RaveThe Guardian (UK)Whether she’s writing about Jeff Koons, prison abolition or a Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem, [Kushner\'s] interested in appearances, and in the deeper currents a surface detail might betray ... Her writing is magnetised by outlaw sensibility, hard lives lived at a slant, art made in conditions of ferment and unrest, though she rarely serves a platter that isn’t style-mag ready ... She makes a pretty convincing case for a political dimension to Jeff Koons’s vacuities and mirrored surfaces, engages repeatedly with the Italian avant garde and writes best of all about an artist friend whose death undoes a spell of nihilism ... It’s not just that Kushner is looking back on the distant city of youth; more that she’s the sole survivor of a wild crowd done down by prison, drugs, untimely death ... What she remembers is a whole world, but does the act of immortalising it in language also drain it of its power,\'neon, in pink, red, and warm white, bleeding into the fog\'? She’s mining a rich seam of specificity, her writing charged by the dangers she ran up against. And then there’s the frank pleasure of her sentences, often shorn of definite articles or odd words, so they rev and bucket along ... That New Journalism style, live hard and keep your eyes open, has long since given way to the millennial cult of the personal essay, with its performance of pain, its earnest display of wounds received and lessons learned. But Kushner brings it all flooding back. Even if I’m sceptical of its dazzle, I’m glad to taste something this sharp, this smart.
PositiveThe Women\'s Review of BooksMany of the pieces collected were commissioned as introductions to books or written as columns in the Guardian, frieze, and New Statesman, among others, and are addressed to readers assumed not to know much about figures as significant as Agnes Martin, David Hockney, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Hilary Mantel. The writing sometimes feels dutiful, and Laing seems a bit bored by her role as usher. We’re not sure what these figures mean to her. More often, fortunately, the writing captures the breathless sweep of Laing’s novelist voice, observing the way we keep living while the air burns and senile white men plot to bury us ... Four pieces leap out of this book especially, stabbing the reader with ideas and passion ... Throughout this book, Laing doesn’t ask readers to think about something other than their collective sense of powerlessness that does not produce a concerted front of resistance. She reminds us of it without shaming or virtue signaling. And she reminds us as well there is no such thing as distraction, maintaining that every moment in a person’s head has the weight of every other moment in that head. She values our precious and wasted moments, until there are no more moments, because we have died or the world has died. We think about the world dying all the time, Laing knows, and all the time we look at the sky, and plant iris bulbs, and stage stupid arguments with the people closest to us because peace is impossible and because friction reignites the tedium of existence. The gorgeous tedium of every day we are not detained at a border or made host to a virus flying free as a bird.
John Jeremiah Sullivan
RaveThe New StatesmanWhat makes John Jeremiah Sullivan – the mellifluously named heir-apparent of American magazine journalism – unusual is that he’s not playing at de haut en bas tourism ... His kinship with people more commonly regarded with suspicion by the bicoastal intelligentsia makes for disarming reading ... Sullivan’s bonhomie, his likeable liking, forms the surface trapping of a grander project: a desire to contextualise modern American culture and social practices within the long parade of history ... On the whole...this is electric fare: a song of praise to the body of America, from someone who dwells right there.
RaveThe New StatesmanThe Gentrification of the Mind is best understood as a polemic, a passionate, provocative and at times scattergun account of disappearance, forgetfulness and untimely death. To her mind, the undigested, unacknowledged trauma of Aids has brought about a kind of cultural gentrification, a return to conservatism and conformity evident in everything from the decline of small presses to the shift of focus in the gay rights movement towards marriage equality ... The memory of this lost moment of accountability drives Schulman’s final, stirring call for degentrification, her dream of a time in which people realise not only that it’s healthier to live in complex, dynamic, mixed communities than uniform ones but also that happiness that depends on privilege and oppression cannot by any civilised terms be described as happiness at all.
Julia Blackburn, Illus. Enrique Brinkmann
PositiveThe GuardianBlackburn conducts her investigations by way of a sort of stubborn pottering. It is research as beachcombing, patiently sifting, waiting to see what the tide has brought in. The story of Doggerland and its enigmatic inhabitants accumulates via dreamy, seemingly half-distracted anecdotes and encounters ... These encounters are interspersed by what Blackburn calls \'time songs\', 18 elliptical, quasi-poetic summaries of books and interviews, condensing dense compendia of information into something not so much like songs as lecture notes ... They share a slightly awkward quality, but what they do transmit is a sense of intense effort, like being with someone who is listening very hard ... Vanished but close, Doggerland serves as a ready metaphor for lost things, the extinct and the dead. Perhaps it’s simply a mark of Blackburn’s attention to fragility, but it’s noticeable that many of her Doggerland interlocutors are ill, limping after Lyme disease or crippled with spinal muscular atrophy.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...[an] extraordinary and exacting collection of essays ... It is to Jamison’s credit that she doesn’t choose the easy neutrality of the distanced observer, but rather voyages deeply into both extremes, maintaining almost always an admirable awareness about the perils of her approach ... This capacity for critical thinking, for a kind of cool skepticism that never gives way to the chilly blandishments of irony, is very rare ... I can’t say I much like the heavy-handed gender essentialism of her approach, or the moments of over-identification with her subjects, something her best essays rarely permit ... But it’s a danger in keeping with her larger point, which is that it’s worth risking an excess of feeling, rather than taking up the fashionable pose of world-weariness, which all too easily shades into detachment and then to cruelty ... Jamison is capable of the most extraordinary flourishes of image ... There is a glory to this kind of writing that derives as much from its ethical generosity, the palpable sense of stretch and reach, as it does from the lovely vividness of the language itself ... It’s hard to imagine a stronger, more thoughtful voice emerging this year.
PositiveThe GuardianIn many ways Kraus is Acker’s ideal biographer. But given her interest in making hidden structures visible it’s surprising that she doesn’t acknowledge her own relationship to her subject. Acker was the previous girlfriend of Kraus’s now ex-husband, Sylvère Lotringer, like Kraus an editor at the independent publisher Semiotext(e) and a frequent interlocutor here. Is it crass to point this out? It certainly complicates any objective perspective, and maybe it would have been better to state it plainly, especially since it’s logged in I Love Dick, the roman-à-clef that made Kraus famous. That said, Kraus reconstitutes Acker’s wanderings with real wit and beauty, understanding without pandering to the painfully high stakes of her identity games.
RaveThe GuardianThe ‘black heart of Bois Sauvage’ isn't all rotten...It's also a place of unearthly beauty, a wild wood planted with magnolias and live oaks. Esch and the boys run in packs, swimming in the black waters of the Pit, their feet permanently dusted with orange dirt. It's the kind of home that leaves its mark on your skin, and though they might fight, the siblings' bond is unbreakably tight … There's something of Faulkner to Ward's grand diction, which rolls between teenspeak and the larger, incantatory rhythms of myth.
RaveThe New StatesmanThough grounded in what are apparently not just real but devastatingly painful events, I Love Dick is not so much a roman-à-clef as a formidable novel of ideas: a novel that pretends not to be a novel, that keeps breaking apart or shifting into other forms, in part because it is built explicitly to grapple with the question of how inherited forms warp and limit women’s lives. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, Audre Lorde wrote, and in Kraus’s hands the classical form of the novel continually destroys itself, enacting structurally the same refusal of constriction that Chris begins to insist upon in her own life.
RaveThe GuardianAt first, Black Wave seems pleasantly familiar, a messy, lightly fictionalised beat memoir of hangovers survived and conquests made ... Somewhere along the freeway, Tea smashes this narrative into little mutant fragments that diverge and intertwine. A meta-Michelle commandeers a few chapters: an older writer at her computer, attempting to reshape her past into something universally resonant. This is a space for Tea to reflect on who gets to tell stories and how ... It’s this rawness that makes Black Wave so disarming, a rollicking hallucinatory fantasy that’s as sobering as cold air. It’s about power – who possesses it and who doesn’t, and how easy it is to abdicate the little you have. It’s sentimental and reckless and not quite like anything I’ve read before. An apocalypse novel that makes you feel hopeful about the world: could anything be more timely?
RaveThe Guardian...[a] sprawling, seething, sumptuous tale of the city’s haves and have-nots under the long shadow of Aids ... Tim Murphy eschews chronology, following the intersecting fortunes of these six people over the next four decades by way of kaleidoscopic scenes. The result is disorienting, jagged; appropriate in a novel so concerned with trauma and its aftereffects, with drugs and their sometimes virtuous, sometimes malign reshapings of reality ... Murphy is exceptionally skilled at writing about addiction, the intertwining of bliss and abjection ... What makes this novel remarkable, though, is the way it captures the full arc of Aids in New York ... here have been several whopping New York novels in the last couple of years, but none of them possesses Christodora’s generosity, its weathered and unflinching faith in what people can achieve.
RaveThe GuardianThe Argonauts is about small, miraculous domestic dramas, and the ardent acts of readjustment and care that they require, but it is also a reconsideration of what the institutions established around sexuality and reproduction mean if you come at them at a slant, if you disrupt them by the very fact of your being ... In the final pages, Nelson tells the story of Iggy’s birth, mixing it with Dodge’s own account of his mother’s death. Birth is well-travelled ground in literature these days, but I have never read anything as luminous and exacting as these wrung accounts of the passage in and out of life.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe intensity of these passages — the depth of research, the acute sensitivity for declarative moments — is deeply beguiling. 'The rich excitement of dusk,' Roiphe writes in an afterword on her research method, which involved long, rambling conversations with the surviving witnesses to her cast’s final months. She’s especially good at viewing a death through the lens of a life’s work...This is a beautiful book, absolutely, but perhaps not quite as fearless as its author might have hoped.