RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe most fraught word in any language: mother. The most fraught of all familial relations: mother and daughter. A fraught loop in the mother-daughter knot: the daughter who must be her mother’s mother. Add to this the daughter who must also be her mother’s nurse, sidekick, accountant and most ardent fan, and you have the steaming brew that is Anne Enright’s intoxicating novel ... the triumph of Actress is that Norah is not a resentful victim; she becomes a successful writer, a happily married (and sexually fulfilled) wife and mother. She realizes the price she has had to pay for her mother, but knows that Katherine has also graced her life with radiance ... Even while laughing at Enright’s wicked mockery, I was moved by the tenderness of her evocation of difficult love, two lives on different tracks, one on the express to possibility, the other on the local to irrelevance, illness and self-destruction.
PositiveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewTóibín the writer is at work to blast to smithereens some of the most treasured icons of the West. In his telling, Mary did not ask Jesus to turn water into wine at the wedding at Cana; she was, in fact, there only to urge him to come home, to keep himself from danger. Most important: she fled the site of the crucifixion before her son was actually dead. She was frightened, she tells us; she wanted to protect herself from the violence she knew would be unleashed … Atmosphere is powerfully created; we share the bodily realities of events that, through repetition, have become almost generic and so, abstract … The Testament of Mary is a beautiful and daring work.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAlice McDermott has taken the risk of writing about nuns, and the risk has been more than worth it. Known and admired for her portrayal of Irish-American family life, she has now extended her range and deepened it, allowing for more darkness, more generous lashings of the spiritual ... It’s the convent laundry that provides the setting for some of McDermott’s most vivid and arresting descriptions. Like Homer in the Iliad, with his catalog of ships, she presents us with a list of the riches of the convent laundress’s magic potions ... Although I admire the sweep of The Ninth Hour, I’m uneasy with McDermott’s storytelling strategy. One of Sally’s children narrates intermittently, but for the literal-minded among us it seems unlikely that a third party could provide the intimate details that so enrich the novel, or be so familiar with the other characters’ inner lives. If this is meant to be a metafictional move, it’s not meta enough, since most of the novel operates in a formally realistic fashion. And what McDermott achieves most splendidly is the hyper-realistic portrayal of the grim, often disgusting aspects of illness and death among the poor.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewPerhaps the most important of Erdrich’s achievements is her mastery of complex forms. Her novels are multivocal, and she uses this multiplicity to build a nest, capacious, sturdy and resplendent, for her tales of Indians, living and dead, of the burden and power of their heritage, the challenge and comedy of the present’s harsh demands. Woven into the specificity of these narratives is Erdrich’s determination to speak of the most pressing human questions...The spongy sections of LaRose happen when Erdrich’s characters seem too good to be true, such as saintlike LaRose and his beautiful, athletic adopted teenage sisters. Much more engaging is their other sister, troubled and troubling Maggie, and their mother, Nola, who compulsively bakes elaborate cakes to assuage LaRose’s sorrow at being ripped from his home, cakes that the children stop eating.