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.