PositiveHarvard MagazineGessen’s second novel, arrives like a cold, welcome wind ... [A Terrible Country] is less a travelogue, or a guide to post-Soviet Russia, than it is a novel about life under neoliberalism—a political ideology that dictates that the market, not the state, rules the citizenry ... [A Terrible Country] is a more mature work, written in pared-down prose noticeably different from the headlong style of the first novel. The sentences are simple and direct, as if subordinate clauses were the stuff of youth. The book is funny, but darkly so—many of the best jokes are about the protagonist’s disappointment in himself and in others ... [A Terrible Country] is not exactly a hopeful book about political protest, but neither it is a fatalistic one. Instead, it suggests what resistance might mean, not as a slogan, but as a life.
PositiveThe New Republic\"How can I be sure that I want to have a child Motherhood—a tortured, honest novel—is the Canadian writer Sheila Heti’s attemp to answer this impossible question ... The result is a book that is eclectic and compelling, a rare account of how a woman might sidestep what is, for many, a defining life event: the birth of a child ... If the project of [How Should a Person Be?] was to learn how to be, then the project of Motherhood is to learn how to live. Motherhood is a more mature work, its subject matter more serious and its tone more vexed. At times, the novel can feel heavy and unrelenting in its anxious self-inquiry. But what it lacks in humor, it makes up for in precision ... Heti tells a different story, about waiting, and watching yourself as you do so. It is the stuttering, recursive story of what happened—the arc of a life that goes on.\
Grace Paley, Ed. by Kevin Bowen
RaveThe NationWith an introduction by George Saunders, the Reader includes stories as well as essays, talks, and poems. The book reminds us that Paley the short-story writer was also Paley the activist, the pamphleteer, the poet, the community organizer, and the committed leftist … A Grace Paley Reader helps to return the writer to her historical moment, to the specific conditions that shaped her life as an artist and activist … The concept of interdependence was both the foundation of Paley’s politics and the organizing principle of her art. No story illustrates this better than ‘Faith in a Tree’...An entire neighborhood—which is to say, an entire world—is contained in this park, the province of women and children.
RaveThe New RepublicCarter had no time for female melancholy. A woman whose quiet demeanor belied her forceful mind, Carter was that rarest of things—a happy writer. She followed her desires—for travel, for learning, for (younger) men—with little hesitation or regret … This is the Carter that comes through in Edmund Gordon’s The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. Gordon’s biography, the first in-depth treatment of Carter’s life, is both thorough and careful. Gordon is primarily concerned with emancipating her from the mythologizing descriptions that proliferated, especially after her death in 1992 … Sex may have been Carter’s great subject, but autonomy was her true concern. She called sex ‘the most elementary assertion of the self.’
MixedThe New RepublicAt its best, the resulting manifesto serves as a useful skewering of feminism’s worst tendencies ... Crispin’s stance in Why I Am Not a Feminist fits with this outsider mentality. Her main objection to contemporary feminism seems to be that it is popular. To her mind, if a social movement is popular, then it must necessarily be 'banal…nonthreatening, and ineffective' ... The problem with Crispin’s vision is twofold: It misconstrues feminism’s past, and thus offers the wrong prescription for the present. For starters, the last decade has seen renewed interest in the art and thought of many radical feminists, including those Crispin name-checks...What’s more, there was as much ideological variation within second-wave feminism, and even within radical feminism, as there is in the feminist movement today ... By missing this history of conflict and coalition-building, Crispin implies that one should only participate in a movement when it mirrors your own beliefs—beliefs you’ve already formed ... Living with conflict, building coalition—this is the stuff of politics. As the threats to feminism grow ever more apparent, I hope Crispin will stay in the fight.
PositiveThe New RepublicIndeed, the voice of the memoir is muted, reflective. Sentences unspool slowly, following the shape of a thought. The spare prose is punctured by cheeky humor and by the occasional, lovely simile..Wrestling with contradiction is a hallmark of the writing process—Little Labors suggests it is also a feature of modern parenthood. Perhaps this isn’t something to fear or reject but to recognize, accept, and, simply, express.
RaveThe New RepublicThis fiction isn’t quiet or composed; there’s plenty of pain, but there’s rarely pathos. Berlin’s tales of addiction and violence, formally unpredictable and drolly grotesque, defy our expectations for working-class fiction ... Unlike Carver, Berlin didn’t generalize or ironize working-class experience; she instead presented her neighbors in all their compelling specificity ... What this writing affirms is the beautiful, broken human body as well as Berlin’s rightful place in the canon of American short fiction.