RaveThe New York TimesEverett returns to certain themes: academia, language games, boxes containing secrets, Blackness and nonsense. Dr. No hits all of them ... One way to evaluate an artist is to observe the quantity and quality of misinterpretation his work begets. By this measure Everett ranks very highly. \'Damn it, I don’t understand it, but I love it,\' mutters one of the characters, regarding Sill’s weapon of nothingness. Same.
PositiveThe New York TimesA curious specimen ... If Geek Love was a misfit anthem, Toad is a misfit ballad — a quieter and more modest offering ... One of Dunn’s running themes is the nature of disgust. As with her other novels, Toad brims with grime ... Reading Toad is like rummaging through the junk drawer of a fascinating person. It is chaotic, intimate and unruly. There’s not much of a structure or a plot. Still, it’s impossible not to share Naomi Huffman’s bewilderment at the book’s burial. Dunn’s style is unlike that of anyone living or dead: simultaneously practical and bonkers; lovely and nasty.
MixedThe New York TimesA close retelling of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, which is either a baffling choice or an ingenious maneuver ... Kingsolver’s resurrection of Dickens’s most sentimental...novel might seem a bit strange ... From another angle: Of course Barbara Kingsolver would retell Dickens. He has always been her ancestor. Like Dickens, she is unblushingly political and works on a sprawling scale, animating her pages with the presence of seemingly every creeping thing that has ever crept upon the earth ... Although it is technically legal to spoil the ending of a story devised 173 years ago, I won’t, except to note that Kingsolver’s resolution departs in one major way from that of David Copperfield, which is almost universally regarded as a disappointment ... Kingsolver generates momentum by galloping the reader through escapades that accumulate to advance a larger question ... In a novel ostensibly about self-creation, Demon’s addiction is a narrative impasse ... These are premise problems, not sentence problems. Kingsolver’s prose is often splendid ... Credit where due: It’s hard to think of another living novelist who could take a stab at Dickens and rise above the level of catastrophe ... Caught between polemic and fairy tale, Kingsolver is stuck with an anticlimax ... It is meant to pass for a happy ending.
PanThe New York TimesAt the novel’s midpoint we jump forward three decades to London in 2019. Here it becomes clear that Best of Friends is not quite a novel but more like two novellas, the first energetic and the second bland. Going from the Karachi half to the London half is like exiting an idiosyncratic local restaurant and entering a Starbucks. There’s an anonymous sleekness — almost a C.G.I.-enhanced quality — to the second section ... It begins with a pair of articles: a profile of Zahra in The Guardian and one of Maryam in Yahoo! Finance. It is an awkward device for inserting 30 years’ worth of exposition ... The elements that intensified the friendship of Elena and Lila — their rivalry, crises, lopsided distribution of gifts — are present in Best of Friends but desaturated. So is the context. Ferrante conveyed a milieu as electrically as she did a relationship. Shamsie gets close in her evocations of 1980s Karachi, but the featureless depiction of London saps the novel of structure. The drama between Zahra and Maryam plays out as if against a green screen. Without a palpable sense of where we are and when, the characters — and everything they do, the whats and whys — take on the quality of anecdotes ... Shamsie’s previous novel Home Fire was a retelling of Antigone, and readers who loved that book (as I did) might consider approaching Best of Friends with subdued expectations. There are plenty of sentences to cherish...Even without the scaffolding of a Greek tragedy, there is a version of this novel that could have worked. The lives of Zahra and Maryam don’t intrinsically lack conflict. There is plenty of fiction about people who enjoy material comforts while suffering from psychological or spiritual torments. The problem is that these two are never convincingly tormented; only hassled, and their responses are proportionately bloodless.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThere have been at least a dozen books devoted to Christie in the past two decades, and Lucy Worsley’s Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman is a pleasant but inessential addition to the stack. Fans will admire Worsley’s identification of real-life people, places and phrases that Christie upcycled into her fiction. They will delight in seeing photographs of the author surfing in Hawaii, or learning that her favorite drink was a glass of neat cream ... But the book also contains a great deal of padding — perhaps because the terrain has been so thoroughly mapped before — and an unsubtle dose of moralizing. A line in the preface sets an ominous tone, warning that Christie’s work \'contains views on race and class that are unacceptable today\'— a common refrain in recent biographies but totally unnecessary for readers whose knowledge of history extends more than five minutes ... In a biographer you want someone who finds her subject immensely but not indiscriminately fascinating, and Worsley doesn’t quite clear that bar. The second half of the book is padded with tedious information. Do we need quotations from a letter written by Christie’s second husband to his mother as a teenager, years before he met the subject of this biography? Or a dispatch from Christie about buying furniture on sale? ... Meanwhile, the author’s craft is only glancingly studied. We learn what Christie did but not how she did it. In Worsley’s telling, best sellers emerge as suddenly and effortlessly as sneezes. The book makes a bubbly supplement for a reader with prior interest in Agatha Christie, but it doesn’t explain how she became, by some accounts, the most widely read novelist who ever lived. Another unsolved mystery for the ages.
RaveThe New York TimesNobody is better at writing about entropy, indignity and ejaculation — among other topics — than Ian McEwan ... One of McEwan’s talents is to mingle the lovely with the nasty ... McEwan can make a reader feel as though she has bent forward to sniff a rose and received instead the odor of old sewage ... McEwan’s use of global events in his fiction tends to be judicious and revealing ... These all serve as reminders that history is occurring. And maybe some readers do, in fact, require that reminder. But Roland is so passive that one gets the sense he’d be exactly the same guy in any other century, only with a different haircut ... One way to read Lessons is as a self-repudiation of the maneuver at which McEwan has become virtuosic. More authors should repudiate their virtuosity. The results are exciting.
Emmanuel Carrère, tr. John Lambert
PositiveNew York TimesThere’s a lot more plot, but it’s unimportant. The gist is that Carrère’s life gets very bad and then slightly better. Yoga is an assembly of messy and forceful tangents — not his best book, but a fascinating amplification of all the qualities that cause some readers to love Carrère and others to find him intolerable ... Carrère’s work revolves around a practice of extreme — deranged, even — candor ... Does Carrère have complete or minimal control over his torrential disclosures? And if they are riveting, as most of them are, does it matter? ... Then there is his self-obsession — always pronounced, and in Yoga untrammeled. And his conversational prose style, which can impart the treacherous delusion that you, reader, might also become a famous novelist if you simply typed up 100 percent of your internal monologue and hit spell-check. Or his habit of issuing serene and peculiar generalizations ... He is both intentionally and unintentionally funny. Often it’s hard to tell the difference ... Either you’re charmed and entranced by this tone of thought or you’re repelled; it’s tough to imagine a reader who occupies the middle ground. I would gladly read a hundred pages of Carrère scrutinizing the \'huge caverns\' of his nostrils, lingering on the way that air prickles and tingles against their walls — but I understand why somebody else wouldn’t want a single paragraph of it. He is the opposite of an acquired taste. If you don’t like Carrère now, you never will. Yoga is an effective way to find out.
PanThe New York TimesJacobs is the author of two previous novels, The Worst Kind of Want and Catalina. Both are swift, insightful and raw. The Pink Hotel is comparatively plodding and repetitive. This comes down to a perspectival choice: Jacobs moves fluidly among characters, briefly alighting in one person’s inner monologue before moving to the next. To do so with clarity is a technical achievement, but it presents a narrative conundrum. If the reader is aware of every character’s intentions at all times, opportunities for uncertainty or deception — for suspense and revelation — become scarce ... Being trapped in the minds of the couple and the hotel guests also means that we exist in a nonstop stream of ditziness. Jacobs is talented at conjuring outrageous images, but the examples lose their punch as they pile up. Neither Kit nor Keith experiences what could be called an idea. They merely exist as avatars of complacency and ignorance ... Everyone is a baby and everyone is an animal. The comparisons are vivid but slightly confusing. After all, the helplessness of a baby isn’t a failure of conduct, and animals aren’t hedonists ... What’s missing in the book is a fresh, revelatory target. Vulgar materialism, climate change denialism, status anxiety and the solipsism of the rich are all implicitly denounced, as is misogyny ... As the story proceeds, we wait for the couple to collide with their delusions in a grand reckoning. Eventually they do, but Jacobs hasn’t given them the depth to earn our sympathy.
Lina Wolff tr. Frank Perry
RaveThe New York TimesPremise established, we are safely buckled in for the ride, which rumbles along a scenic track for roughly five minutes before a crazed carnival operator assumes the controls and we take off at warp speed through loops, inversions and spins. The third-person narration turns into a monologue from a secondary character, which morphs into a memoir in the form of letters from a third character. When an author tries and fails to pull off this level of formal sorcery, it feels like being pantsed on the playground. (Startling. Unfair.) When an author succeeds, as Wolff does, it replicates the optimal sensation of intoxication: Suddenly anything can happen! And you want it that way! ... It’s impossible to read Carnality without fantasizing about the twists your own life might take if you adopted her methodology ... I don’t read Swedish, so I’m unsure how to apportion credit for beautiful sentences, but they abound ... Withholding these clues — denying the modern reader’s lazy appetite for shorthand — is a moral intervention: Wolff wants us to know these people through their actions, not their diplomas or haircuts. It’s also a clever way of forcing us to have an imagination.
RaveThe New York Times... glittering ... What follows over the course of the novel’s two decades isn’t as decisive as a breakup. Instead, Bauer explores the nuanced topic of how a person’s emotional metabolism can slow over time ... Bauer is the author of a previous novel, Frances and Bernard, and a memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Her third book reveals a sharpened eye for social detail and a Laurie Colwin-esque ear for dialogue. The novel’s pockets of sentimentality are offset by streaks of viciousness, accurately reflecting how we tend to remember our pasts: happy times bathed in a distorting glow, miserable times diminished and disowned ... a love story about two friends, but it’s also something thornier — a narrative about the cycles of enchantment, disenchantment and re-enchantment that make up a life.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... a well-researched introduction to the rise and fall and dicey future of an American institution ... Lange is evocative when it comes to the affective elements of mall culture, but her book is occasionally weighed down with cluttering detail ... When a nonfiction book bends under the weight of data dumping, I tend to fault the editor rather than the writer. Spending years neck-deep in archives can cause a perspectival shift in which every detail becomes a darling. That’s the point at which a cleareyed editor should swoop in with advice about which ones to kill ... Still, this book is a useful survey, and Lange opens plenty of avenues for readers to wander down.
RaveNew York Times... even more piercing than its predecessor ... The cast includes a former athlete, a rich tech guy, a long-suffering admin, two students and the school principal. All are exquisitely drawn ... Few novelists are better than Perrotta at conveying the full spectrum of human delusion ... Perrotta veers off in an ingenious third direction. Life suddenly, and startlingly, comes to match the intensity of Tracy’s vision of it.
PositiveNew York TimesWith Avalon, it’s as though Zink glanced at the mundane little formula that recurs throughout her press clippings and filched it for a plot ... Near the end of the book, the possibility of a terrible plot twist arises — the kind that rests on a preposterous coincidence. Zink dangles the twist long enough to make a reader squirm and then — made you look! — darts in another direction. There’s no fudging the rules in Avalon, which is the effulgent and clever sort of novel that replicates the experience of learning a new game: You enter its world voluntarily and add your reading effort to Zink’s writing effort with the idea that the sum of these energies will create a zone of mirth and meaning. What fun.
PositiveThe New York Time Book ReviewIf Liarmouth had a plot, this would be the inciting incident. Instead, the novel unfurls as a tangled ribbon of manic events untouched by the logic of cause and effect ... You don’t go to the films of John Waters for a tidy three-act structure, and you don’t go to his essays for elements locking into place with the organizational splendor of a magic square. Naturally, there are qualities you shouldn’t seek in his fiction either. These include understated punctuation, expressions of interiority and sociohistorical breadth ... Like all novels, this one is bounded by the subjectivity of its creator. But Waters doesn’t even bother to throw his voice; every character thinks and speaks exactly like the author. This move only works, as it does here, in rare cases ... crotch punching, exploding televisions, geysers of blood, deviants, wackos and reprobates ... Waters writes toward the funny bone and the gag reflex. He is not at the mercy of political correctness or good taste or spelling conventions. Like any true weirdo, he seems to consider himself normal. When you read a book like this, you’re wandering into a maze of anarchy that is fully legible only to its creator ... For real strangeness in novels, you usually have to voyage to lands that still tolerate the obdurate, the sleazy, the resentful, the offline and any other attributes presently considered unmarketable. Liarmouth is a good novel. It is a better gateway drug.
RaveThe New York TimesIf Margo Jefferson had gone into another profession — cabinetmaking, let’s say — she’d be the type to draw and redraw plans for a cabinet, build and tinker with the cabinet, stand back to look at the cabinet from every angle, probe the purpose of woodworking...disassemble her own product and start from scratch with alternative tools, creating an object that no longer resembled a cabinet but performed all the functions of one in startling ways ... This is the spirit in which her second memoir, Constructing a Nervous System, proceeds. Her experiment is instantly effective ... Her new book begins by cross-examining what...\'me\' consists of, posing the question of how to author a memoir when you chafe against the concept of authority. Two solutions come to mind. One, go mad. Two, redraw the boundaries of the genre ... This is a book for deep submergence, not quick flipping. This is appointment reading ... It takes a strong sensibility to make all of this jump-cutting not only coherent but hypnotic. Jefferson’s sensibility is one of exquisitely personal engagement with art ... Jefferson writes about craving \'license\' as a young woman, dispensation to play \'with styles and personae deemed beyond my range.\' She has...grabbed hold of that permission slip and torn it to shreds.
Karen Joy Fowler
PanThe New York TimesIf it sounds tedious to witness an author grapple with tension for 470 pages, that would be an accurate forecast of the reading experience. It’s impossible to summarize the plot of Booth. There’s far too much of it ... There is nothing wrong with chronicling what people do and how they feel about it, of course. This is the terrain of novels. The problem is how Fowler goes about it, which is in prose that is alternately sleepy and mawkish ... More distracting than the emotional banalities are the verbal clichés ... All of this would be bad writing from a high school student. Coming from an author of Fowler’s achievements — she was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize and received a PEN/Faulkner Award the same year — it feels more like malpractice ... Transitions are often information dumps ... Amid all this are tepid daubs of period detail: fluttering lace curtains, torn crinolines, crackling fires. These complaints would be nit-picking if they were exceptional rather than representative ... ohn Wilkes Booth is too lightly sketched to register as monstrous. And the ones who would love him — entombed as they are in trite conventions of thought and feeling — barely register at all.
Elena Ferrante, tr. Ann Goldstein
RaveThe New York TimesIn this and in other works, Ferrante reminds us what a gift anonymity can be to the reader. How refreshing to access words without fighting through the obscuring fog of a \'brand\' ... For those who wish to burrow gopher-like into the author’s mind, Ferrante has prepared a tunnel ... As much as In the Margins, is a philosophical monograph on the nature of writing, it is also a practical manual. Ferrante furnishes tips. She doesn’t present them as such — there’s no prescription, only an outline of what she’s learned and how it’s helped her (and by implication, how it might help anyone else).
RaveThe New York TimesHow could so much consciousness be packed into such a small object? ... It’s like one of those remote places populated by landrace flora and fauna that exist nowhere else on earth ... In a book about death, it’s not surprising that Davis is fixated on metamorphoses and thresholds. She trains her focus on \'ghost-moments\': the instant a person steps off the edge of a cliff before she hits the ground, or the split second between opening a door and entering a room ... Traditionally a memoirist’s task is to gather the flukes of her life and marshal them into something resembling a story. But Davis has a different project in mind. She has written a memoir that mimics the atemporal quality of the episodes that give meaning to life ... an entrancing song.
RaveThe New York TimesMesmerizing and delicate ... The novel takes the familiar form of a quest. Along the journey there is an accident, a self-sacrifice, disasters, death. There are natural wonders and metaphysical conundrum ... When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East is a wild departure from Barry’s previous novel, the fizzy and maniacal We Ride Upon Sticks ... The new novel centers on faith, history, language and yearning ... [Barry] has taken a giant leap forward as a novelist ... This one is a dazzling achievement. Form and subject matter combine in the book to alter a person’s very reading metabolism: The rhythms are more like prayer than prose, and the puzzlelike plot yields revelations in unassuming sentences that a skimming eye could easily miss ...The novel brims with formal peculiarities seemingly designed to cultivate alertness — and they do ...Chronological games abound. Phrases repeat throughout the text. Chuluun’s narration shimmers between several time frames. The entire novel is written without the use of the past tense ... All of this technical sorcery might make it sound as though Barry has written an exhausting book, but reading it is no more demanding than walking on soft grass ...The unlikeliness of this novel is exactly its magic.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWhat a trip it would be if a medical doctor issued conclusions with the juice and style that Kipnis brings to her essays about intimacy, disgust and contamination (which might be three synonyms). People would probably go in for checkups more often ... \'I’m a critic: I want to see the world clearly,\' Kipnis writes, adding: \'Maybe that overstates it — I just want to have interesting things to say about the world.\' And she does! For three of the book’s four essays, scooting around Kipnis’s mind feels like eating the world’s finest trail mix: no dud raisins to shift aside, only M&Ms and the fancier nuts. All the missing raisins can, it turns out, be found in the fourth essay, which is a tour through the social-mediated romantic life of one of Kipnis’s former students, Zelda. The essay is tedious, or maybe Zelda is tedious. Or perhaps reading about anyone’s social-mediated romantic life is tedious. It’s all commotion and no action ... How is it possible that the same Kipnis who pitched a Diet Coke across the room at her boyfriend would find anything compelling about the minutiae of her former student’s digital life? ... But, small complaint. Otherwise the book is perfectly equidistant between riff and investigation ... Do all of Kipnis’s points land? No, not with me, but that’s fine. I’d rather swallow a cyanide capsule than subsist on books that are 100 percent congruent with my convictions and experiences. Absorbing high-quality arguments by people with whom you disagree is one of the best ways I can think of to develop any kind of intelligence. Or to have fun.
PositiveThe New York TimesFamily-friendly adjectives do not always describe the yanking of certain heart strings in this lovely but occasionally overworked novel ... When Stuart errs, it’s on the side of excess. Many passages might have profited from being left as subtext. In these, it is as though Stuart has allowed the CliffsNotes version of Young Mungo to barge directly into the novel...This happens with increasing frequency, and it presents a riddle: When an author repeatedly insists on telling what he has already shown, is it because he doesn’t trust the reader’s attentiveness or because he questions his own effectiveness? Is it condescension or self-doubt? ... Stuart mixes the self-aware floridity and emotional Technicolor of a Douglas Sirk melodrama with the ambient violence of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. As Mungo undergoes one atrocity after the next — beatings, sexual assault, abuse and exploitation of every form — the specificity of each episode risks blurring into an aesthetic of generalized wretchedness ... There is crazy greatness in Young Mungo, along with corny lapses and moments with the expository flatness of a TV voice-over. Still, faulting a novel of this register for intemperance feels like faulting an opera for being \'too loud.\' The volume is part of the point. Sometimes you wince. Often you exult.
RaveThe New York TimesEating to Extinction is a celebration in the form of eclectic case studies ... Most of all, Saladino wishes to showcase the treasures we risk losing ... Saladino proves that one path to a reader’s sustained attention is through her stomach. Dwelling on local and individual stories is also a way to counterbalance the ghoulish pessimism that can overtake a person when she confronts more than 350 pages’ worth of evidence about our unfolding ecological crisis. The book is explicitly and passionately pedagogical, but it opts for the carrot over the stick. Look at all these earthly marvels! Saladino cries ... What Saladino finds in his adventures are people with soul-deep relationships to their food. This is not the decadence or the preciousness we might associate with a word like \'foodie,\' but a form of reverence. And yet his book is also a form of dark tourism, with doom hovering over each edible miracle. That Saladino is able to simultaneously channel the euphoria of sipping pear cider that smells of \'damp autumnal forest\' or tasting an inky qizha cake in the West Bank while underscoring the precariousness of these foods makes for a book that is both disturbing and enchanting.
Julia May Jonas
MixedThe New York TimesAmong contemporary novelists, Lionel Shriver is the queen of these sour apple antiheroines. Her characters tend to be resentful, intelligent, picky, prickly and disdainful of weakness. They are also irresistible in a way that the narrator of Vladimir isn’t, perhaps because Jonas can’t quite persuade the reader of her professor’s reckless id ... Jonas is an acidic observer of the body’s torments, and in dramatizing the perils of appetite she channels a story as potent (and ancient) as that of Adam and Eve. But what begins as an ode to transgression (yes, please!) takes a last-minute turn into an oddly conservative morality tale. The two transgressors of Vladimir find no artistic rewards or psychological freedom in their line-crossing. Instead, they wind up humiliated and maimed, while the afflicted parties remain safely ensconced in their institutions, apparently triumphant in victimhood.
PositiveThe New York Times... incredibly entertaining ... If Lipstein had written a less cunning book, he might have contrasted Caleb with a character who represented artistic purity, whatever that is. But everyone here sits somewhere on the grifter spectrum, including the real people (Avi, doomed woman, repressed married couple) upon whom Caleb’s characters are based.
RaveNew York Times Book ReviewThe \'wrongfully accused person\' plot is terrifying because it dramatizes two extremely common scenarios: being misunderstood and being ignored ... The School for Good Mothers, is a crafty and spellbinding twist on this genre ... Chan’s novel is too original to come off as a purée of influences. She renders Frida’s cornered-animal consciousness in clipped and twitchy prose so effective that I had to pause every few pages to unclench my fists ... Chan’s ideas are livid, but her prose is cool in temperature, and the effect is of an extended-release drug that doesn’t peak until long after you’ve swallowed it. One test of speculative fiction is whether or not it gives you nightmares, and when mine came — I knew they would — it was a full week after I’d finished this time bomb of a book.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIf Gorman’s performance [at the inauguration] was widely perceived as existing in one mode—an exuberant call to action and, per the assignment, a meditation on unity—its effect on the page is more subtle, and strewn throughout with subversive detonations ... The poet and professor Stephanie Burt has written that \'there is no one purpose to all poetry; there are only poems, lots of them, memorable and ridiculous and calm and volatile and heartbreaking and fascinating poems.\' Gorman packs all of the above into one volume. There are focused and pithy poems. There are poems arranged in playfully heretical formats...a poem in the shape of a face mask, a poem in the form of a text exchange. There is reverence and effervescence; gravity and impishness, strong poems and weak poems ... The weak poems suffer from a reliance on dusty imagery ... An idiosyncrasy of the book is Gorman’s fondness for didactic digressions ... When these work, it feels as though Gorman is picking shiny apples of knowledge and presenting the best specimens in a basket for the reader’s enjoyment. When they don’t work...they feel like excruciating intrusions ... I don’t get the sense that \'digestibility\' is high on the poet’s list of writerly priorities, and I found the variation in Call Us What We Carry to be mostly stimulating rather than discombobulating—an act of both courage and mischief. Why not experiment, mess around a little ... Yeats said we produce rhetoric out of the quarrel with others and poetry out of the quarrel with ourselves. Gorman makes the case—often convincingly
—that poetry may come from both.
MixedThe New York Times... lacks the momentum and merciless intelligence of Cusk’s trilogy. (And the style, too. Cusk would never use the words \'sparsely,\' \'sparse\' and \'sparsity\' within the first 10 pages of a book ... The student is less a character than an apparatus of observation; she is Emerson’s transparent eyeball, only trained on a single human subject rather than the entirety of the world. The question then becomes: Is Agnes worthy of sustained contemplation? And is the narrator a worthy observer? White on white is an ambitious palette, but it can be a very unforgiving one.
PositiveThe New York TimesLasley is a gifted interlocutor, teasing out startling confessions (one of her 103 interviewees confesses to a murder) and insights about the cliques, fights and hierarchies of a dangerous vocation. The book’s hybrid of ethnography, journalism and disclosure might have been disastrous in the hands of someone without Lasley’s candor and style. Instead, Sea State accomplishes what many memoirs do not: It organizes a messy life with a clear vision.
RaveThe New York Times... whatever the topic, Davis is always superb company: erudite, adventurous, surprising ... Trying to learn a language from scratch by reading a book is like trying to write a complicated cake recipe by sitting and staring at the finished cake for several hundred hours. Is it the most efficient form of pedagogy? No, but Davis extracts endless thrills from the painstaking process. Her essays do a beautiful job of transmitting that satisfaction to the reader, although I was occasionally tempted to exercise my skimming muscles in places where she dove deep into the weeds. Skimming, however, would be the wrong move in a book that contains an incredible amount of life-enhancing morsels ... Davis’s essays are packed with these windows of opportunity to think more deeply — or at all — about many subjects ... I enjoyed the book’s plenitude so much that I wasn’t distracted by its squat physical shape, which is adorable to hold but designed in such a way that the book tries to flip itself shut as you read. No amount of violent spine-cracking would break the object’s resistance, and around Page 300 I turned a corner and became charmed by its antagonistic construction. I will read you and you will like it, I warned my copy of Essays Two. And lo, I liked it, too.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\'Buying Myself Back\'...is the strongest of the 11 collected here, which are serious, personal, repetitive and myopic ... ambiguity is present in these essays, often frustratingly so. Part of the problem is that Ratajkowski’s conception of herself is at odds with the reality she describes, which is a sincere but exasperating kind of celebrity dysmorphia ...There are moments of courageous self-disclosure in My Body, and passages that made me laugh ... The essay about \'Blurred Lines\' is the one that most clearly captures the perplexing nature of Ratajkowski’s position. She’s thoughtful and skeptical, and has been treated wretchedly over the course of her career; she grapples intently with her sense of victimization at the hands of those who would use her body to sell their products. It seems strange, then, that her empowerment should arrive in the form of doing exactly that, albeit on her own terms and with her own products ... That, it seems to me, is the unsolvable moral question at the heart of this book.
RaveThe New York TimesChekhov’s stories \'have an atmosphere as distinct as an odor,\' as the translator Avrahm Yarmolinsky put it, and the same is true of the work of Gary Shteyngart, a writer comparably superb at demonstrating absurdity and generating pathos. In Shteyngart’s case I would characterize the signature odor as tangy, briny and instantly appetizing. His books should come with a free bag of salt and vinegar potato chips ... Our Country Friends, the author’s fifth novel, is his finest ... brilliant about so much: the humiliations of parenting and of being parented; the sadism of chronic illness; the glory of friendship. It is also the first novel I’ve read that grapples with \'cancel culture\' in a way that didn’t make me want to chop my head off, light it on fire and shoot it into space ... Like Chekhov, whose ghost floats pleasantly through these pages, Shteyngart is a master of verbs ... To read this novel is to tally a high school yearbook’s worth of superlatives for Shteyngart: funniest, noisiest, sweetest, most entertaining. To those I will add a few superlatives that were not celebrated at my own high school: most melancholic, most quizzical, most skilled at vibrating the deepest strings of the anthropoid heart ... a perfect novel for these times and all times, the single textual artifact from the pandemic era I would place in a time capsule as a representation of all that is good and true and beautiful about literature. I hope the extraterrestrials who exhume it will agree.
RaveThe New York Times... one of those fictional characters so three-dimensionally rendered that it’s easy for a reader to slip into their expensive shoes and wander through a world more realistic than reality ... Solomon has a way of taking class lines that are often invisible and turning them into one of those laser museum security systems that you see in heist movies: neon, treacherous, uncrossable ... Liselle’s call to Selena happens in the first few pages of the book, just before dinner begins, which is to say that we meet our protagonist at the precise moment her Potemkin life becomes intolerable. What exactly the gesture triggers is revealed over the course of a novel so concise it reminded me of one of those wrinkle-free travel dresses that magically expand from a folded cube into a wearable garment. Solomon’s novel is a feat of engineering. It’s also a reverie, a riff on Mrs. Dalloway and a love story. In Liselle, Solomon has invented a character who comes to the mind’s eye in HD, with anxieties, jokes, memories, furies and survival instincts all present in prose as clear as water.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... a delectably numbed-out tale of three couples in a wealthy Connecticut suburb who face the possible destruction of their marriages, bodies, minds and the earth ... Ball is a pleasure to read. Her sentences are brisk twists of the knife; every satirical dart is a bull’s-eye. She makes a meal out of her space-cadet suburbanites, with their expensive German cars and organic apple juice, but allows their concerns to be widely applicable ... But there’s something off about the proportions of the novel. After all of Ball’s careful setting-up...the book seems to end in the middle of the second act, with sinister Agnes fading into the background and the school’s creepiness coming to no particular climax ... To be left wanting much, much more at the end of 300 pages might hint at a structural problem, but it is also a compliment.
PositiveThe New York Times... a bewitching novel that begins with a crime that would seem to defy \'relatability\' but becomes a practical metaphor for whatever moral felonies lurk unresolved in your guilty heart ... an incredibly bookish book. The layers of bookishness are dizzying: from the micro (one employee’s name is Pen) to the macro (the central mystery: Was Flora killed by a book?). This is a novel obsessed with the operations of running an independent bookstore: dealing with publishers, playing the Tetris game that is shelf space, packaging mail orders ... strange, enchanting and funny: a work about motherhood, doom, regret and the magic — dark, benevolent and every shade in between — of words on paper.
MixedVultureThe structure that worked beautifully for Franzen before feels herky-jerky in Crossroads, with each shift in perspective stalling the book’s momentum. The real problem is Russ, who is a chalk outline where a character should be. His suffering is shallow, and his grievances are petty ... He is boring even on topics that wouldn’t seem to abide boringness, like adulterous desire ... It is demonstrably possible for a novelist to write about dreary characters without producing dreary text, but too many of the Hildebrandt family are boring in exactly the same way: stubborn, narrow, flummoxed, risk averse ... With the exception of Marion and Perry—the designated lunatics—it is an impalpable family. Those sections are revelatory, combustible, and funny, and when I rounded onto them I could hardly stop myself from fist-pumping and yelping, \'Franzen’s back, baby!\' ... Look, even a so-so Jonathan Franzen novel is better than most novels. There are breathtaking sentences in this one! Several dozen of them! But I would argue that this ratio of breathtaking to inert sentences is not favorable, not in a novel of 592 pages ... Crossroads comes across as not only muddy and unstylish but determinedly and self-righteously so—like showing up at a party wearing a baggy brown turtleneck and getting annoyed when people don’t compliment your outfit.
RaveVulture... a glowing object that somehow replicates and beautifies the experience of being on the internet (one of her ongoing topics) while also functioning as a carefully plotted story ... What follows is profound … it’s enjoyable … it’s profoundly enjoyable ... Lockwood reminds me a lot of Nabokov — less in style than in attitude, one of extraordinary receptivity to the gifts, sorrows, and bloopers of existence. What Lockwood lacks in Nabokov’s fastidiousness she makes up for in butt jokes.
RaveVultureThis is a page-turner about a tough woman and her con-artist lout of a partner, and I will eat my laptop if it doesn’t get optioned for TV or film the minute it hits bookshelves. It is also woven through with ideas about feminism, parenting, narcissism, and self-sufficiency — a book that is easy to read without being remotely lightweight. It is published by Two Dollar Radio, a small press out of Columbus, Ohio, which I think of as the Barry Bonds of small presses: They hit an astonishing number of home runs.
PositiveVultureThis is a page-turner about a tough woman and her con-artist lout of a partner, and I will eat my laptop if it doesn’t get optioned for TV or film the minute it hits bookshelves ... a book that is easy to read without being remotely lightweight. It is published by Two Dollar Radio, a small press out of Columbus, Ohio, which I think of as the Barry Bonds of small presses: They hit an astonishing number of home runs.
PositiveVultureThis is a novel that feels like hitchhiking: The route is unpredictable but fated and exciting, with an air of treachery. If you relate to the idea of desperate people doing desperate things for reasons only partly clear to themselves, you will find it thrilling.
PositiveVultureI read it, in a perverse spirit, entirely outside, on a sunny patch of grass, without a single person within seeing or hearing distance ... In order to enjoy one of these books, you need to trust the author’s ability to responsibly synthesize specialized knowledge that lies outside of her, and your, expertise. You need to know in your soul that the author is not the type of person to cite Wikipedia as a source or become enveloped in a plagiarism scandal one instant after you finish reading her book. I am glad to report that Anthes passes the trustworthy test. Her sources are respectable and diligently noted. My margins were covered with scribbled WTFs not because she was drawing deranged conclusions from misinterpreted studies but because the book contains piles of cool facts that are actually, from what I can tell, facts ... The Great Inddors.
RaveVultureEach of the ten installments provoked a response reminiscent of eating a Warhead: giggling, grimacing, contracting different parts of my body. These are stories that focus on small acts of interpersonal sorcery, unkindness, and petty revenge in mostly sun-soaked (or, in some cases, fog-bound) California settings. Cline has a Philip Roth–like ability to write compelling passages about specific lines of work ... I believe this is a technically perfect book.
Kate Reed Petty
PositiveVulture... delectable ... The actual facts of the event remain mysterious until Alice pieces them together, detective-style, as an adult; the reader pieces things together alongside her until, with a flourish, all is revealed, and it is time to go back and start the book over to puzzle out how the author did it. (With great skill and intelligence, it turns out.) Your enjoyment of any book in this realm will hinge on your willingness to be cleverly duped; personally, I love a sense of earned bamboozlement.
PositiveVulture... a brief but scenic route through the author’s brain ... Some of the six pieces collected here are less essay than episode. Smith will pick up an idea, check it out, put it down, pick up another ... Smith writes both like Zadie Smith and an extraterrestrial imitating Zadie Smith. She’s an omniscient narrator of her own experiences, most of which are intensely outward-facing; she’s an inveterate people-watcher ... in every piece—a moment when Smith revises herself or catches herself in a mistake; when the pinball of her thinking hits a bumper and rockets off in a new direction ... consistency is for machines, and this collection—cooked up quickly, with a few lumps left in the batter—makes a joyful case for its opposite.
Patrik Svensson, Trans. by Agnes Broomé
PositiveVultureI was drawn to his book the way a child is drawn to an unusual foul smell, and it was as much a boon to my mental life as a blow to my social one. For weeks after reading I found myself cornering people at parties to obliterate them with a machine-gun spray of eel facts ... There are parts of the book where Svensson seems maybe a little too enamored of his subject ... Still, it is a charming and itch-scratching contribution to the eel canon — less an analysis of eels than a meditation on their glories. If you don’t think of yourself as someone who might enjoy meditating on eel glory, well, I didn’t either, and here I am transcribing my encounter for publication.
RaveVultureReading [Romance in Marseille], I got the sweaty, panicked sensation of wanting to \'do something\' with the information I had (\'This book is incredible\') before anyone else did. This is how I imagine it feels to be a jewel thief who finds a key to the museum, except what I’m empowered to \'do\' with this hot tip instead of stealing a fortune is composing a review ... custom-designed, it would seem, for the modern obliterated attention span! But as with any novel, the themes are only bits of thread unless woven into a dazzling tapestry of a character, which is what we have in Lafala ... there is the best description I’ve ever read of human legs, as well as the best description of waking up and feeling like shit, the best description of erotic satisfaction, and — to dip into extravagant specificity for a moment — the best description of a Corsican pimp fretting that his girlfriend is mentally distancing herself from him ... a novel out of time.
Leila Slimani Trans. by Sam Taylor
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"Although the misery is universal, this story is uniquely, and often amusingly, French ... The book would be a lot less fun if Adèle were vaping and knocking back Munchkins like a red-blooded American adulteress ... If the central idea of the book is a fascinating one, the prose is not always impeccable. Dialogue can be flat. Clichés are abundant ... Still, I liked this earlier novel much more than [Slimani\'s other novel] The Perfect Nanny, which doesn’t have an everyday iconoclast like Adèle...\
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"The Canadian writer and actor Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall is a fine person to write a book about hangovers, not only because he’s a tenacious researcher but also because he’s willing to get thoroughly torn up on a consistent basis in colorful circumstances ... Reading his chronicle, Hungover: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure, has an effect not unlike recovering from food poisoning or slipping into a warm house on a frigid night. You turn the pages thinking, \'Thank God I don’t feel like that right now.\' Or maybe, \'Thank God I’m not this guy\' ... Bishop-Stall’s archival rooting-around is more interesting than his memoir through-line. Although he’s a lovable narrator, he’s also a pretty normal one, and his activities — planning a bachelor party, eating cheese, cat-sitting for his parents — don’t always rise to the level of book material. But that’s O.K. You expect a book about alcohol to ramble a little, and his commitment to the subject more than compensates.\
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"To judge by its plot summary, Early Work is about the age-old drama of ethics getting steamrollered by desire. But it’s more than a tale of adultery ... Like a long line of fictional characters before him, Peter dignifies his misdeeds by casting them as potential literary scenarios. A petty deception can be construed as a personal plot twist; a catastrophic drunken evening might make for good material one day. He’s Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland, if she’d vaped a lot and dropped out of a Ph.D. program...And like Catherine Morland’s creator, Martin too balances Peter’s (considerable) annoying qualities with sensitivity, yearning and comic blunders. He doesn’t condemn his character, but he doesn’t justify the guy, either ... It’s not a book that will inspire hot takes or incendiary tweets; the author is unfashionably male and the concerns unfashionably universal. It’s an accomplished and delightful book, but there’s no hashtag for that.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewOne woman wrote to her [Ann Landers] seeking advice about her 2-year-old daughter, whom she described as \'the homeliest child I had ever seen.\' ... \'How sad that you attach so much importance to good looks,\' Landers clapped back. \'Get some counseling, Mother. You’ve got a geranium in your cranium.\' This is the sort of wicked tidbit served up by Weisberg, who has wisely opted to present chapter-length essays on key figures of the genre rather than attempt a comprehensive history (although I don’t doubt that her research was exhaustive). Her final chapter focuses on Mike King ... He tells Weisberg that his goal is to \'try to leave people with the impression that they’re not stupid, even if they are.\'
MixedThe Boston GlobeZone One is a zombie novel set over the course of three days in a dystopian Manhattan ... At the center of the mess is Mark Spitz, an oddly named individual of 'unrivaled mediocrity'... Spitz’s state of fuzzy passivity might be attributable to the after-effects of such a memory if Whitehead didn’t assure us, to the contrary, that his character has always been an unexceptional, passionless type of person –– a guy 'constitutionally unaccustomed to enthusiasm' ... It’s a strangely passive character around which to organize a story, and it is with Spitz that the book’s trouble originates ... His sentences are uncommonly perfect, his similes startling and delightful... Its strengths (the sentences) and weaknesses (the underseasoned Spitz) are equally conspicuous ... But good writing needs good storytelling, and good genre fiction needs a sharp plot. Without these things, it just feels like people-watching.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewCatherine Lacey’s second novel has the effortless sparkle and speed of something written by an author with a dozen novels behind her instead of just one. It is funny and eerie and idea-dense — a flavor combination that turns out to be addictive ... Kurt, as you may have guessed, is a certain kind of male idiot: too frivolous to be despicable, too self-aware to be blameless. It takes a skilled writer to summon such an individual in detail without dehumanizing him. It also takes a skilled writer to make Mary, saddled with the curse of being young and sick, as compelling as she is ... This is a breathtaking leap to witness, and a promising trajectory to follow. On the basis of The Answers, I’d read anything Catherine Lacey tried her hand at.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...the diary offers some bawdy giggles here and there ... Mentally, Jones is a teenager. Or maybe a tween. This has always been the case; her diaries come packed with capital letters for emphasis and italics for the same — gah! — reason ... Any other specimen of humanity making the same blunders would be too depressing to contemplate or to froth up into a light comic novel or to adapt into a movie with sassy music and penis jokes in the trailer. The newest of the Bridget Jones chronicles is, like all of Helen Fielding’s novels, well paced and well crafted, as symmetrical and solidly constructed as an Oreo, after all.