PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewMandern is a kook and probably a hack, but inconveniences and contrivances power the plot ... As Less wends from California to Arizona through Texas to Georgia and then up the Eastern Seaboard, an American odyssey to complement his previous, global jaunt, Lost begins to feel more like found — as in: the earlier book, turned up like an old favorite on the bookshelf of a much-visited inn. For its many admirers, that may be selling point enough. But it’s the rare sequel that outstrips its original, and it’s hard not to feel that Less Is Lost, like Rosina, is running on fumes. Greer leans harder into caricature this time around, more yokel than local. Some jokes, like Less’s imperfect German, are repeated wholesale. (He certainly lucks into having to use it often enough.) There are high jinks and potboiling fifth-act surprises, theater troupers and clothing-optional communards, set pieces twinkling in the Lessian light of a \'beaver moon\' ... And yet through it all, Less Is Lost is enlivened by sentence-level loveliness, en route to a warm humanism that veers toward the maudlin but mostly doesn’t off-road into it ... Less has given Greer fertile ground, and he reaps what he’s sown. A mixed blessing, it seems. For all the fixation on Less, it is actually Freddy who is our narrator and guide, Freddy whose voice we actually hear.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewByrne is an engaging writer...Despite its bulk, The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym skips easily along in bite-size chapters; it aims to rollick, and rollick it does ... In its willingness to present its subject’s less appealing side, Byrne’s improves on the previous biographies, a cottage industry of Pymiana maintained by her friends and family. And Byrne is good at filling in some of the contemporary context that informed her life and work. But as with the earlier books, Byrne’s main source is the Pym trove at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. It is a huge resource — decades of journals, notebooks, drafts and letters — but also a hindrance: Where the author is silent, Byrne is reduced to silence, too. Seemingly important events, like the death of Pym’s mother, are dispatched in a sentence. Much is read into lacunae in the record: When Pym expurgates her diaries at emotional moments, Byrne must hazard guesses at the precise reasons ... the longest and most significant relationship of Pym’s life, with her younger sister Hilary, gets fairly scant attention — even though the two lived together for decades. Pym’s long career at the International African Institute, which gave her abundant material for her novels, is hardly discussed; and not much consideration is given to her faith...The books, too, get curiously short shrift, with more plot summary than critical assessment ... For devotees of Pym’s novels, ardent if not legion, Byrne’s book will be a welcome companion. For more casual fans, its appeal may be more limited. Pym led an interesting life, but Byrne’s expansive approach means it is nearly 400 pages before she publishes her first novel. And while she never wrote an autobiography, Pym infused herself — as Byrne ably shows — into her own canon, which remains the best way to meet her. Even Barbara was apt to note the slippages between life and art.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWhat constitutes an emergency? That is one of the questions posed, with chilly, stylish composure, by Alexandra Kleeman’s new novel, Something New Under the Sun, an unlikely amalgam of climate horror story, movie-industry satire and made-for-TV mystery ... Kleeman’s dystopia reveals itself slowly, normalcy curdling in the boil ... Kleeman, who is often compared to postmodern writers like Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, can turn a beautiful sentence, but she can seem overfond of the funhouse-mirror refractions between reality, surreality and whatever middle dimension between them exists on television and film ... the novel hurtles toward a dissolution that feels both unsatisfying and apt. It is a ghost story not of the past but of the near future, a ghost story as alarm bell, one hard to leave in the realm of fiction.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewCool for America is animated by much the same spirit as Early Work, and undermined by its same shortcomings. Martin’s characters—the men especially, but Leslie too—tend to be well educated (he almost dares us to say overeducated) but aimless, certain of their genius but chronically unable to deliver on it ... They are often stretching for a certainty that eludes them, and Martin is good on the uneasy awareness of this ... your enjoyment of these characters will likely depend on how sympathetic you find their particular, mostly low-grade distress. Martin’s drifters are stagy in their ornamented repartee, and self-conscious about their staginess, in a way that comments upon but doesn’t dispel it, that passes for insight but is in fact just the registering of a need for insight to be slotted in. It is self-aggrandizement that recognizes itself as a weakness and then wants credit for the recognition. It verges on heterosexual camp. Every so often, however, intimations from an omniscient above puncture the preciousness of these reveries, and the collection is stronger for it ... To their credit, these stories don’t overreach to arrive at pat conclusions. Martin often winds up to a killer ending, leaving the uncertainty to linger and his characters, if not his readers, suspended mid-muck ... You feel Martin is going somewhere, and the prospect is tantalizing. One looks forward to \'Later Work.\'
RaveVultureIt is a novel that seems almost more comfortable in a previous century than in our own no metafictional contortions, no genre-dabbling, no M.F.A.-burnished shine ... most of all Shuggie Bain is a fat doorstop trudge of perseverance through the alcoholic grimness of poverty and addiction ... It speaks in a Scottish English whose rhythms, even whose vocabulary, can be alien for American readers: misty with smirr and dusty with stour, its bruisers glaikit in their foolishness, gallus in their pride ... Stuart’s project as a writer is in part about clearing space for tenderness among men, space for love.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewYoung, gay, handsome and socially effervescent, Nutter de-cobwebbed bespoke tailoring ... The Nutter story intersects not only a steady stream of the rich and famous. It also joins many of the currents of the 20th century: the ebb and flow from wartime privation to excess back to austerity; the progress of gay visibility and the trauma of the AIDS crisis; the shaking off of dress codes and then (to Nutter’s sometime chagrin) the irrevocable casualization of the wardrobe. His professional fortunes rose and fell as tastes changed ... As an act of historical preservation, House of Nutter is worthy, restoring Nutter to the record for future generations; as a scandal sheet of gossip, it is often campy and fun. But despite the parade of stars who pass through it, House of Nutter often wrestles with a sense of anticlimax ... What lingers is the vision of Tommy Nutter as a man slightly too modern for his time, though very much of it, one of the great characters of fashion if not, perhaps, one of the greats.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewOn the larger historical picture, it is good; when alighting on the otherwise obscure moments of the bearded record, it is better, or at least more pleasurable to the lay reader...[Oldstone-Moore] falters a bit by giving short shrift to the present day, when a beard is a byword for hipness and the shifting politics of gender expression have made facial hair a loaded signifier. (The import of beards to the transgender community, both cultivation and depilation, would make an interesting book on its own.) But his long view on our unshaven history is likely to stand unchallenged for some time.