MixedTor.comIt’s a slim book of weighty emotion that will leave readers perturbed. I admire it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it ... Victoria Walker, a British academic and chair of the Anna Kavan Society...does a fine job dispelling myths and putting Kavan’s work in its biographical, political, and social contexts, though she does occasionally indulge in special pleading ... Though Kavan’s style changes over the years—she occasionally incorporates collage effects, she dabbles in prose poetry, she introduces more explicit surrealism—the changes are not so dramatic as the introduction suggests ... If there’s a single satisfied, much less a happy, person in these stories, I missed them. Though thirty-odd years separate the first stories in this collection from the last, there’s a claustrophobic unity throughout. Kavan never grants her readers respite. Stories end in catastrophe or in impending doom; axes seem always to hang over the characters’ heads. Even the language unnerves. Sometimes she discomfits with odd, mannered syntax...at other times with frenzy. But perhaps her most familiar mode is complicated pain, simply expressed ... I’m glad this book has been published and I’m glad I read it, but I don’t expect to push Machines in the Head on too many of my friends and acquaintances ... Kavan’s cranial machinery ground this reader to pieces, and when I put the book down, I hesitated to pick it up again. Whether you take this as an endorsement or as a warning is up to you.
Daniel Kehlmann, Trans. by Ross Benjamin
RaveTor.comYou might not expect a novel about the Thirty Years’ War to be entertaining, much less funny ... And yet, despite its grim subject and despite its jacket-copy endorsement from Michael Haneke, bleakest and most depressing of bleak and depressing German directors, Daniel Kehlmann’s new novel Tyll is a rollick and a delight ... Each chapter presents its own tableau vivant of idiocy, disaster, or hypocrisy ... Anyone looking for their historical fiction to proceed in a straight line like history itself should apply elsewhere ... I will have to trust German critics on the quality of the original publication’s writing, but I can say the English in Ross Benjamin’s translation is fluent and clever. The jesters and traveling players of Tyll sometimes declaim in rhyme and pun; as far as I can tell, Benjamin maintains the sense without losing the wordplay. If there’s something that’s lacking in this translation, it’s something that no translator can supply, namely the historical sense and knowledge that the book’s original German audience will approach the novel with ... Kehlmann himself performs a tightrope act in the book: he walks the line between the invented and the historical, the tragic and the comic, the ridiculous and the sublime. He rarely stumbles, and he dismounts with a flourish. I for one am eagerly awaiting his next performance.
RaveTor.comIf you’re as susceptible to book-buying as I am, Reading Backwards will test you ... The essays may not send you to the library quite so often as the reviews, but they’re of equal quality ... Crowley proposes rather than pronounces; his essays are products of reflection written to produce reflection in their readers. You may not agree with the tentative conclusions of A Few Moments in Eternity or Squeak and Gibber, but the author is too genial in his manner and honest in his uncertainties to object to an unpersuaded reader ... contains some repetition ... Were the repetitions more frequent or jarring, I suppose I might be annoyed, but in fact I was charmed and intrigued; you may learn a good deal from a man’s repetitions, and you’d understand less if Crowley had edited more. My one hope is that someday I have the pleasure of reading Crowley on Blake, on Nabokov, and on Pynchon ... So thorough is it that I almost expected to find Crowley’s blog posts included, or even his red-pen markings of student papers. Its exhaustiveness is a virtue, and no piece deserved deletion, but read front-to-back in short order, Reading Backwards exhausts. Jump in; dart out; flip around; set the book aside; take breaks; read, as the book’s title suggests, out of order. You’ll find that Reading Backwards provides months of enjoyment.
RaveTor.comThe publication of a new collection by John Crowley is a rare occasion; I’m happy to report that his new one, And Go Like This, was worth the fifteen-year wait ... \'The “Mount Auburn Street\' suite of the stories comprises the center, and perhaps the heart, of And Go Like This. The three linked pieces, \'Littles Yeses, Little Nos,\' \'Glow Little Glow-Worm,\' and \'Mount Auburn Street\' concern men of Crowley’s generation growing older and confronting the future in New England towns not far removed from the one where Crowley lives. They fret about home insurance, they worry about their children, they reflect on their mistakes and seek counseling, they ask their doctor about Viagra. Some genre readers won’t have patience for these quiet slice-of-life stories. That is their loss: These stories, particularly the second two, are accomplished, moving, and wise. And Go Like This will satisfy the high expectations of Crowley’s devoted readers; though it may not be the ideal place to start reading him, nonetheless I believe it will win his work some new converts.
PositiveTor.com... just as its hero stitches disparate fabrics for his dolls’ clothes, so Allan entwines separate stories and varying styles to produce a novel greater than the sum of its parts ... I liked the first two-thirds of the book more than its final portion. While I appreciated the unconventional resolution to Andrew’s ill-advised and unannounced trip to rescue \'his\' Bramber, I wasn’t convinced by a late-book development that has Andrew, previously awkward, unsociable, and lonely but entirely sane, holding conversations with a voice in his head ... Because Chaplin’s stories, and the dolls she created to represent them, are so important to the characters, I rather expected that this mysterious figure would play a larger role in The Dollmaker. Her life is mysterious, her tales seem preternaturally linked to the lives of Andrew and Bramber, and her dolls exert a strange fascination, but we never learn much about her. She loiters outside the narrative, but is never invited in. Perhaps Allan wanted her readers left wondering ... Like the best fairy tales, [The Dollmaker] provokes, it challenges, it moves, and it lingers.
RaveTor.comThe Iron Dragon’s Mother is the rare feminist fantasy novel by a man. The author is well aware of the many terrible things males...do, and he doesn’t shy away from depicting them. The women Swanwick depicts are strong and clever, but they’re not necessarily good. They’re neither plaster saints nor parody whores; they’re flawed individuals ... The Iron Dragon’s Mother is gritty, but the grittiness isn’t the sort that characterizes the \'grimdark\' school of fantasy. Every obscenity in Swanwick’s Faerie has its counterpart on Earth ... Swanwick is as economical with words as he is profligate with effects: He doesn’t over-explain, confident as he is that the details he seeds will blossom into an entire world in his readers’ imaginations. There’s enough invention in this one volume to stock whole shelves, but Swanwick works by implication, not elaboration ... This is one of the best fantasies of the year[.]
PositiveTor.comThe novella is at its best when we stay in Idir’s head ... Most readers will read The Test in a single sitting. It’s suspenseful, fast-paced, and thought-provoking, with a disturbing and well-earned ending. Though I wish that Neuvel had expanded certain aspects of his story, I can’t complain too much. The Test is bracing, memorable, and all too plausible. I can’t tell you Idir’s final test score, but I’m pleased to inform you that Sylvain Neuvel passes his own exam with flying colors.
PositiveTor.com\"Paradoxical though it may be, sometimes an old cliché is the best way to describe something new. Icebergs are proverbially ninety percent underwater; ninety percent of what makes this new collection so remarkable is what occurs off the page, in the blank places between its sparse text and its abundant images ... Guestbook may bear the subtitle \'Ghost Stories,\' but the ghosts are often metaphorical and the stories implied. These stories unsettle, but they’ll make no one jump in fright; Shapton elicits shivers of unease, not shudders of disgust ... Not for everyone, but essential for some.\
RaveTor.com\"How rare and wonderful it is to find a book that surpasses already high expectations. Sandra Newman’s The Heavens is one such title. It’s a fantasy about reality and it’s one of the best new novels I’ve read in ages ... I’m glad that Newman decided against writing a realistic novel, because her imaginative range staggers. How many writers can convincingly recreate the England of Elizabeth I and imagine a whole series of variant New Yorks? Ben and Kate move through at least a dozen realities over the 250-odd pages of The Heavens, but Newman is a deft worlds-builder, permitting readers to infer whole new realities from a single line of dialogue or a passing detail ... I will be telling everyone I know about this novel.\
RaveThe Wee ReviewAnother example of [Kennedy\'s] versatility ... becomes more than a children’s story. Kennedy’s subtle allusions to real-world events are striking and sad without ever preaching to us or hitting us over the head with morality lessons ... Kennedy’s skill lies in the deceptive simplicity of her language here. Nothing is overly verbose or extraneously descriptive, yet abstract and profound ideas are pondered. It is this that makes The Little Snake work on several levels. For younger readers it will be enjoyable as a mythical story that is funny, sweet, and emotive. For an older audience, the novella presents a moving allegory of life, death, perseverance, and kindness. It is philosophy disguised as fairytale.
Jeremy C Shipp
MixedTorBedfellow describes a very strange home invasion; the reader enters the story at the exact moment the monster—or maybe it’s an alien?—does. From the very first words of the book, the Lund family is in trouble ... Bedfellow suffers from an abrupt ending. One character meets a brutal end, another finally demonstrates their agency, and a third drives to places unknown in a strange vehicle. We’re told that someone \'must have a plan\' as they leave through the gathering darkness, but for all the time we’ve spent with the Lunds, we have no idea where that road might lead. I’m not sure where Shipp is going either—this isn’t what I expected as a follow-up to The Atrocities—but I hope he finds a way to channel the best parts of these first books into a more cohesive successor.
Ravetor.com\"Like [Howard] Waldrop, Duncan recognizes the beauty of vernacular speech; like Waldrop, his writing calls mind the best porch-front jawing and tale-telling you’ve ever heard ... And [Duncan\'s] wryly funny ... An Agent of Utopia must rank as one of this year’s best collections. It’s on bookstore shelves now and deserves to be on your shelves soon. As for me, I’m off to hunt for Andy Duncan’s previous collections.\
MixedTor.comI wish I could give Notes from the Fog an unqualified rave, and why I’m sad to write a thoroughly mixed review ... Marcus is a fine writer; readers who underline especially good sentences ought stock up on ink before beginning this collection ... while a few stories seem rote, others impress and perturb in equal measures ... And while the insufficiency of words may strike some readers as being too dry a theme, there’s a surprising emotional warmth to several of these Notes, particularly those dealing with parenting, its ambiguities, and its ambivalences. I suspect Marcus, had he wished, could have been a very good writer of conventional realism ... On balance, I enjoyed Notes from the Fog, for all its unevenness, this collection proves Marcus a compelling and original voice ... for a few daring readers, an entry into this mist will be amply rewarded.
Jeremy C. Shipp
PositiveTor.comI read The Atrocities in a single unbroken sitting and came away about equally impressed and perturbed. Shipp’s exaggeration of Gothic clichés, his shifts of tone and plot, his dry humor and his sense of the absurd have all stayed with me, but so have my feelings that [there] should have been a little more to the book. I value concision, but much here seems undeveloped ... There’s a frustrating abruptness to the ending; just a few additional pages of aftermath and reflection would, to my mind, have improved the book. Queries and quibbles aside, I truly enjoyed The Atrocities: it’s made me eager to read more of Shipp’s writing, whether archly humorous, bluntly sinister, or, like this book, some strange combination of the two. Stockton House is worth a visit, but do mind the statues, and don’t let the capybara get underfoot.
Yoko Tawada, Trans. by Margaret Mitsutani
RaveTor.comIf the term \'cozy catastrophe\' weren’t already established, an enterprising critic might have coined it for this book ... The young don’t realize quite how deprived they have become, but readers recognize the scale of their loss ... her rendering of Tawada’s Japanese prose into English is nearly seamless ... The Emissary, for all its charms of prose, all its exercise of the imagination, and all its timely concerns about borders and barriers, somehow feels like local news from yesterday’s paper.
Ursula K. Le Guin
PositiveTor.comNo Time to Spare, a collection of nonfiction drawn from Ursula K. Le Guin’s blog, draws its title from a statement she made at the very beginning of her first full post: \'I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare\' ...a better political thinker than the great Saramago, and even the essays she worries are most \'trivially personal\' are so animated and so entertaining that no reader can skip them ... Le Guin, in short, is a good essayist who would make a terrible internet controversialist. She values uncertainty, accepts disagreement — even disagreement with herself — and has never, to my knowledge, written a hot take ...is itself proof of that statement.
Paul La Farge
RaveTorThe Night Ocean would appall its inspiration, and that’s one of the many reasons you should read it ... Enjoying The Night Ocean requires no prior knowledge of H.P. Lovecraft, but readers who know their sff and their fan history will find in Paul La Farge a kindred spirit ... For a novel about H.P. Lovecraft, The Night Ocean is surprisingly moving; for a story about the recondite back alleys of science fiction, it is surprisingly accessible; for a historical fiction, it is surprisingly contemporary; and for a novel about the unknowable and the mysterious, it is remarkably satisfying. The Night Ocean deserves the highest praise.