon all white Americans — anyone who has benefited from terror, intimidation or systematic repression, regardless of whether they held the rope. He has made some audacious leaps over nearly 40 years of writing, but The Trees may be his most audacious. He makes a revenge fantasy into a comic horror masterpiece. He turns narrative stakes into moral stakes and raises them sky-high. Readers will laugh until it hurts.
RaveLos Angeles TimesSkirting the pitfalls of revisionist history, it is fiction neither as plodding realism nor as implausible feminist anachronism, but rather something in between and beyond: a rigorous, living vision of what could have been ... Groff beautifully captures Marie’s teenaged sulk ... Marie is not caught up in the exhaustive details of ordinary life in the 12th century, sparing the reader the encyclopedic data that can bog down historical novels ... As issues of bodily autonomy are once again thrust into the spotlight by developments in Texas abetted by the U.S. Supreme Court, reading Matrix is a balm. The insistence that a woman’s worth is tied to her physical self, rather than her intellect and spirit, is a dark cloud that has broken open numerous times in the West. If only it could be banished by an abbess, or a novel.
PositiveThe Star TribuneHamya is brilliant at invoking the milieu in which young adults move ... In entering her narrator\'s consciousness, Hamya has written a political novel that never explicitly states its politics ... And she skewers social media for its performative aspect, while capturing the poignancy of a world in which everyone is living their best lives.
RaveBoston GlobeThe International Brigades is nothing less than magisterial, and provides the first \'comprehensive, global history\' of that conflict written in English in over 40 years ... Tremlett has organized his enormous book chronologically, so that each skirmish and battle where the volunteers were present is documented, and rich details are provided through a combination of first-hand witness and participant accounts, newspaper articles, and secondary sources.
A K Blakemore
RaveLos Angeles TimesBlakemore, who also is a published poet, brings both beautifully crafted sentences and a thorough understanding of Hopkins’ theology to her fascinating novel ... Witchcraft, real or imagined, has become a somewhat trendy tack among writers turning over the legacies of patriarchy, but Blakemore is no dilettante here. Based on my own dissertation work on the topic, it’s clear that the author is deeply conversant in the historiography of English witchcraft ... Blakemore also depended on court documents and contemporary sources ... [Many accusations were] clearly displaced neurosis over sexual desires that interfered with celestial communion. But as Blakemore shows in her brilliant novel, the spiritual life many of them extolled was as slant and insubstantial as Matthew Hopkins.
RaveLos Angeles Times... [a] blazing new novel ... While McConaghy presents intelligent perspectives on the wisdom of rewilding, the book goes into deeper questions of epistemology. The understanding of how we know the things we know is under serious pressure in a world confronted by climate change and the need to adapt to the previously unthinkable. Despite evidence that we are making our world inhospitable to human life, we find ourselves still arguing over basic reality. We are confronted by the limits of language every day. And as McConaghy shows in this stunning book, the limits of language lead us to the limits of empathy.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesSpecktor makes a habit of stripping away the protective coating of euphemism. But it isn’t all subtraction; he also offers moments of nurturing clarity ... Writing through his troubles, Specktor offers consolatory beauty.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... remarkable ... Lowe writes with an affection for the women with whom she spent four years while writing Breathing Fire. As readers get to know Carla, Selena, Sonya, Marquet, Whitney and Alisha and the families who love and worry over them, she brings into sharp relief how an entire class of people are performing labor under conditions approaching complete enslavement. Her important book also points to the uncomfortable truth that the front lines of the fight against climate change are peopled with those society has forgotten.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... an evocation of gothic horror. While the dread never overwhelms, the sense that characters are haunted by what is happening at the school is felt from the moment that Louisa, the scholarship student, arrives ... In an atmosphere where the cacophony of teenage hormones blares amid a community of nuns who have directed their passion toward the religious life, Donohue adds to the sense of shambolic emotions at play with skillful pacing. And as the wind sings through the cracks in the old windows, ghost stories are born.
RaveLos Angeles Times\"Unlike those reporters who parachute in to write about the \'backward\' nature of such folks, McHugh offers affectionate, respectful views of people a lot more complex than overfamiliar stereotypes. She never patronizes her characters, even as her novels itemize the costs exacted by capitalism on a complacent workforce. What really sets McHugh apart, though, is that her social novels are seasoned with gothic horror. Each of them has kept me reading late into the night and left me chilled by their revelations. The mountains and hollows of Arkansas are gorgeous, but there be monsters in those hills. McHugh is tremendously skilled at conveying dire poverty while acknowledging the fears such privation provokes in others ... McHugh has a gift for showing how those who struggle find other ways of asserting their self-worth, whether in cleaving to religious belief, constructing social hierarchies based on race and gender or simply plotting their escapes.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
PositiveThe Star TribuneWestern thought often devolves into discussions of the individual and community, and whose needs must be privileged. But community in Noopiming expands beyond a collection of humans to take in beings not often given sentience in Western imaginings. And individual conceptions of time are supplanted by a fluxion where past and present lose their fixed boundaries ... Simpson\'s skill as creator allows those outside Indigenous traditions to apprehend a complexity of meaning-making whose fluidity challenges Western reliance on notions of fixed boundaries and discrete categories of being and nonbeing.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times\"Loedel’s family history, detailed in an afterword, equips him to explore these issues with a fluency that captures the nuances of the question. It is not always \'us versus them.\' It is the \'me versus me\' that plays out in individuals as they wrestle with what it means to do the right thing ... Loedel draws the line of complicity ever closer to Orilla, asking readers to consider at what point the witness becomes victimizer. Loedel never resorts to caricatures of evil villains. Each of the men who works at ESMA is shown as an individual who counts himself as a good family man ... Loedel continually works to erase the notion that only the evil commit evil acts, which adds to the horror. How do \'ordinary men\' become instruments of a repressive state?\
RaveThe Boston GlobeSarah Moss has an uncanny ability to prickle the reader’s skin ... The book’s action takes place over the course of a rainy weekend, and Moss introduces us to a variety of characters, who, through internal monologues and their interactions with the other holiday-makers, take turns driving the action ... Moss intersperses chapters detailing her characters’ lives with others in which the land — its geology and other features — speaks to the nature of deep time, the way in which human habitation is a blip on a timeline that stretches back billions of years. But as the day’s events progress, nature takes on human characteristics: \'The sky had turned a yellowish shade of grey, the colour of bandages, or thickened skin on old white feet.\' The novel’s explosive conclusion feels like witnessing swamp gas bubbling to the surface and catching fire.
RaveThe Star Tribune[A] memoir in which a lack of chronology — more a collection of beautifully rendered memory fragments — disrupts any notion that \'background\' experiences provide a progression in Ehrlich\'s life ... Global climate change means that landscapes we thought were forever are impermanent, while the pandemic makes clear that control over our human environment is equally illusory. And yet, out of this instability, the kinetoscope-like structure of Ehrlich\'s memoir offers views of a rich and full life ... Ehrlich brings a keen awareness of place, the uniqueness of each setting, while also understanding their interconnectedness as part of the larger planet ... while some of Ehrlich\'s observations of humans feel awkward, her language when describing the natural world is poetic ... Ehrlich reminds us of what is at stake as we confront the climate crisis.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesWhat sets Smarsh’s project apart is her focus on class, as well as the personal experiences she brings ... This book is a kind of reclamation project, beginning with that typecast persona ... Smarsh isn’t shy about critiquing some of her other business ventures, including the dinner theaters formerly known as \'Dixie Stampede\' ... a praise song for the cultural icon, but what emerges from an examination of Parton’s life and work is just how much relevance her lyrics have had — for Smarsh and for other women — and why so much of the writing in the book is deeply personal.
RaveThe Washington Post... Miller interrogates the notion that sexual exclusivity is the only measure of faithfulness while deftly exploring whether the bond of a long marriage is fundamentally changed when one or both partners find intimacy elsewhere ... The shifting perspectives in the narrative feel as if Miller is changing camera angles to demonstrate how dependent truth is on what is shown to us. Her skillfulness at doing so makes a familiar plot into an original story that reflects the real-life complexity of long relationships. Monogamy demonstrates that Miller remains one of the finest cartographers of the territory of marriage.
Nancy Wayson Dinan
RaveThe Star Tribune... lambent ... Dinan’s beautiful prose focuses on the specifics of Texas history and lessons gleaned from larger human stories. She streams together the stories usually only known to those who live there. The glaciers never made it that far south, so most of the state’s lakes formed after rivers were dammed and those downstream flooded out. Her descriptions of thalassophobia (the fear of deep water) provoked my own sense of dread at what lies beneath ... Interspersed throughout Dinan’s novel are other markers, those moments in our collective history that document the injuries we have inflicted on Earth.
RaveLos Angeles TimesTelephone...is both utterly surprising and completely in character ... Having read all three versions, I can say without divulging spoilers that the stories diverge at three different fulcrum points, in which thoughts either do or do not lead to actions, plans then are or are not followed to completion. What may flummox readers is not knowing whether these choices make any difference ... There are pleasures and ramifications in Telephone beyond the question of whether his very high-concept gambit will pay off. They begin with the opening rant, which feels almost nauseatingly timely ... What Everett’s achingly beautiful prose adds to the intellectual dilemma—a classic \'should I stay or should I go\'—is to underscore the role of emotions in limiting our free will ... Like watching a skilled juggler execute a six-ball fountain, the experience of reading Telephone is astonishing.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... smart and engaging ... Gorton offers the magazine’s storied history in rich detail, but also delves deeply into the lives and characters of Tarbell, McClure and others, including Lincoln Steffens. Rather than arguing that McClure’s was great just because of the individual talents of its staff, Gorton seeks to also locate the magazine in a particular historical moment, one that bears great resemblances to our own. She succeeds admirably ... Gorton provides readers with a rich context for understanding the historical and cultural milieu in which the McClure’s staff moved. But she adds the personal histories of McClure and Tarbell as a means of understanding how the ideas that became huge stories took root in each of them.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesIn examining the intersections where power meets race, gender and sexuality, she obtains a clearer view of misogyny. She is especially eloquent on the mechanisms of what we’ve come to call gaslighting ... By continually emphasizing that the focus should not be on her individual stories but rather on the ubiquity of these experiences, Solnit rejects the idea that hers is a story of personal triumph. Instead, she locates power in solidarity ... Solnit’s memoir is suffused with such moments, in which reading and bearing witness bring further understanding. But does an acknowledgment of shared pain absolve one of personal responsibility? Even someone as aware as Solnit reveals gaps in her own empathy, blind spots that prevent her from reckoning with her own responsibility ... Recollections of my Nonexistence is a powerful examination of the way small moments can accumulate in a brilliant mind to formulate big ideas and even help conceive a better world.
Crissy Van Meter
PositiveThe Star TribuneThe ocean and its cetacean residents are a constant presence throughout the narrative, as Van Meter marks section breaks with titles like \'Tsunami\' and \'Wind,\' and utilizes Evie’s work as a marine mammal researcher to spotlight the lessons to be gained from studying whale behavior. In fluid and nutrient-rich prose, Van Meter creates a sense of island life that will have even the most dedicated landlubbers tasting salt on their lips.
Terry Tempest Williams
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThose familiar with Williams’ previous work know that one of her strengths is her ability to write about the minute specifics of a particular ecosystem while conveying universal truths about the human condition. And while a significant number of these essays are about the environmental damage that is the direct result of political decisions, she also writes here about the ways in which individual lives wear away ... weaves together personal experiences with the larger world in order to produce shattering emotional truths ... [Williams] create[s] something permanent and beautiful in the face of wanton destruction.
PositiveThe Women’s Review of BooksIn Make It Scream, Make It Burn, Leslie Jamison continues her interrogation of the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, modest, and humble—a wabi-sabi essayist ... where the essays in the previous collection were tinged with physical pain and emotional suffering, the subjects in Make It Scream, Make It Burn feature a range of emotional states, including more than one essay that explores the permanent presence of joy ... Jamison points out being in recovery has taught her to avoid \'contempt prior to investigation,\' that is, to keep an open mind when hearing others’ narratives of their lives and beliefs ... Jamison approached reincarnation not as the skeptic determined to expose its believers as delusional nor as a believer; this allowed her to ask better questions about human nature ... Jamison is stepmother to a six-year old daughter whose biological mother died when she was three. She recounts their relationship in a section that also explores how stepmothers are portrayed in fairy tales—i.e., largely as evil. This is rich soil that feminists have long tilled, but the writing is oddly arid here. I found myself wondering if Jamison, sensing that she needed to respect her stepdaughter’s privacy, held back.
RaveThe Star TribuneNell Zink’s Doxology feels as if it should come with a soundtrack drawn from the independent music scene of New York in the 1990s ... Doxology could have been two novels: the first chronicling the lives of those who live by their instincts and guided by their hearts; the second a chronicle of one who felt burnt by that previous approach, and who now lives a life of the intellect and whose heart is behind barricades ... The dualism at the heart of Zink’s entertaining and clever novel is another approach to an ancient puzzle: What part of ourselves do we allow to lead us? Are we better served by our rational intellects, which apprehend reality and present us with calibrated answers, or should we be creatures whose passionate hearts and gut instincts direct our path? The middle ground is, of course, where most of us end up. How her characters get to that place is at the heart of Zink’s bittersweet and brilliant work.
RaveThe Star TribuneMaum’s coming-of-age novel among some of Europe’s elite is heartbreaking in its evocation of a teenage girl whose mother collects artists to save but who ignores the daughter struggling not to drown. Maum captures the language and the intense flux of adolescent lability. She does it so well that readers may feel they’ve intruded on something private.
PositiveMiami New Times...though the idea of reading a novel that chronicles the degradations inflicted on the children incarcerated at the Nickel Academy might seem difficult, Whitehead has filled his novel’s pages with the humanity of Elwood Curtis and makes readers eager to see him survive ... A lesser writer’s desire to represent the mostly white guards at Nickel as evil incarnate and their charges cherubic in order to drive home the point of the school’s inhumanity would have made for terrible prose. Instead, Whitehead demonstrates how a combination of white supremacy and macho peer pressure predicated on the notion that the toughest guards were the most manly created monsters of average men ... Even in a world of brutal black-and-white views of crime and punishment, Whitehead’s writing forces readers to deal with the ordinariness of most of the characters.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"... Rajeev Balasubramanyam delivers a comic delight as his 70-year-old scholar sets off to find inner peace ... The comic tone of the novel provokes many laughs, but it conveys with a real sense of the author’s compassion that finding peace is actually bloody hard work.\
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneNathan Englander’s comic sensibilities drive this novel ... As one might expect, the quick fix is anything but simple, and the ensuing complications generate raucous humor that flavor his poignant coming-to-understanding about grief, the meaning of tradition, and love between fathers and sons.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... remarkable ... Mackintosh seamlessly weaves together the themes of Shakespeare — the harsh, overprotective fathers from The Tempest and King Lear — with the very modern issue of toxic masculinity.\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe image that suffused my reading was one of stringing pearls. Each pearl is gorgeous and luminescent. Combined onto a necklace, pearls transfer that luminescence to human flesh. So do Winik’s pieces. Each of them seemed to me better than the one previous to it, and I continued reading even as I wiped away tears. These are not eulogies. Funeral eulogies tend to focus solely on the praiseworthy elements of a life, but the things that make us unique, truly human, are more often our foibles, the mistakes we’ve made and learned from, and the ways we make atonement to those we have hurt ... In these eloquent praise songs for those who have died, some of Winik’s most poignant pieces are about people she never had the opportunity to meet ...
MAEVE SECOR & JANE SARTWELL
Why do we listen to songs that remind us of lost friends and lovers? Why do we love to hear stories of family members who have died? In “The Big Book of the Dead,” Marion Winik argues that we find comfort there, a point she makes in her introduction to these 125 remembrances that memorialize those she has lost.
She writes: “Part of the beauty of the song, like so many other songs of mourning, is that people hear and feel in it a reflection of their own grief. … It takes away some of the brutal loneliness of bereavement to hear those lyrics, or to read that story, to see the monument someone else has made by hand. To join a chain of remembering. It does not make us any sadder to consume these morbid entertainments; it may even ease our hearts.”
Winik had previously published “The Baltimore Book of the Dead” and “The Glen Rock Book of the Dead.” The texts of each are included here, but they have been combined and placed in chronological order. Winik has also written new tributes that appear in print for the first time.
The image that suffused my reading was one of stringing pearls. Each pearl is gorgeous and luminescent. Combined onto a necklace, pearls transfer that luminescence to human flesh. So do Winik’s pieces. Each of them seemed to me better than the one previous to it, and I continued reading even as I wiped away tears. These are not eulogies. Funeral eulogies tend to focus solely on the praiseworthy elements of a life, but the things that make us unique, truly human, are more often our foibles, the mistakes we’ve made and learned from, and the ways we make atonement to those we have hurt.
Grief is for those left behind, and Winik writes of it in all of its stages. About losing her mother, she writes, “Imagine Persephone coming up from hell and Demeter not there. Strange cars in the driveway, the rose bushes skeletons. You stand there at first, uncomprehending, your poem in your hand. Then you go somewhere, call it home. Call it spring.”
Few are mentioned by their names; instead, they are described as “the Golf Pro,” or “the Big Sister,” or “the Mensch.” Because the entries are in chronological order, the beginning essays are crowded with those Winik knew as a child, or friends of one of her parents.
\"The Big Book of the Dead,\" by Marion Winik
The Torah teaches that one is obligated to “care for the stranger.” In these eloquent praise songs for those who have died, some of Winik’s most poignant pieces are about people she never had the opportunity to meet. Minneapolis folks will recognize “The Artist,” who she saw three times in concert. At the last of these, “a concert for peace on Mother’s Day,” she writes: “Ten thousand voices singing You, I would die for you, and it felt like something good could happen in this maddened city. I was bent over, sobbing. Mom, said my daughter. Watch the show.”
Regardless of the proximity of her relation to Winik’s subjects, each of these pieces is written with gorgeous turns of phrase and her recognition of the quiet dignity of their lives.
RaveThe GuardianThose who are familiar with his novels will relish the true-life stories behind some of his fiction; those who aren’t will find that his writing provides a powerful alternative to the stock figures of the mythological wild west – the brave cowboy and the stoic, noble Indian. At the centre of the book, though, is his relationship with his mother, a difficult, abusive woman who could perform acts of enormous maternal sacrifice on behalf of her children at the same time as treating them shockingly badly … Alexie’s memoir of his relationship with Lillian reflects the complicated love that many of us have for our parents. It is his gift to us, through his willingness to be honest without being vengeful, that those of us who have felt shut out of the grief memoirs in which parents and children had perfect relationships can read these pages and weep.