RaveChicago Review of BooksThe book does feel like an exhalation. Cisneros candidly ticks through past lives and lovers with an approach that isn’t concerned with what people will think ... Another way Cisneros is unapologetic in these pages is how she describes her body as she ages, not without wit ... Cisneros masters scene-setting, and story, usually with a humorous angle ... She also masters detail and depth in few words ... A love letter to the imperfect self, Woman Without Shame is brave and beautiful.
MixedChicago Review of Books... a gruesome experiment in historical fiction ... The characters bleakly reflect the worst in humanity, and grotesque antics dot almost every page—facts that compete with great storytelling and end up creating few opportunities for enjoyment ... Moshfegh has written a novel that’s not without humor, but is certainly grim and brutal. Everyone hates each other in Lapvona, with very few exceptions. The story examines the boundaries between savagery and stability, religion and desire, truth and deception, and Moshfegh delivers surprise after sinister surprise. The setting is quite a divergence from Moshfegh’s previous works, but her sharp storytelling and exceptional character studies are once again omnipresent in Lapvona.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksPatchett’s essays are sharp and honest. She confronts her faults frequently while also remaining candid, unafraid to talk about getting a prestigious award or acknowledging that she’s a pretty big deal ... Each of the essays in These Precious Days is moving, but this title essay stands out. Patchett starts it off with Tom Hanks and you don’t see what’s coming, and that’s just how we’ve all felt that last year and a half. After all this waiting, it’s always nice to be surprised by love.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksMaggie Nelson combines...gray areas with the complexities of our current moment ... a compelling analysis of a divisive human concept ... The keys for Nelson—acceptance, nuance, context, continued exploration, ongoing work—hint at solutions to reframe freedom in a country obsessed with liberty; to address and expose harmful sex and power but to also push further to reveal new truths and voices; to allow art to be art; and to come to terms with our planet’s fate and act in more meaningful ways ... On Freedom skillfully illustrates that very practice, emphasizing how to recognize the choices we have and what to do with them.
RaveChicago Review of Books... exquisite ... Her poems magnify the marginalized individual, simultaneously illuminating national and global failed attempts at democracy. As always, her words are raw, poignant, and accessible ... The poems she uses to divulge her daily life, managing her condition, are tender, playful, and optimistically realistic ... Once again, Dove has written a culturally astute volume packed with musicality and charm. Her eloquent honesty creates a true playlist for the apocalypse, should that relentless threat ever finally tighten its grip. Still, she respectfully declines to be dismal.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksCusk returns with a stunning work about womanhood, self-acceptance, and the search for personal freedom ... Instead of seeking the unreal, perhaps exploring reality itself allows us to better appreciate more modest satisfaction, and even love. And inhabiting the space between being a creator and an observer doesn’t make us insignificant ... introspective and amusing, an impeccable work of art.
RaveChicago Review of Books... [a] brilliant debut ... The beautifully crafted poems can feel like mini-histories, intricate narratives spanning only a few pages. They overflow with richness and opportunities for interpretation, shifting between Arabic and English; yet they are self-contained and pointed as a missile ... Almontaser is cunning in how she exposes the strength of overlapping languages. She’s also incensed; she also handles storytelling, family history, with grace. The Wild Fox of Yemen turns language into its own character, a fact of daily life we take for granted.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksMaria Adelmann skillfully handles the insecurity of female youth in her collection of stories, Girls of a Certain Age ... Adelmann subtly crafts vehicles into that uncertain headspace that girls and women often experience when deciding who is to blame, or where they should be focusing their attention, or what love should look like. The thirteen stories can be unsurprisingly cynical but never lack for elegance ... These stories show that many girls and women, modern and otherwise, share the unintentional habit of waiting. Waiting to grow up, waiting to feel better, waiting for a husband to return from war, waiting for a nice guy to come along, waiting for the abuse to end, waiting for a father to get his act together. Adelmann exposes the precariousness of modern womanhood, of attempts at defining our sexuality using terms we’re supposed to understand without anyone explaining them to us. These stories seem to suggest that sometimes there is no right answer about what we’re supposed to be doing except surviving.
Mariana Enriquez, tr. Megan McDowell
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksEnríquez again delivers intrigue and brutality ... Stories of spirits and disappearances collectively address the mystery of loss through narratives that are as gripping as they are chilling. The not-quite-horror tales address death while showcasing the intensity and resiliency of the human soul, particularly souls of women ... The title story is the book’s shortest and in just a few pages delivers a tragic glimpse into a lonely woman’s existence. Experiments with fire point to the delicate boundaries of life ... These stories play with reality, questioning the very fabric of the ingrained beliefs and infrastructures that hold us up. They reveal how frighteningly precarious they really are.
Sara Faith Alterman
PositiveChicago Review of BooksIt’s already a challenge to come to terms with your parents’ shortcomings as you age. You have many, many questions. You block out memories that are too awkward or painful. But to face all this with a parent who’s losing their memory and agency adds a whole new layer of bad feelings that will probably never be dealt with. Alterman handles these topics with care and sometimes humor, yet never lacks vulnerable authenticity ... She writes hilarious, dark, and touching prose, creating that right level of cringe to inspire others to tell their own problematic childhood stories (baby boomers be damned).
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksKing reveals these characters’ motives gently. It’s easy to forget that the narrative is from a first-person perspective, as Casey is also gentle and doesn’t do anything out of a need for attention ... The book is set in 1997, but the themes King explores are just as potent today ... a skillfully crafted story that’s full of beautiful language and intellectual stimulation. She captures the young writer’s struggle.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksMiller, who is also the author of the novel The Coast of Akron, is an excellent storyteller and philosopher. She infuses her personal narratives with questions: What does it mean to be a mere cog in a machine, even with an esteemed editor’s title? Is power is really just a false construct? Is appreciation perhaps the most important characteristic to have in a world you can’t control? In the Land of Men is part of the ongoing discussion about how we answer the question: What do we do with the art of bad men? ... Early in the book, Miller contemplates what it means to really know another person, concluding that we never even get close to gaining a full perspective. The people we believe are bad are always loved by someone else. And yet, she counters, \'when thinking in a sentimental way about kings, it is dangerously easy to forget about their power—about the severed heads upon which they walk.\'
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksReid’s clear writing style is the perfectly invisible backdrop to the action. Her dialogue is witty and authentic, both for Alix and Emira, whose varied backgrounds contribute to their subtly different English vernaculars. As the drama unfolds, Such a Fun Age sucks you in and surprises you. With this debut novel, Reid provides a fresh look at how racial anxieties can drive both healthy and heated conversations about race, while exposing toxic relationships.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThough the title suggests romance, this novel is much more a coming-of-age story about a witty, bookish teenager with overflowing compassion for those around her ... Sullivan’s writing is charming, and she has created a refreshing, unconventional love story. The two primary settings, Beardsley, Illinois, and Harvester, help to develop the perimeter characters in Ruby’s life ... Though the story is set in the World War I era, the ideas are very much accessible to contemporary life. The novel explores what it means to create your own family, your own path forward, when you’re left without much of anything in the world except a handful of belongings and some difficult memories ... Ruby herself is the true triumph of this novel—she is able to recreate the warm feelings of her childhood wherever she goes, with her curiosity, ambition, and never-failing love. In this way, Sullivan has created a courageous story of self-love.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThese topics are especially poignant given the state of immigration opportunities in the United States at present. Faced with increasing ICE raids and brutal familial separation tactics, these still-hopeful settlers share a commonality with Danticat’s characters; the oft-deflated expectation that life must be better somewhere else ... vibrant and hauntingly human.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe title alone indicates that [Nussbaum] doesn’t discriminate based on which TV shows get the best ratings. She writes compelling arguments in favor of under-appreciated shows, like Jane the Virgin, which a colleague once told her was a guilty pleasure show. Perhaps her most admirable content appears in essays like her piece on the #MeToo movement, \'Confessions of the Human Shield,\' in which she spits the question right out: \'What should we do with the art of terrible men?\' ... She’s hilarious and sincere, and even if you don’t agree with her about a review (as this writer felt about her pan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) her collection is simply fun to read ... TV is personal. And, what’s hard for a critic is that most people in America watch it and would die defending their favorite characters. While her pieces are smart, and certainly exude the New Yorker’s cerebral palate, Nussbaum writes for the fans, no matter what type of television is their jam.
RaveChicago Review of BooksExpertly structured and told, the stories reveal the disconnect and tension between the peninsula’s indigenous people and the white Russians ... the book also comments on the vulnerability of girlhood, love, and friendship in a region driven by fear ... Entwining tales of suffering and anxiety, disappearance and insecurity, denial and recovery, Disappearing Earth spans one year on the Kamchatka Peninsula, each month telling a new heartbreaking story.
T. Kira Madden
RaveChicago Review of Books\"... stunning ... Like the greats, Madden writes with devastating clarity and lyricism, becomes a storyteller trustworthy enough to tell even the ugliest of truths. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls will make you want to remember, to want more. It takes unexpected turns, as Madden ends up with even more emotional discoveries about her family and herself, and as she navigates being truly fatherless after his death. This story takes lots of glittery guts to tell.\
Devi S Laskar
PositiveChicago Review of Books\"This debut novel is an experiment with time and space and memory, as Laskar weaves Mother’s past with the history of the Barbie doll ... The author’s fluid, succinct language in each short chapter becomes the border of an atlas, straining to connect to form a person. A place. A thing. Laskar shows how women, and particularly women of color, not only have to manage motherhood, marriage, and ambition, but also must fight for respect on top of it all.\
Ursula K. Le Guin
RaveChicago Review of BooksUrsula K. Le Guin, who died earlier this year, was known for her award-winning fantasy novels and short stories. Two paperbacks reissued by Tor Books this month, The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron, are prime examples of Le Guin’s authority in magical realism for both children and adults. Her characters face persecution that is still as prevalent today as it was in the late 1970s, when these two short novels were written ... it’s no coincidence that her heroines, Luz and Irene, flee abuse of power from men. Le Guin famously wove feminist issues into her science fiction stories, and pushed for equality with her characters. She builds fantasies as representations of human dreams, utopias that never quite materialize.
Ursula K. Le Guin
RaveChicago View of BooksUrsula K. Le Guin, who died earlier this year, was known for her award-winning fantasy novels and short stories. Two paperbacks reissued by Tor Books this month, The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron, are prime examples of Le Guin’s authority in magical realism for both children and adults. Her characters face persecution that is still as prevalent today as it was in the late 1970s, when these two short novels were written ... it’s no coincidence that her heroines, Luz and Irene, flee abuse of power from men. Le Guin famously wove feminist issues into her science fiction stories, and pushed for equality with her characters. She builds fantasies as representations of human dreams, utopias that never quite materialize.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books\"The shifting narrators throughout the book serve the whirlwind that Markley has created. It’s fully engrossing from the start, save moments when you’re taken aback by how good the writing really is, how flawless the storytelling ... Ohio is a ceaselessly beautiful and gut-wrenching debut.\
RaveChicago Review of Books\"[Willa] is a successful narrator; you want to see her settled, not failing to put dinner on the table or frustrated over the rising success of an unbelievably offensive presidential candidate (who remains unnamed) ... Kingsolver again delivers exceptional storytelling, as Unsheltered is full of well-developed characters and delightful plot twists, even if brief. As history repeats itself, the symbolism is not hard to grasp, but the message remains potent nonetheless.\
Sara Gallardo, trans. by Jessica Sequeira
RaveChicago Review of BooksThe stories usually end with an abrupt twist. Gallardo always makes her purpose known this way. She writes with an air of authority (which Jessica Sequeira has translated from Spanish brilliantly) that begs your trust when she writes that trains can dream or that horses can murder ... the detailed settings and the depths of human experience (even when characters are not human) remain timeless ... Gallardo’s succinct descriptions define the tangible—the weather, the landscape, the physical circumstances—while her plots are fantastical. The former grounds the latter, making anything seem possible.