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.
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.
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.
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 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.