Maddie Crum is a books and culture writer at The Huffington Post, and an MFA candidate in fiction at Brooklyn College. Previously, she was HuffPost’s books editor. Before that, she worked at Palgrave Macmillan. She’s from Texas, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband. You can find her on Twitter @maddiecrum.
Simone De Beauvoir, Tr. Sandra Smith
MixedThe BafflerThe book...is heavy-handed, schematic, and thin. It’s about the length and scope of de Beauvoir’s novellas but has been packaged as a complete novel, padded with a laudatory introduction, a defensive afterword asserting the project’s significance, and selected letters between de Beauvoir and Zaza. Still, it has obvious merits: most of all the prose and the psychological insights, which are wry and movingly direct in turn ... as a work of art, Inseparable is too aware of its own ideas, which are conveyed gracelessly through symbols ... its characters feel at times reduced to props, instead of full, round actors ... political...observations, because they come naturally from the characters, constitute the book’s more artful scenes. But Inseparable’s ending is especially reductive; de Beauvoir lands on the moment of highest drama ... For anyone hoping to better understand de Beauvoir as a figure—a brilliant thinker who, in her personal life, tried to reconcile individual desires with values of openness, devotion, and community—Inseparable is simply more information, or the same information dressed up in the gauze of fable. As a work of art, it’s a reminder of her talents, which are on fuller display elsewhere.
PositiveHuffington PostThis is what Gray does best: punctuate shocking scenes with quiet, meaningful moments ... With Gutshot she returns to super short stories. Although most are less than a few pages, they contain the emotional range of much longer works ... We expect our tales to build up to a cathartic conclusion, but Gray begins hers with bold exclamations, and carries the same eager tone throughout. The entire plot of each is high-pitched, aside from their tender conclusions ... But gratuitously violent scenes sometimes disrupt the cohesiveness of the collection ... When gore seeps into these plots, it can stir up an already gripping scene. But when it overtakes the story, the effect is suffocating.
RaveHuffington PostThe towns in Steven Millhauser’s stories are haunted. The characters — nearly all of them — are frenzied. They see phantoms, they fixate on surreal happenings, they hear voices in the night. But Millhauser isn’t a horror writer; his latest collection elegantly toes the line between the real and the surreal, and many of the stories examine how we attempt to collectively explain the unexplainable ... Like Fox Mulder, or even Wes Anderson, Millhauser is a delightfully playful truth-seeker who uses factual language not as a definitive descriptior, but as a jumping-off point for fuller understanding.
MixedThe Baffler\"Busch demonstrates that unchosen and therefore painful versions of social withdrawal aren’t always as obvious as a bridle or a jail cell ... But Busch would do well to carry some of these metaphors from the natural world a step further; it is, after all, often prey, and not predators, for whom invisibility is an asset—a means of survival ... These more injurious forms of silence raise questions that... Busch [touches] on but, disappointingly, [fails] to really wrestle with.\
MixedThe BafflerIn Silence, Brox emphasizes that the potential of silence as an act of protest comes from the fact that it can’t be commodified ... What...Brox...[is] ultimately interested in is the suppression of ego. It’s easier to listen when you aren’t speaking, and it’s easier to envision your place within a broader landscape when you look outside of yourself ... Brox...give[s] us idealized examples of social withdrawal ... It’s unclear how someone with a greater number of social obligations—a family, a job—someone without the autonomy (or liquidity) that such solitude requires, might put these ideals into practice. Would it even be possible, in the midst of so much noise?
MixedVulture...doesn’t meet the criteria we’ve come to expect from award-winning books ... she scrubs her plot of grounding details, inviting the reader to draw connections between her past and our present. And her characters’ struggles are timely ... It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare the novel’s handling of public brutality to the experience of living in the world today: After so much of the same, our collective grief flatlines into something more like depression. It begins to seem false — and even naïve — to describe disgusting acts with disgusted language, because disgusted language feels hackneyed ... Through Middle Sister’s misadventures, Burns manages to create a world where nebulous power games are as painful to live with as a black eye, though tragically invisible. This is the book’s strength, but it also makes for a dense — and at times unrewarding — reading experience ... a novel is a curious medium for a character devoid of a rich inner life ... Static as Milkman can often feel, there are a few moments where Burns suggests that change is possible.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe collection’s greatest strength may be Hodson’s self-awareness. Writing of her desire to be \'fractional,\' or not wholly seen, she joins a body of women writers whose subject is their own self-destruction as a means of escaping domestic ennui.... These lucid insights, and Hodson’s transfixing style, mark a memorable first collection.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThere are chapters of the book that meditate on this question, punctuated by transcriptions of videos Myles took on their walks with Rosie. These transcriptions are the most Instagram-like, and the most poignant, moments in the memoir ... meditations on true social connections versus more artificial ones might seem tangential to a book subtitled (a dog memoir), but Myles threads this idea through their reflections on their relationship with Rosie ... While Afterglow can be read as celebration of the tenets of Instagram — offhanded, imagistic self-expression that’s shared widely, and alive in its openness to interpretation — Myles has been writing about these ideas for years, long before the advent of apps.
Anne Garréta, Trans. by Emma Ramadan
RaveThe Huffington Post\"As the narrator realizes that their differences make cohabitation a struggle, and A*** realizes that the narrator’s infatuation may be shallow and fleeting, their connection slowly weakens, and each is forced to reconsider what their once-strong bond meant. The set-up is such a classic, relatable tale of falling in — and out — of love that one wonders why gender has always been such a huge factor in how we discuss relationships, in fiction and otherwise. Constructing such a story would be laborious enough had it been written originally in English — crafting a romance, and fully realized characters with fully realized ambitions and desires, is unfortunately difficult to remove from our learned roles as men and women. But in French the job is even harder.\
RaveThe Huffington PostWhile Gay’s anecdotes are affecting, and are arguably the collection’s unique strength, she also smartly and objectively addresses what she believes are the problems with how we talk about feminism … In sharing the gritty, heartbreaking details of her own experiences and unrealized desires — in showing us how, exactly, she is a ‘bad feminist’ — Gay reminds us what feminism can and should be: A space where women can realize their difference and their nuances.
Hannah Lillith Assadi
PositiveThe Huffington PostAssadi writes poetically about the Southwest ? the spacious, moneyed homes, the high school football stadium that looms over her hometown ... But the fast-developing landscape is also thick with an air of threatening mysteryAssadi sometimes relies too heavily on the book’s seductive subject matter in the story’s second half, quickly relating scenes from parties and fights and drug trips, as though the meaning and feeling behind these experiences were self-evident. Still, when she returns to the desert, her story about a heartbreaking friendship once again becomes sorrowful and singular, a mesmerizing take on tripping blindly into adulthood.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAs a story, The Book of Joan is something new altogether. The characters moralize. They give speeches, they lay out their philosophical views, and they seldom act in ways that contradict their beliefs. So, the effect is like that of reading a comic book ? or medieval text ? infused with lines of perfect poetry ... This book will appeal less to readers interested in worldbuilding and in individuals navigating future social systems ? a la Ursula K. Le Guin, more anthropologist than philosopher. It is, instead, an homage to an idol, an ode to a way of life, and a warning about mistreating the earth and each other. All of that’s wrapped up in a voice that’s uniquely Yuknavitch’s, which is worth reading for alone.
MixedThe Huffington PostHer observations, then ? being those of an outsider ? are poetic and critical, but not thorough or truly meaning-making. Still, the comparisons to modern-day middle America and its desire to protect hierarchical and oppressive values can easily be drawn ... With an anthropologist’s detachment and precision, Didion took notes on the South that, while lyrical and often funny, do little to empathize with the region. Still, the writer reinforces the paradoxes of Southern warmth, and exposes contradictory beliefs about race and religion.
RaveThe Huffington PostLi writes elliptically about her first forays into fiction, her fraught relationships with her family, her years spent in China, and the aspects of American culture that stood out to her upon immigrating. The stylistic choice is a good one; it matches her experience of depression, which also hit her in fits. It’s reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s essays, which proceed as thoughts might, making thematic connections while hopping around in time and space ... Li’s writing unfolds slowly, like a story shared between good friends. That seems to be the point: She writes to connect with her readers on the deepest emotional level. And she succeeds.
RaveThe Huffington PostKitamura’s story isn’t so concerned with whodunit. Instead, her narrator reflects on her relationship with Christopher, on his tics and charming habits, and on how to mourn the possible loss of someone she’s already drifted apart from ... Much of the book, then, involves a woman trying to imagine the inner life of a man she’s fallen out of love with, trying to re-inhabit his thoughts in order to find him ... Kitamura gives us a book that’s worth reading for its inventive cadences alone. And there’s more to it than that: surprising turns and honest thoughts on the complexity of loss.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveThe Huffington Post\"Fever Dream is worth reading for its inventiveness alone. Schweblin gives us memorable characters and a haunting parable, all in fewer than 200 short pages ... she taps into primal fears without ever naming them. The uncertainly is chilling, which is exactly the point ... Fans of Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone might be drawn to the fantastical setup of Fever Dream, but may be dissatisfied with the book’s quiet, abstract ending. Otherwise, Schweblin’s quick, feverish story is worth reading for her intoxicating style alone.\
April Ayers Lawson
PositiveThe Huffington PostLawson’s storytelling [is] psychologically poignant enough to avoid the generalizations often made about religion, chastity, and sexuality. Instead, Lawson explores a moral grey area, uncovering new possibilities for truth ... A refreshing take on desires both taboo and repressed, Virgin and Other Stories is a promising debut.
MixedThe Huffington Post...for all of the emotionally rich territory Pull Me Under covers, Luce leaves some of the questions she raises unsatisfyingly unexplored ... Neither of these deep motivations are given enough consideration in Pull Me Under. Still, the book remains a thoughtful look at performance, identity, and the ways in which our pasts can haunt us ... A gripping story that blossoms into a lively look at the delicacy of familial relationships.
PositiveThe Huffington Post...on the whole, Beatty’s relentless humor carries along a stream of important observations about so-called post-racial America ... The Sellout is a hilarious, pop-culture-packed satire about race in America. Beatty writes energetically, providing insight as often as he elicits laughs.
PositiveThe Huffington Post...peopled with convincing characters and taut, powerful sentences ... Spare, funny and deftly observant of what happens when our repressed emotions reach a violent precipice.
PositiveThe Huffington Post...both gripping and tender toward each of its characters, if burdened with the occasional overwrought metaphor, which may distract some readers ... The Mothers brims with psychological insight and thoughtful commentary on the pain of loss and what motivates us to take actions maligned with our beliefs.
PositiveThe Huffington Post...a thorough, fresh look at how romantic and sexual relationships have changed in the past two decades or so ... One of the virtues of Witt’s writing is that she avoids making value judgments. It’s tempting to argue that this brave new world of sexuality.
RaveThe Huffington Post...both a parable and a full-fledged, richly told story, with clearly drawn characters who beckon us to come along with them on their journeys ... Silver’s book is magical and parabolic, but it doesn’t have the stark, curious language of a fairy tale. Instead, she adorns her fable with earthy imagery, crafting a rich setting and lovable characters.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAbout half of the stories in the collection are realistic rather than absurd, but they still make use of Kleeman’s economic style ... In her first short story collection, Kleeman’s breadth as a writer is on display. She writes surreal scenes that are emotionally resonant and realistic stories that are affecting in their strangeness.
RaveThe Huffington PostWith warm, gleaming, gem-like sentences, Woodson captures the rare treasures of girlhood friendships, but the book contends with so much else, and the taut plot balloons with tension as August grows to understand a tragic realization about her family, one that will shape her for decades after ... Woodson writes lyrically about what it means to be a girl in America, and what it means to be black in America. Each sentence is taut with potential energy, but the story never bursts into tragic flames; it stays strong and subtle throughout.
Alejandro Zambra, Trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveThe Huffington PostMultiple Choice is small book packed with meaning and space for interpretation. By structuring it as a test, the author comments on the rigidity of Chile’s former fascist leader. By allowing the reader to meditate on how to make sense of each puzzling question, he offers an alternative to enforced structure.
RaveThe Huffington PostWilliams’ creed, evidenced by her funny, fantastical stories, is this: The world is bizarre and random, and the way we make sense of coincidences is as meaningful as coincidences themselves ... Williams’ says more in a page-long scene than most can say in a chapter; it’s fitting, then, that her very short collection manages to encompass such an eternal theme with wit and grace.
PanThe HuffingtonTyler manages to end the story on a pontifical note, one that’s troublingly reminiscent of the original play’s sexist sincerity. And, unfortunately, the regressive ideas at work in Vinegar Girl are made clear long before its final pages ... The proverb bit is prevalent throughout the story, painting a reductive picture of Eastern European immigrants, who, in the context of this story, are barely more than comic relief characters. The same goes for teenage girls who gussy themselves up for the sake of male attention — the easiest form of power allowed them — and aging Asian-Americans, who, according to the narrator, are prone to dressing in casual menswear. Throughout the book, stereotypes are embraced rather than questioned, mostly for the sake of easy jokes ... As with Taming of the Shrew, the story can be appreciated if the ideals of its protagonist are unmarried from the ideals of its author, but doing so begs the question: why tell it at all?
PositiveThe Huffington PostNoyes is among a bevy of women cataloging the whirring dangers of youth, among them Lindsey Hunter and her page-turning novel of female friendship Ugly Girls, and Robin Wasserman, whose Girls on Fire follows a Nirvana-loving pair and their suburban exploits. But unlike her ilk, Noyes does nothing to romanticize rough-and-tumble girlhood. She plunges into it, floats in its muddiness, and emerges to gaze on it without appraisal, like a hiker meditating on a pond.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAs full as the book is of clearly articulated notions, paragraph-long observations on the paradox of feminine power and girlish powerlessness, it’s not a creed; Cline carefully treads along a well-paced plot, drawing characters with heart along the way. She manages to reflect on the tension between the selves we perform and the selves we feel we are — 'affected' is a favorite alternative to 'said' — without getting mired in commentary. The result is a book as fast-moving as a van on the run, as dark and atmospheric as the smog it cuts through. A complex story about girlhood, violence, and the psychology of cults, carried by the author’s buoyant sentences and easy insights into the paradoxes of femininity.
PositiveThe Huffington PostThe titular story of Johnson’s collection isn’t the only one in which the author works as a sort of mashup artist, expertly weaving together experiences outside of his own ... Johnson’s short stories are an amusing, if sometimes clinical, peek inside seldom-explored worlds, from the depths of the inner lives of aging, terminally ill women to the oppressive yet beautiful corners of North Korea.
Claire Vaye Watkins
PositiveThe Huffington PostWatkins is at her best here, characterizing the easy slide from isolation to the open arms of an accepting, if ultimately wayward, community. She makes Luz’s disorientation, her susceptibility to believing false information, relatable. Levi and his crew inflate her ego, only to knock it back down themselves ... Her first novel is worth reading, if only to get lost along with them, picking up distinctly American nuggets of wisdom and faux-wisdom along the way.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAn ambitious book about music, anxiety, and a family determined to stick together after fracturing loss, Imagine Me Gone is proof that realistic stories have immense power.
RaveThe Huffington PostSo, the book, and it’s life-affirming conclusion, could be read as a triumph of honest language, the kind of human expression that comes out unfiltered when we’re spurred on by awe, by urgency, by the promise of eventual death...As ever, DeLillo explores the depths of an edgy, timely topic, completely resisting cliché, and emerges with something both fresh and universal.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAlthough her story drifts pleasantly between ideas, implying that concrete boundaries have little value to her, she occasionally slips up, revealing a stubbornness that seems counter to her claims to openness ... Nelson’s writing is fluid — to read her story is to drift dreamily among her thoughts. And, although some of her assertions are problematic, she masterfully analyzes the way we talk about sex and gender.
PositiveThe Huffington Post[U]nlike other writers of her ilk, Schiff doesn’t tell these tales in a gritty, realistic style, shedding light on something sinister lurking beneath the characters’ sexual whims. Instead, her very short stories are spare and buoyant, bouncing from one insight to the next. Like smart, confident teens trying out new belief systems in earnest, her characters make assured, funny observations about their peers, and then, lightly, move on...These funny, on-the-nose observations might turn off readers who prefer quiet stories. But, the stand-up routine-like quality of Schiff’s characters’ thoughts lends itself to frank discussions of established dating norms.
RaveThe Huffington PostGreenidge seamlessly weaves together the two plots, which culminate in a rich examination of America’s treatment of race, and the ways we attempt to discuss and confront it today.
PositiveThe Huffington PostWray makes palpable the pains and pleasures of lost time, the nagging tick of bad memories, the lag of the secondhand during moments of pure, unadulterated joy. These blips of insight are worth the sometimes gnarled chapters that separate them, and ultimately The Lost Time Accidents, with its meandering plot and lovingly flawed subjects, is a joy to get lost in.
PositiveThe Huffington PostThe unpacking of socially accepted logical fallacies might not sound like the stuff of an engaging novel, but, somehow, it is. Tulathimutte punctuates these long-winded critiques, sometimes stuffed uncomfortably into the mouths of his characters, with absurd humor and hilariously uncomfortable descriptions of sex.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAn erratic plot that winds around quirky characters, esoteric theories and heartfelt scenes illuminating the lovely messiness of familial relationships.
RaveThe Huffington PostChina Miéville’s slim new novel offers more questions than answers. To read it is like entering a chilly mist that obscures your vision, never clearing. This may be unsettling for the “Inception”-averse — those who need resolve — but for the rest of us it’s a moody, ethereal read, and a strange joy to get lost in.