MixedNew York Times Book ReviewThings unspool in ways both predictable and unexpected ... [The characters] are unlikable, Toma wants us to know, but in a muted, unflashy way ... The novel gestures at social satire but never really cracks a smile, falling into an uneasy spot between arch realism and allegory that may occasionally leave readers wondering whether a stereotype is being critiqued or simply reinforced ... This is a slippery, hypnotic and aggravating book. It is often beautifully written...and Toma is astute in his depictions of human foibles ... But it is freighted with obfuscating symbolism ... At times the novel cries out for a lighter touch ... Ultimately, this novel about the sexual problems and spiritual malaise of the au-pair-having rich feels as if it is trying to say something big about sex, class, masculinity and modern life. It’s a daring effort and a worthwhile pursuit but, harried pandemic mom that I am, I was mostly too tired to care.
MixedThe MillionsComic, ranting males abound in his last two novels, but Purity as a whole is comparatively humorless in ways that are both intentional and not ... Purity is baggy—comprising several deep, character-driven sections linked together by a series of unlikely events. Wolf’s segments are in a jarring, significantly darker key than that of Franzen’s previous fiction ... there’s a polemic built into Wolf that his character is finally a bit too flimsy to support ... in Purity...the world is sometimes only an echo of a world that should be familiar ... Purity sang for me in its least overtly culturally relevant moments—like the complex romantic history of Pip’s mentor ... I think Jonathan Franzen is a wonderful novelist. I don’t know him, but I often feel like he knows me, and for that I love him. His work is most vulnerable to attack when it tries too visibly to be the chief diagnoser and prognosticator of \'the culture.\' It is most meaningful when it deals in those \'singularities within the profusion.\' Still, it endeavors always to do both—and therein, I think, lies its essential goodness, its essential purity.
MixedThe CutThe experience of reading the book itself takes on a meta aspect that is at once inescapable, interesting, and tedious. The stories...are weird, gross, and occasionally comic, the plots perverse and almost campy in their borrowings from horror. Although they vary significantly in setting, scenario, and even genre, they turn out to be surprisingly formulaic. A better title for this collection might have been \'Something Bad Is Going to Happen,\' a realization you come to only a couple of stories in. Still, there’s a 1990s sensibility to some of the stories that I found perversely comforting, even though they are uniformly creepy ... I can well understand that for some reviewers, a Goosebumps-style aesthetic is not a selling point. But I found the stories mostly pleasurable. Roupenian is a funny writer, and comedy softens the ickiness of some of her premises, maybe to a fault ... I found You Know You Want This engaging but uneven.
PositiveThe Guardian\"The writing in Dietland is functional and doesn’t call attention to itself one way or another. But the spliced-in accounts are structurally inelegant, and occasionally give the novel a patchwork quality, like an unfinished garment marked up with pins and tailor’s chalk. The marriage of gonzo satire with a more earnest heroine’s awakening was never going to be an entirely comfortable one, although it allows for great moments ... Dietland’s structural oddities notwithstanding, its message resonates. It’s vanishingly rare (in fact I can’t think of an example, although that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist) to see a novel that looks like the much-maligned \'chick lit\' – and sometimes reads like it – so gleefully censorious of rape culture. If its satire is sometimes a little on-the-nose, it’s only because real life, when you are talking about female grievances, is a dog’s breakfast of things so terrible they hardly need to be satirized.\
RaveSlate\"Like Faith Frank, Wolitzer seems to preside serenely over her powers, demonstrating a grasp of pacing and characterization that feels simultaneously God-given and earned over years of hard work ... If we try too hard to parse the precise tenor of feminism embodied by the book, we risk missing a note of gentle satire, and indeed its critiques of its own milieu ... If Wolitzer is astute on the white-collar world of millennials, she is just as canny about the gross 20th-century marriage of do-goodery with corporate razzle-dazzle ... The Female Persuasion is a genuine pleasure to read, and it feels confident without being complacent.\
MixedSlate\"There’s a lot about Mrs. Fletcher that seems like a think piece in response to a think piece about \'the way we live now,\' and some of the pleasing coherence of Perrotta’s previous novels is perhaps lost in service of this goal. The book occupies a strange territory between legitimately horny romp (the reader hears so much about Mrs. Fletcher’s famous boobs that she can’t help but begin to picture them herself) and a rather pat smorgasbord of current issues faced by characters who haven’t had occasion to think much about them before. But there’s a satisfying honesty to this thematic bluntness. Our president just banned trans people from the military via tweet, after all. It’s not really Tom Perrotta who’s on the nose; it’s America.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewStandard Deviation, Katherine Heiny’s first novel, is about a marriage, and, as with marriage, it is easier to catalog this novel’s individual sly charms than it is to nail down the essential, quicksilver thing that makes it such a success ... Heiny finds a wonderful specificity in archetypes. Audra and Graham’s apartment is a revolving door of down-on-their-luck houseguests ... The book has a kind of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus feel, but its confidence, and the texture of the small world it creates, keep it from feeling parodic, as do the various “deviations” from the archetypes Heiny explores. Nor is it completely lighthearted, despite its comic tenor ... Like Graham, the novel gestures at darker corridors, mostly choosing to leave them untraveled. But as with any marriage, it’s better to take this novel just exactly as it is, rather than nitpick all the things that it’s not.
MixedSlate...a novel of which one enthusiastic blurber was moved to say: 'If Willa Cather and Gabriel García Márquez had collaborated on a book, The Snow Child would be it' ... Faina, a winsome blonde child with a fox for a friend, emerges from the woods to bewitch them both. The central tension of the novel is Faina's existential status: Is she an actual child living off the land, a small ambulatory snow goon, or the product of lonely imaginations? ... the reader know that they are either in magical territory, crazytown, or somewhere in between ... The Snow Child is a totally unobjectionable novel with good pacing and a pretty set, but it is not a revelation of content or style or form ... This little snowflake of a book melts away before your eyes.
MixedThe RumpusI find [Tartt] guilty, somehow, of simultaneously relying on shorthand, belaboring certain points, and generally being unconvincing. You can’t just say ‘cigarettes and ennui’ and the Red Sea parts … The Goldfinch is equally full of class markers, comical names (Kitten), kinds of antiques, and names of schools, so that the reader occasionally has the sense of being bludgeoned with a sledgehammer … The Goldfinch invites you to revel in your own snobbishness, because Mr. Decker and Xandra are actually malign forces in the text; Theo’s dad is a legitimate villain, in addition to the baseline villainy of being sprawl-living, non-public-transportation-using, and bad-food-eating … Donna Tartt is catnip for educated people who want to read entertaining but not difficult things about lofty topics and cosmopolitan people. And despite my problems with this book–that it’s big and uneven and sometimes goofy–I’m basically on board.
MixedSlate\"When I finished the novel, I had a thicket of John Nash–looking notes, a persistent twitch in my left eyelid, and little sense of whether I had just experienced a monumental work of art or a very long con ... The structure makes perfect sense once you get used to it, but the first few chapters open in ways that don’t immediately reveal we are being treated to four separate realities...Readers will acclimate, but that’s not to say they won’t need a crib sheet. The respective courses and outcomes of Ferguson’s lives are different, but they are arrived at by relatively minor variations on several geographic and familial themes, which invite mix-ups ... I think I really like this novel, but I had a variety of uncharitable thoughts when I was reading it ... Curiously, 4321 reminded me of nothing so much as another recent novel that is very long and very odd—Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, a book I ended up disliking but which galloped you along in a similar way, so that you weren’t always sure why you were reading but (incorrectly) assumed were being led to some great reward ... Despite the sad things that happen, however, it did not move me—the way it is structured makes it more of a math problem, and I was too busy making charts to fall in love. As a formal exercise, it’s impeccable, each life weighing as much as the other despite the accidents that shorten or prolong it. But when there are four possible versions of each life, how do you know which one to celebrate, and which to mourn?\
MixedThe GuardianBolick is at her most perceptive when she is talking about anything other than these women: memory, sexuality, herself. When she ventures into autobiography, she embarks upon evocative, poetic flights ... There are many paradoxes to navigate in Spinster. Bolick is interested in the idea of the self as the hero in her own story; as a fledgling editor, she noted that 'even at its very best, when a woman was able to present herself with honesty and intelligence, her experience was inextricably bound to the people around her, as if her story didn’t exist apart from theirs.' But it’s difficult to be the main story when you are sharing territory with five signposts who were themselves real, complex people in their own real, complex relationships.
MixedThe GuardianThe pace at which Eileen the narrator and Eileen the novel reveal each new piece of nastiness is very effective, alarming news delivered casually ... Rarely have I read a novel whose protagonist is such an exact corollary to the text itself. Like Eileen the woman, there are things to admire and disturb in Moshfegh’s book – the perversity, the pervading sense of doom. But there is something about this novel that, like its heroine, is not quite right. The prose clunks; Eileen is a little too in love with her own awfulness ... The bad thing that is eventually revealed, and the bad thing that happens as a consequence, don’t quite live up to the atmospheric badness with which the novel draws along the reader. But there is something satisfyingly unsettling about the novel.
PositiveThe GuardianLucy’s character is pallid in contrast to the shining oddity of James or the gruff magnetism of Raul. She’s a country girl in the big city, who wants something, but she’s not sure what. Lucy works as little more than an implement Prentiss uses to hold together a number of skeins in a complicated plot driven by the mystical momentum of New York and the exigencies and consolations of art. These big, well-worn topics give the novel a breathless quality that can veer into melodrama ... All of Prentiss’s characters are propelled by some nameless yearning that dictates the things they do in this strange moment in their frenetic city. It’s a sentimental story that’s been told a 100 times, but Prentiss finds a way to set down her characters’ flowering elegance in a delightful way.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review“Cities I’ve Never Lived In is not a compassionate book, exactly, despite all the sad things in it. From certain angles, it’s a kind of New England gothic, where the lost children and dead women and doppelgängers serve to add atmosphere and meaning to the narrator’s past peregrinations, her dalliances and uncertainties. It turns out in the end that this is in fact a book about an arty person with a complicated personal life. But it’s a lovely one, written in a moving and uncanny register.
Maylis de Kerangal, Trans. by Sam Taylor
RaveThe Guardian\"De Kerangal liberates medicine from the language that, by necessity, has constrained its practice – a language that, her omniscient but humane narrator tells us, \'banishes prolixity as time-wasting, forbids any notion of eloquence or seductiveness in articulation, abuses nouns, codes, and acronyms\' ... The effect is heartbreaking; I’ve seldom read a more moving book.\