RaveTIMEIncredibly charming ... Shannon offers a sort of advice from time to time, a philosophy of hard work but also talking to everyone, making connections, and not being afraid to come up with absurd schemes. If I were to pull out any of the platitudes that she offers from the text, I’m not sure they’d feel like much. But they do work, within the context of her story, because it’s so clear throughout all these pages that Shannon actually means these things ... If there’s an alchemy to what makes Shannon who she is, it seems as much about that ache she describes as the solidity and play that she shows toward the book’s end. For every story of loss, of striving, and of doubling down in Hello, Molly!, there is also a determination to find joy and pleasure, to foster community, and to laugh. This seems, in part, to have come from her father, and the intensity and constancy of their relationship—but also from something ineffable inside of her.
RaveLos Angeles TimesWhat comfort...to enter the bizarrely relevant universe of Sheila Heti’s new novel ... The story moves relatively seamlessly through...abstractions and into the everyday of living ... Plot is not the reason we keep reading Heti’s novels. Although to say so also shortchanges their artistry. All of them have shape, accrue meaning and momentum over time ... If Annie is not quite fully formed, this feels a part of the project ... She does not ever feel like a real person, but then neither do lots of people we interact with fleetingly. Neither, for that matter, do those we worship or use as catalysts, especially if we are the kind who identify as bird ... Pure Colour is as much about making art as it is about living. It’s about the contradictions and complexities inherent in trying to do both at the same time ... It lingers and repeats itself instead of constantly bounding forward. It seems we’ve hit a point when the two highest compliments you can give a novel are that you read it in a single sitting and it hits all its beats, but this book achieves neither of those things. Instead, it made me reconsider what the particular container of the novel might hold inside of it: It dawdled and meandered ... If this book is a continued examination of Heti’s long-held obsessions...it is also a more mature take on those questions, more settled and retrospective. There’s more grief and earnestness, less sex. It feels both as thrillingly inventive as she’s ever been and also defiantly and satisfyingly middle-aged ... That is Heti’s genius: how fully she is able to show us that the tragedy of the world is all those minor losses gathering force. A single woman and her single loss, formally re-cast and sanctified within art, is also about all of us, mourning the whole world at the same time.
PanLos Angeles TimesTo Paradise...feels like further proof that her greatest strength lies in finding new ways to seduce her readers, while calling into further question the value or the purpose of the lure ... In each section, Yanagihara has an anthropological brilliance for compiling and disseminating objects, signifiers, settings. She can establish, immediately and engrossingly, both our characters and their worlds ... Almost every [character named] David is given at least one opportunity to break out of the stifling system he lives in—to escape his family for a lover or a revolution—but, in each instance, the book refuses these characters the intelligence, the agency or the page count to do it. Their narratives come to feel less like people making choices, taking actions, and more like set-pieces moved through the book’s architecture to converge on a preestablished point ... The sheer scope of To Paradise also makes it feel Big and Important, as if it has no choice but to say something about who and what we are ... What Yanagihara offers instead is the version that feels good until you look too closely, until you wake up the next morning—as after a Lifetime movie or a late-night Tinder date—and find that the endpoint was predetermined and that there’s precious little in its wake. It was Bigness, sure, full of sound and fury, but devoid of specificity or self-doubt or, indeed, of empathy.
PositiveThe New RepublicNearly every pivotal moment that the book recounts is delivered this way: There is the thing itself depicted—often filled up with digressions—and then there is an often longer engagement with the way the thing itself now lives in the narrator’s body and her brain, how it has shifted and been altered over time and through the stories that she and others tell ... In many ways, much of this feels well worn in contemporary fiction: an unnamed narrator, hewing to the basic outline of the writer’s own life, focused on consciousness and not much plot. But if Rachel Cusk, as well as Jenny Offill, Kate Zambreno, Miranda Popkey, and Sarah Manguso all write sentences defined by a crisp cleanliness, Bennett’s sentences often feel like flights of fancy: They circle back on themselves, linger in uncertainties and contradictions—they feel like mismatched socks, a layered skirt, an oversize and multicolored cardigan thrown over an ornate silk button-up as opposed to Cusk’s unadorned simplicity. The excitement around Bennett’s books is connected in part to a sense of possibility: If a writer like Cusk confronts the reader with the power of a taut, single consciousness, Bennett is stretching the forms that consciousness can take to include effusion and hesitation, self-indulgence and equivocation. It’s just as brilliant, just as well read, but more willing to grasp for and circle sensations and ideas that don’t ever quite cohere ... Because of Bennett’s ornamented, recursive style, there was a moment about three-quarters of the way through Checkout 19 when I got worried ... It began to feel like provocation: The affect never lets up—was it the book’s fault or mine that I felt the need sometimes to ask it to settle down? ... Throughout Checkout 19 stories function as a catalyst not just for thinking but for acting, choices, lived experiences; it feels thrilling to imagine all the books and stories, the reconsidered ways of being, that might come after this.
MixedLos Angeles TimesFranzen’s breadth remains extraordinary ... The sentences are often good, but it’s the way they accrue and interact, pile up over pages, that gives them their effect ... The world he builds is lush and complicated, immersive and alive ... And yet...the present action stagnates; shifts in time and among characters make it more difficult to feel the press of thrill or threat. And then, on page 358, the plot picked up: My skin got that proper prickle ... It should be said that the characters do not feel fully human; they feel allegorical. There’s lots of talk of God and goodness; past traumas are overwrought. The place we find Marion near the end feels both inevitable (by the novel’s logic) and absurd (by life’s). The characters feel, in other words, like characters: incredibly well-constructed pieces moved through the novel’s equally well-constructed world ... Franzen can spin a stellar yarn; Crossroads is further proof of that. Yet the sentences can get sloppy, attention lags. One wonders, why these seven good-to-great sentences, when one or two sharper ones could have held them all? By the end, it felt like the story was just barely getting off the ground ... I wonder about the dogged certainty with which Crossroads seems to have been written, the almost unfathomable (to me) trust that there’s inherent value in all the (many) things the writer has to say. In Crossroads, I felt the stolid knowledge that must come from decades of succeeding, a writer in full possession of his powers, etc. What I did not feel was the thrill of failure’s threat.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe start of Shipstead’s book [...] is thrilling and complicated, with many different threads laid out and back stories carefully and richly wrought; for the next 500-odd pages, I felt the fear I feel when a student’s work starts strong, when other novels open high — knowing that, more often than not, lofty heights can’t be sustained. But Great Circle starts high and maintains altitude. One might say it soars ... Great Circle can sometimes feel a bit baggy, but that seems to be Shipstead’s intention. This is a book explicitly invested in sweep ... this far-ranging breadth is as much the project of this novel as any of these individual lives — including all the ways each life exists within the context of so many others, the way the natural world informs and forms us, all the ways we are still only and particularly ourselves ... Great Circle grasps for and ultimately reaches something extraordinary ... In that, Great Circle is consistently, often breathtakingly, sound.
MixedThe New Republic... Hilary Holladay’s capacious new biography of Rich...encapsulates the mixed-up and messy, personal and political shape and texture of Adrienne Rich’s life. It shows, too, how willingly she often looked back later on choices she’d made with regret ... That Holladay uses...Rich’s own words to define the terms of the biography—is the book’s great strength. Yet, if it’s the role of the artist to name and contain the sensations of life, it is the job of the biographer to show us the mess and murk of the artist’s life that the work does not or cannot hold. What I yearned for most in the reading was a more rigorous attempt to push past the language Rich has already offered into the spaces that her own words had not yet shown: the morning after those nights up late after the kids were in bed when Rich drank cold glasses of straight vodka and smoked cigarettes, the artist-mother long after she’d stopped \'sleepwalking,\' not as an idea to which we might all aspire but as a tired, worn-out reality.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe term \'unlikable\' has become a catchall in conversations about a certain type of female character. It’s been used as a pejorative, but also as a challenge: Books declare that they’re going to accomplish something complicated and exciting by daring to present a female character who is layered, flawed, sometimes dangerous. Susie Yang’s White Ivy asserts itself early as a novel invested in building its main character in this vein. \'Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never know it to look at her,\' the first sentence declares ... This sounds like a thrilling concept, but Ivy’s thievery is largely irrelevant to the story’s first 200 pages ... White Ivy is chock-full of compelling, exciting ideas. What it does not quite do is give the reader access to the experiences that might portray those ideas effectively in the context of a narrative. We’re not given the particular opportunity that fiction can make space for to reconsider them anew.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewOften, in great fiction, the characters’ responses and interactions can prove more interesting than the plot itself. Everything Here Is Under Control—the Y.A. author’s adult debut—is filled with compelling characters, but the first half of the novel fails to elevate them over the events they partake in. There is a thinness to the first 100 or so pages that arises from the book’s desire to continue to withhold a Major Secret; as a result, this part feels flatter and less engaging than the second half, which is so full of texture and authentic human ambivalence that it more fully serves the characters that Adrian has so deftly drawn.
PositiveThe Millions\"I also felt like the book was too long, but on purpose, as if Heti is performing for us what it felt like for this woman, thinking the same thing over and over again, having the same types of dreams, the same types of fights with her partner, the same kind of conciliatory sex. This feels like part of her project. If this is a book about (not) motherhood, it is also, a book about the female body and its limits and its strength. It is also an intense, sometimes maddening, performance of female ambivalence ... part of Heti’s project seems to be to push the limits of the Female, to upend the necessity of Mother, to suggest whole worlds that might exist beyond the making of other smaller versions of ourselves. But what her book also does is remind us of the limits, both of our bodies and our thoughts. For all her abstract acrobatics, this feels like a book about the complicated way Heti’s character both does and does not love her mother; it feels like an exploration of the ways our bodies hem us in.\