RaveSlateThe go-to cliché for this kind of writing, or this kind of subject matter, would be \'unflinching.\' That would be inaccurate in this case, because while there’s certainly a relentlessness to Jamison’s pursuit of the topic of pain, she does flinch. In fact, one of the more powerful aspects of her writing is the extent to which she is able to flinch while maintaining the steadiness of her gaze ... It’s rare, and quite thrilling, to encounter a writer who so elegantly incorporates her own writerly anxieties into her work, who is so composed and confident about the value of her own self-doubt. (In this sense, her writing often recalls the work of David Foster Wallace, one of many influences she openly engages with throughout the collection.) ... This kind of ambivalence, this doubling back on her own assumptions, is what makes Jamison such a wonderful essayist. What feels especially vital...is the intensity of her self-interrogations, the dramatization of the resistance against her own literary instincts ... Jamison’s writing is often formally inventive, but never appears to be pursuing formal invention for its own sake; it’s always a case, rather, of the material demanding some radical style of treatment, like a condition with no obvious cure.
RaveSlateFor all the simplicity of its setup, Milkman is a richly complex portrayal of a besieged community and its traumatized citizens, of lives lived within many concentric circles of oppression ... Among Burns’ singular strengths as a writer is her ability to address the topics of trauma and tyranny with a playfulness that somehow never diminishes the sense of her absolute seriousness ... The book’s long sentences, its penchant for the exhaustive, can at times be challenging, and there were stretches where I found its uncanny energies stagnated for too long. But it also seems clear to me that these insistent strategies are in service of the book’s mood of total claustrophobia, and that they contribute to, rather than diminish, its overall effectiveness ... There is a pulsating menace at the heart of the book, of which the title character is an uncannily indeterminate avatar, but also a deep sadness at the human cost of conflict ... For all the darkness of the world it illuminates, Milkman is as strange and variegated and brilliant as a northern sunset. You just have to turn your face toward it, and give it your full attention.