PositiveBOMBAt its most effective, the work of Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin conjures the paranoid sensation of realizing, perhaps belatedly, that one is being watched by many unseen, hostile eyes. A visceral and whimsical eeriness, part Shirley Jackson and part Purity Ring lyrics, hovers over her surreal stories of swindled people slowly wising up ... A perfect fit for this moment of zoombombing, Little Eyes nevertheless avoids being a ripped-from-the-headlines sellout and instead offers an intelligent tale about the lives that new technologies mediate ... The surprisingly heartfelt relationships the keepers and dwellers form throughout the novel are its primary delight, made all the more enjoyable by the deadpan tone with which Schweblin writes them and her avoidance of upfront exposition of the kentukis’ technology. With each vignette, we learn more about it, its risks, and the cultural conversations it’s causing. It’s a clever structure that generates the tension that makes this book, like Schweblin’s other work, so binge-worthy: one must keep reading to figure out what, exactly, a kentuki can do, as much as one reads to find out what the dwellers and keepers will do with them ... However, the structure of the book also seems to me to be too leisurely for the twists in the plot to feel earned. The final devastations feel rushed, almost as if they were added late to give the book the bite that makes Schweblin’s previous work, especially her short stories, feel so fully realized. I confess I finished the book unsatisfied, having expected a heavier dose of Schweblin’s surrealist body horror and folkloric dread. Yet, something about my reaction to that lack feels entirely appropriate ... This book is a new phase of Schweblin’s writing, a self-conscious shift in her methods for exploring the small-scale systems of domination that occupy her extant work. However, In Little Eyes, she deemphasizes the surrealism that colored her previous writing so distinctly: gone are the grotesque bodies, the sinister borderlands, and the coy, capricious presence of magic. Instead, Little Eyes is dominated by a deadpan realism flavored with her signature eeriness. On balance, it is less a drastic break from her style than an experiment within it. Schweblin’s willingness to play and push is apparent here, indicative of her imagination and exciting unpredictability. She proves that she has much more to show than the sinister surrealism she is known for
Robert Menasse, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
PositiveThe BafflerMixing sincere (if at times sanctimonious) apologia for the EU with an acerbic critique of ambitious bureaucrats, the novel is at once an ensemble of European stereotypes, a satire of patriotic lobbyists, and a love letter to people who Menasse has earnestly called the \'enlightened\' civil servants of the EU. Those years of elbow-rubbing in Brussels were evidently well spent: The Capital is so effectively ironic that it could almost be a pseudonymous dispatch from an idealistic EU whistleblower. Yet, no matter how well engineered this novel may be, its moving parts never quite cooperate—which is an ideal metaphor for Menasse’s chosen subject ... [a] sprawling, grotesque and at times, gnomic, novel ... Menasse sketches a fictional solution to this real political situation so believably vapid and grandiose it surely lays dormant on some actual bureaucrat’s flash drive ... Ultimately, The Capital says little about whether the EU will endure, and even less about whether it should.
MixedLos Angeles Review of BooksBoggs is as inspired by our faith in reinvention as she is intrigued by the hubris that it permits, that tempts us by asking: Why not burn ourselves up if we can always be born again, or at least write a book about it? ... It’s a brilliant concept that skewers parts of the Writers Workshop Industrial Complex, certain strains of American Christianity, and the myth of meritocracy. But Boggs only partially executes it, largely because of the unwieldy structure of the book, which may have been more effective as a set of interconnected short stories. Several different characters’ interior worlds slide across these pages, competing for the reader’s affection and allegiance, introducing story lines that ultimately feel cheaply concluded and lessons that don’t justify the trauma that paid for them ... interesting premise peters out into puffs of clichés. By the final chapters, The Gulf feels perfunctory, reading like hastily fleshed-out scripts for a miniseries about atheists and Christians living together in a Sarasota motel. Given that much of the book is dialogue—clever and readily transferable to a screen—I wonder if this was Boggs’s intention, one that iterated into this erratic but generally enjoyable and often funny novel. While it didn’t leave me Born Again, it killed me with laughter more than once.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books\"... like the surprisingly profound ramblings of a lonely barfly, these stories are tumultuous journeys from despair to hope and back to despair, masterfully rendered by Ikonomou. He has a particular talent for internal dialogue, capturing the smugness and paranoia of a mind that’s trusted no one for so long that it no longer even trusts itself. Page-length sentences of staccato clauses reminiscent of Faulkner bombard the reader but don’t disorient, balanced as they are between exhaustion and mania. Parts of this book are descents into hell, but Ikonomou’s confident voice guides the way back out. Absent are any woodenness or awkwardness, testament to the quality of the translation by Karen Emmerich ... Like someone with a lot to say and no one to talk to, Ikonomou often overstays his welcome, digressing into outright sermonizing and saying too much.\
PositiveThe Millions\"Arriving almost exactly seven years after the first Occupy Wall Street protests, Boomer1 reimagines that movement as a decentralized, dark-web-conspired wave of \'generational domestic terrorism.\' In this case, it’s not the 1 percent against the 99 percent, but baby boomers against millennials, the latter camp having been been radicalized by the video missives of angry, unemployed, and masked YouTuber \'Isaac Abramson,\' who is actually not a millennial but identifies as one ... Torday’s book is eerily prescient of the America we’ve struggled to reckon with since Nov. 9, 2016, and all the more unsettling even in spite of its clever humor:...Only two years ago, social media was still vaguely and cheerfully \'democratizing\' instead of undermining democracy itself, and \'leaning in\' was what people were saying women had to do to be taken seriously. With or without the current situation, that former self-deceptive tech utopianism could have never lasted because nothing does, even for youth who’ve grown up with a sense of mastery over history. That’s the melancholy theme that runs through this book from beginning to end, which Torday focalizes through the sad character of Mark’s mother, Julia. Reflecting on her own childhood in suburban Philadelphia at the dawn of the postwar boom times, she recalls \'the beginning of a period, an era, that appeared then to have no limit.\'
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
RaveThe Millions\"But while Friday Black is unforgiving in its depictions of a racist country, a rigged economy, and the eerily recognizable dystopias that might replace them, it is equally unwavering in its moral optimism ... Adjei-Brenyah’s stories tell the truth ... Adjei-Brenyah is such a virtuoso at curating telling details; those powers are on display the most in these stories ... Friday Black is written with force, Ajdei-Brenyah’s language sharpened into tiny blades that cut deep and fast, down to the soft insides that, he urges us to remember, are still there.\
RaveThe Millions\"In these 11 stories, Florida is not necessarily the setting or the subject, nor the sordid punch line it’s often made out to be. Instead, Florida is the thing that Groff’s fly-wing delicate characters can’t escape ... most of Groff’s characters fail to get too far from who and where they no longer wish to be. They are (deliberately) too empathic, handicapped by their hypersensitivity to beauty and filth, and they tend either toward hedonism or hibernation but cannot find a place between ... Though the emphasis on embodied experience certainly charges the stories erotically, it does not make them prurient. Instead, they have the bewildered innocence and wide-eyed wisdom of a child who sees things exactly as they are—as bad as they look, or more beautiful than older eyes can be bothered to see.\
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksNatural Causes is not a Grand Unified Theory of How We Live Life Now; it is Ehrenreich’s reflection on how she has lived her own extraordinarily productive life. The best parts draw their force from her institutional knowledge, her experience of medicine and wellness from the 1950s to the present, and even her grudges. Her theories are so convincing and her prose so captivating because she herself saw the events that contoured wellness culture into its 21st-century shape. To decenter herself and her body from that narrative would have been to write an entirely different book.