RaveWashington PostAt once prose poem, manifesto, sociological study and therapy session. Poet and psychoanalyst Nuar Alsadir’s first nonfiction book advocates the liberating power of spontaneity, curiosity, humor. The book practices what it preaches. The exposition jumps for intellectual joy, hopscotching from literary criticism to philosophy and psychology to political analysis ... The completed picture shows how humor, like any instinctual act, is fundamentally subversive ... Although the concepts are sometimes knotty, the writing never is, and after finishing this book, a reader may be obliged to thank the author for clarifying some hitherto unyielding ideas ... Not that all is high-flown or esoteric. Threaded throughout are accounts both movingly personal and endearingly experiential ... Great art mainly makes you not think but feel ... Animal Joy made me do both. Its author practices two disparate disciplines — poetry and psychoanalysis — that she argues are essentially the same. In a neat corollary, her book forms a subtly engineered bridge between art and reason.
RaveHyperallergicAlmost every sentence and image in Colette Brooks’s new book should make the reader helpless not to think hard ... The essays that constitute Trapped in the Present Tense are loosely, thereby expansively, arrayed around distinct but related themes ... Brooks explores these ideas on both a macro level...as well as an intimate one. The tone shifts from reverse to drive between these layers. The tragedies that have serially struck her family are recalled obliquely, as if something so painfully stunning can only be approached with poetry’s elision. In another gear entirely, her observations of American culture are delivered in marching cadence, every sentence stark and forceful ... [Brooks\'] unique claim on each topic by way of family history and personal loss whispers underneath the more stentorian cataloging of facts ... Brooks uses the structure as well as the subjects of her book to demonstrate how history unites us all, in private and public ... The section called Snapshots comprises a visual essay exploring similar perennial mysteries, among them miniatures and memorials, preservation and happenstance. It is a prose poem that could well be titled \'What If.\' It is not the most poignant piece in the book — though all are poignant — but it reiterates a recurrent idea: death is witnessed by the camera eye ... Brooks never condescends to the reader by spelling out what she’s getting at. She leaves it to us to make of it what we will. Opacity as extreme generosity: extremely refreshing. Not to mention transgressive, given the literary world’s consolidating conservatism. The result is a work of literature that’s beautiful, uncategorizable, sad, and challenging. In other words, a book that’s very near life itself.
RaveThe Washington PostHannaham is not only creative or stunningly gifted or intellectual or supremely original, but all those distinctions at once. This genre-defying book of compressed prose, poetry and image is the product of a mind—and heart—pushing the artistic tachometer to the red line ... Pilot Impostor has as many fine gears as a Swiss watch. Its several organizational principles together imply the creation of self only unfolds over time—we become most \'ourselves\' as we accumulate the sediment of what by chance happens to us. Some of these are accidents. Some are delivered in our DNA. But we make something of them nonetheless—a narrative informed by cognitive bias, a fictional projection, a work of art. Or a book that accomplishes them all ... Hannaham’s signature sly humor often carries a surprise hit of acid. His first novel is a comic but compassionate exploration of race, sexuality and religious hypocrisy that tempers its outrage with absurdism.
RaveHyperallergic... fiercely argued, fascinating, brilliant. It is also sometimes maddeningly abstruse. Nathan is good at getting us angry about fascism’s darkly insidious ways and means. He is less convincing about how we might counter it. Being made to understand the mechanisms of a deadly problem when we have so little ability to affect them is, to this reader at least, depressing in the extreme ... packed with insight, digression, observations both original and rehashed, exegesis of a spectrum of works from Greek myth to Twin Peaks; it is passionate, disorganized, philosophical in both the best and worst ways. Its rants are written as if Trump were still president, which is more true than most of us would like to admit. It’s a \'difficult\' book, tough to read and at times tough to make sense of. But that is another way of saying necessary: what are we here for but to confront every difficulty? Proponents of fascism are masters of making life a trial for anyone who doesn’t fall in line. To resist is to start by comprehending the mechanisms by which they do so. That is the purpose that Patrick Nathan’s book fulfills. Not that he gets there straightforwardly. The author often arrives at stunning interiors through broken doors. In a discussion of music apps’ playlist function—its tendency to package and bland down music into a form of aural décor, yet another way the untidy, organic, or thoughtful is capitalistically \'gentrified\' ... Image Control is more successful when it is descriptive than when it attempts to be prescriptive, but that might be my cynicism talking.
RaveThe Washington PostThese sometimes shocking circumstances are related using a potent literary style that combines mordant humor and helpless indignation with ferocious intellect. Society is messed up, but for anyone other than an employed cisgender heterosexual White male, Hough’s experiences show, it’s a mess on top of a shambles. Her declarations on the state of everything from lesbian bad behavior to what she learns is \'the slide,\' the easily missed point of no return for the newly homeless — a quick fall over the edge from relatively presentable to permanent outcast — are compressed into aphorisms so numerous on the page they’re as hard to count as individual sparks in a fireworks display ... As Hough might point out, redemption isn’t given, it’s earned through hard emotional labor — and it’s inside you all along. Hers becomes the reader’s: writing, and reading, the truth can set you free. But first you bleed.
RaveThe Washington PostNone of the alternative Americas envisioned by the conspicuously talented Matthew Baker in his new collection of short stories, Why Visit America, is implausible. That they don’t read as preposterous, even as they confound, is due to the author’s inventive play with form and his deeply affecting focus on human desire ... restrained but always trenchant humor ... These stories are not overly comedic—they are too deeply, complicatedly human for that—but there are plenty of snort-provoking moments. Baker employs a similarly light touch with the absurdism that comes preloaded on speculative fiction ... Meticulously working the genre to devise his examination of individual versus collective good, Baker (author of a previous collection, Hybrid Creatures) never takes the easy way out. He doesn’t brandish sharp swords at American capitalism or consumer excess or fears that masquerade as politics. Neither does he construct straw men, then ask the reader to applaud when he lights them on fire. Instead, he demonstrates charity toward his characters, who as Americans stand in for the prismatic nature of the country itself. All of which he seems to love, even the unlovable parts.
Matthew B Crawford
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... [Crawford] grabs us by the lapels and shakes for page after page, until we are bound to agree that driving expresses everything about how we evolved and learn and is essential to the exercise of fundamental freedom – indeed, to all that we are.
PositiveHyperallergicSharlet is admittedly not primarily or even secondarily a photographer. But he has a good eye, especially in low-light conditions that produce a lyrical murk. These unsettled photos exemplify a paradox: the less precise the edge, the sharper their sense of time ... Journalism meets art in this book; art leaks into journalism, sideways. The approach Sharlet takes with This Brilliant Darkness is a reminder that this vast life is no monolith, only a collection of fragments that are captured but in passing ... Sharlet stopped to listen, to see, to take a remembrance: a shockingly rare act ... They are beautiful interruptions in the ceaseless progress of time. They pause for a moment to speak the name of what vanishes, which sounds just like a shutter’s click.
PositiveThe RumpusPrior-Palmer presents her leap-first, look-later character as impetuous, often running in unattended \'pixie mode\'; she is also \'attached to my exterior of fearlessness.\' It seems to be a very specific way of being until you realize, Wait a minute. That’s every teenager. ... neither is the author afraid to be seen as unlikable. This disease, considered fatal to women alone, is a badge of pride for Prior-Palmer. Her judgment, toward race officials and reporters as well as to her fellow competitors, at times shocks, but it is also a sign of a sportswoman on fire ... But then, in a single paragraph that acts as a literary landmine planted two-thirds in, Prior-Palmer reveals a stunning travail endured a few years after the race. It is one of the few cleanly rendered and emotionally laden passages in the book. It details an event that required involuntary courage, which is courage all the same, and in a few lines erases any doubt that she is inhumanly stoic. For one striking moment, she is real. She is fully open, readable, and sympathetic ... It is unlikely that the Lara Prior-Palmer we meet here will stop racing, either on turf or to some high artistic aspiration. Notwithstanding this shaky start, she has too much promise, too much drive.
RaveThe Washington Post\"[Doten] launches Trump Sky Alpha at the bull’s eye of reality with such velocity that it bursts through the other side. This is speculative fiction as burning ring of fire ... The beginning is outrageous fantasy but reads like transcription. Doten channels Trump’s verbal tics and rhetorical poverty so perfectly it’s chilling ... Perversely satisfying, this tour de force of vicious satire is cathartic ... The stress of outperforming realism in works of speculative fiction sometimes risks a dangerous rise in the literary mercury. Both [Doten\'s novel, and the novel within the story] suffer from an overreliance on facsimile screenshots and voiceyness ... Dizzy with metaphor, Trump Sky Alpha is a cautionary tale for a time when we have become inured to flashing yellow all around.\
PositiveThe Washington PostA prehistory of now, Markley’s bruising novel chronicles a decade in which those in the sinking parts of our nation began looking for anyone to blame and anything to relieve the pain of loss ... every one of this socially representative cast of characters is broken; the only variety is by what. There’s the Great Recession, the flight of manufacturing, the ravages of addiction, sexual violence—the full smorgasbord of American tragedy ... The diverse trajectories of these young people provide the author an arsenal of cultural signifiers with which to mine his fictional landscape, as well as the opportunity to expound on contemporary politics, religion, sex, drugs, literature, music and much else. This is novel as compendium ... But for all its genuinely absorbing qualities, Ohio retains a whiff of calculation ... the determination to create an explosive powerhouse of a book emanates from every page here. Markley can’t resist using his characters as mouthpieces ... Novels that simultaneously attempt to explicate political history and plumb the human condition are liable to succeed at neither, but Stephen Markley’s exuberant embrace of such risk is laudable in itself.
Ulrich Raulff, Trans. by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
RaveThe Washington PostIn Farewell to the Horse, Ulrich Raulff has composed nothing less than a requiem Mass for this long-suffering, noble creature — a complex and lyrical argument that places the horse in a central role in the creation of the modern world … Raulff takes us through the stupendous cultural shift from agraian life to urbanized industrialization to the actual and symbolic roles of the horse in war and science and art. He shows that beyond pulling carriages, carts and artillery caissons, horses propelled science into a new age as a crucial subject in the study of anatomy, geneology and locomotion...In his searching examination of the horse’s symbolic significance, Raulff illustrates how the animal represented notions of victory, sovereignty, wealth, death and nobility … Raulff has given us an eloquent epitaph for the horse’s long relevance to our world.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIf her use of allegory to make science approachable verges on pat, Jahren can be forgiven, for it allows her to deliver a gratifying and often moving chronicle of the scientist’s life. She also earns her license to issue warnings we would do well to heed.