PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksBurnet is the ultimate unreliable narrator, and Case Study serves as a worthy addition to his oeuvre; however, defining that oeuvre is a challenge ... As Burnet’s fictions increase in complexity, he appears to distance himself further from his creative work ... not a unique narrative...Burnet stands apart, however. He not only presents different iterations of narratives, but different versions of authorship. Like a character in Case Study, Burnet has \'a flexible relationship with the truth.\' In translation? Not one word he writes is true.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksJames extends the panoramic violence that characterizes his fiction ... The rub between volumes isn’t repetition but recalibration; readers assemble understanding in the reverberation between narratives ... The Dark Star trilogy is a set of stimulating and disorienting rumors. The story of a single missing boy becomes a snake-eating-its-tail narrative, when every individual’s perspective is worth exploring.
RaveChicago Review of BooksPatel’s facility with perspective—seamless shifts between male and female voices, between straight and queer relationships—stands out in his debut novel. Each narrator’s commentary credibly reflects personal identity and underscores the novel’s themes, which often circle around the gap between what one longs for and what one possesses ... The key to his deft characterization is Patel’s remarkable facility for dialogue ... Neel Patel’s debut presses readers to consider how the masks that his characters wear—whether to camouflage or broadcast their belonging—influence their capacity for happiness; then, he presents situations in which those masks are dropped or removed ... Tell Me How to Be resides in asking rather than telling, designed to satisfy readers who prioritize questions over answers.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... simultaneously ambitious and unremarkable. Ambitious for revisioning a medieval woman’s life, but unremarkable given Groff’s experience weaving stories from history and imagination ... Groff deftly situates readers in the twelfth century via Marie’s visceral experiences ... Astute and tenderly devastating, Matrix embodies startling relevance for 21st-century readers.
RaveChicago Review of BooksAs with Gloria Naylor’s Brewster Place and Edward P. Jones’ Washington D.C., Kenan’s fictions are linked, their Black communities complex and vibrant. More than one story features a character named Randall Kenan, and these have a narrative intensity and interiority like Bryan Washington’s Lot, coupled with the declarative and insistent tone of Celie’s later letters in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. These are linked stories about Black and queer identity rooted in universal themes: memory and regret, release and sorrow, insistence and independence ... Use of repetition, chorus-like at the sentence-level, suggests that the author builds his work aloud like church leaders practice their sermons ... These stories are accomplished and polished. The use of sensory detail is astute, pulling readers into vibrant scenes ranging from megacity streets to an assisted-living home, from a flooded basement to an eighteenth-century barn’s walls. Kenan also successfully strikes a balance between fancy and finesse, arranging stories so that characters connect naturally and easily, which builds credibility and secures readers’ engagement. But what makes this collection remarkable is its wings ... Although some people in Tims Creek can fly (identifying them would spoil the wonder), in this collection the sense of being surrounded by winged creatures and the potential for transformation is more significant than any single character’s capacity.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksLike Sarah Waters and Attica Locke, Hannah Kent and Celeste Ng, Evie Wyld writes novels that are fast-paced page-turners with meticulously crafted narratives. There is an awareness of the relationships between personal conflicts and social issues that creates a reverberating tension in her storytelling. Expansive themes — victimization and power, isolation and independence — are encapsulated in characters’ experiences so the social commentary is embedded in the plot ... The historical setting is captured with a light touch so that the focus remains on the emotional landscape. Wyld emphasizes enduring aspects of human nature, displaying but not overstating the relevance to present-day readers ... engages readers’ senses from the outset. Sometimes Wyld selects atmospheric and readily recognizable details...Even these possess a rhythm that subtly buoys the novel’s relentless pacing. Often the details specifically reflect a dimension of the story, encapsulating vulnerability and raising questions about agency ... Wyld walks the line between generalization and specificity deftly, so that readers cannot escape the stench of it all. The Bass Rock is a close study of the visceral, the ephemeral. Even the walk-on characters fundamentally support the novel’s themes ... a concatenation of tender horrors ... Readers ought not to be so satisfied at the end of The Bass Rock, with such a stench and so many sorrows, but Evie Wyld entertains while she provokes. Readers ought to be happy.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveChicago Review of BooksThe delicate braiding of many different characters’ perspectives is most tantalizing in Station Eleven ... It’s a joy to pull at the threads and follow their knots and loops. This interweaving is displayed prominently in The Glass Hotel ... windows frame compromises and catastrophes in Emily St. John Mandel’s fiction. And despite all the glass, there is more conflict than clarity. This makes for compulsively readable novels, carefully crafted page-turners. Don’t just say you’ll visit someday. Call ahead. Make a reservation. Check out the view from The Glass Hotel. Enjoy your stay.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksOne aspect of Cuban culture depicted regularly and enthusiastically is the food. This will surely please readers of Dovalpage’s first Havana mystery, in which a key character is a food blogger. From malanga fritters to guava pastries, black beans and rice to fried plantains: descriptions of meals and beverages further immerse readers in daily life in Havana ... Introducing a variety of characters complicates the plot, which is slow-moving. Readers’ satisfaction depends on their investment in the happiness of the key characters: without an emotional investment, the subplots and broadening cast will burden the reading experience ... it’s clear that Teresa Dovalpage’s setting will attract genre devotees ... If you’re keen to explore Havana, heap a spoonful of Teresa Dovalpage’s storytelling onto your plate, and dig in!