PositiveThe Star Tribune...a sophisticated, melancholy novel about an American family that some would call dysfunctional, others awkwardly recognizable and sympathetic ... Everyone in this novel hungers for love and loyalty, but no one truly achieves it. And yet after myriad struggles and revelations, those with the most attentive, loving hearts find peace ... Annie is foremost among them. Her passage from the pure grief that stems from true love, to the awful anger that comes from the knowledge of betrayal, to the peace that comes from self-understanding and forgiving a betrayal, are the trajectory of this novel ... It’s an excruciating read, and one that can feel cold and remote in the era that has unfolded after it was written. Americans are focused on COVID-19 and racial turmoil now, and a privileged white family’s struggles can feel distant ... And yet, such private sorrows occur no matter what else is going on. A salute to Sue Miller for diving into the domestic dramas that play out in many an American family.
RaveThe Star TribuneIn this fraught, bewildering American era, Heather Lende’s latest memoir is a blessed balm ... Lende is a graceful and endearing writer, recapitulating the kind of wily, folksy wit and wisdom we associate with, say, Mark Twain, so much more powerful than the predictable \'gotcha\' snark of our social media age ... Most of all, Lende’s account resonates for its respect for every Haines resident who cares enough to show up at assembly meetings or her house to advocate, campaign or complain ... What a blessing Lende’s view of democracy, which she calls \'glorious chaos,\' is in this dark era. \'So much depends on people of good will, and they are everywhere,\' she writes. She reminds us about the dreams we share, especially now, as we cry for, and struggle to save, our beloved country.
RaveThe Star TribuneCaldwell is a charming and affable writer, proud yet self-deprecating, thoughtful and witty. Her story, while often painful, is never didactic, preachy or judgmental. The truths of her life are still being revealed to her, even as she is about to enter her 70s ... Biographies of and memoirs by lifelong single women who have taken a nonconventional path through life are relatively rare, and Caldwell does a terrific job of reminding us just how interesting and rewarding such a life can be ... Besides, there is something especially endearing about a memoir that follows a woman from her glamorous, gritty youth as a hellion to a happy, aging woman who dotes on her beloved dogs and revels in life’s smaller pleasures. Hey! That’s how it is, many readers will say ... It’s possible to imagine another memoir from Caldwell as she passes through her 70s and 80s. God willing, she will write to us again.
Joyce Carol Oates
RaveThe Star Tribune... timely, monumental ... masterful novel, yet another piercing examination of American culture by the writer this reviewer considers our country\'s greatest living novelist ... Whitey and Jessalyn\'s five adult children are brilliantly drawn characters, whose passions, politics, struggles and secrets fit well into the factions we Americans fall into ... Over hundreds of pages, their relationships play out in raw, authentic detail. Their encounters are revelatory, not just in the realm of family trickiness, but in the larger context of American culture, which these days is most painfully represented by people who lack the ability to step back and consider the other and his or her circumstances ... brilliant. How blessed we are to have [Oats] as a novelist in our chaotic, confusing times ... Three inches thick or no, Night deserves the top spot on your quarantine nightstand. Here\'s a fervent salute to Oates, our finest American novelist, for this one.
Isabel Allende, Trans. by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
RaveThe Star Tribune... sweeping, splendid ... This is [Allende\'s] best book in years, one she has poured all of her prodigious passion and talent into, perhaps because it tells a story so close to her heart ... Allende eloquently schools us in those terrible times, taking us deep into the history and heart of the country she grew up in. Here there is no magical realism, the hallmark of her first and most famous novel, The House of the Spirits This is bald, bloody realism ... Yet the novel is also powerfully romantic ... Allende’s occasional tendency to sentimentalize is entirely absent from this story. Absent, too is any romanticizing of war — she chronicles Republican as well as Nationalist atrocities — and love — betrayals and mistakes are rife even with good people ... Nor is there political proselytizing. But the story’s focus on the plight and resilience of refugees is not just historical, but a matter that endures, worldwide, to this day.
RaveThe Star Tribune... [a] gritty, brilliant first novel ... Wyoming reads more like a memoir than a work of fiction, entirely absent of pretense, sentiment and fakery. It’s rich in shocking moments, but somehow we can always look back and say that we should have seen that coming ... Like all of the best stories, this one consists of a journey, one set in the America of poor, rural white people who work hard, read billboards and the Bible, and fiercely create their own American dramas and narratives ... It’s stunningly good.
RaveThe Star TribuneDisturbing images pop up with spooky regularity in Late Migrations ... And yet all told, Late Migrations is a lovely book, made up of short essays that alternate unexpected observations about nature with brief but telling stories ... this is a relatable and resonant book across geographies and traditions ... The juxtaposition of family histories with observations from the natural world seems designed to remind us how biological we humans are, and how much our days and fates are shaped by forces beyond our control. It’s an effective construct, and the sparse simplicity with which Renkl records her observations and emotions belies the profound truths she is presenting ... Late Migrations is a book that will be treasured most by middle-age readers who are losing, or have lost, beloved parents; who are looking back across their own lives ... Renkl captures it well and lifts her examination of loss to a higher and somehow buoying plane by showing that it is no more or less than what happens every day in our backyards, gardens, pastures and forests. But it is our uniquely human gift to love so hard that we are doomed to grief when loss occurs.
Joyce Carol Oates
RaveThe Star TribuneRarely has Joyce Carol Oates created a protagonist as compelling as Violet Rue Kerrigan, the young woman who painfully comes of age in My Life as a Rat ... [a] dark, taut novel ... every few books, [Oates] pens a near-masterpiece, a story that captures some of the darkness in American life. My Life as a Rat is one of those gems, with Violet the vehicle for several explorations, including the ways vulnerable girls and young women can fall prey to domineering men and how loyalty to family can lead to betrayal of the self.
Joyce Carol Oates
RaveThe Toronto StarRarely has Joyce Carol Oates created a protagonist as compelling as Violet Rue Kerrigan, the young woman who painfully comes of age in My Life as a Rat. And that’s saying something, because Oates, one of America’s greatest living writers, has created many unforgettable characters in her scores of novels, novellas and short stories ... [a] dark, taut novel ... Oates has been much scolded for writing too much, too fast, too carelessly, but she ignores the swats and does her thing. Some of her works deserve that judgment. Yet every few books, she pens a near-masterpiece, a story that captures some of the darkness in American life. My Life as a Rat is one of those gems ... this is a gripping coming-of-age story, at turns horrifying, heartbreaking, poignant and buoying. The writing is tighter and finer than in many of Oates’ books. Now in her late 70s, she is at the height of her powers, and America has never needed her piercing observations more than it does now.
RaveThe Star TribuneMolly Dektar’s creepy, brilliant debut novel, The Ash Family, has not a whiff of the supernatural about it. Yet it is a top-notch horror story, made even more unsettling by the fact that nothing about what it unravels is particularly far-fetched ... The plot may feel predictable to anyone who has read about real-life communes and cults gone rogue. Yet Dektar’s story remains gripping because it’s never clear how deeply Harmony has been drawn into this dangerous, obsessive world ... Beyond its harrowing story, The Ash Family explores some profound questions.
PanThe Star Tribune\"The problem is, Gay’s essays aren’t particularly delightful. For every one that’s full of grace, such as one exploring the comfortable, unspoken trust that strangers riding together in a train feel after an extended time, there’s a goofy, indulgent one, such as a three-pager on how Gay collects his own urine to use as fertilizer, and how this one time his girlfriend’s daughter grabbed a bottle of it thinking it was a soft drink. Not delightful. In addition, the essays are packed with allusions that will send even well-read readers to Google, an exercise that gets in the way of the reader’s delight. The writing is often careless, full of long, winding sentences that appear to have been dashed off. Perhaps such spontaneity is the point, but it makes for a bit of a struggle on our part. Gay has a passion for social justice and a fine and curious eye, but his pen wanders too much into things that feel banal rather than delightful. His idea will inspire, but the execution falls short.\
RaveStar TribuneLife at its most priceless—not its dramatic, headline-making moments, but the quiet but potent joys of daily life, such as cooking new dishes in the family kitchen, doting on sweet nieces and nephews, and caring for an ailing parent—is the subject of Minnesota writer Karen Babine’s beautiful All the Wild Hungers ... Anyone who has experienced a family member’s struggle with cancer will be stabbed by recognition throughout this book ... There are some profound passages in this memoir ... Praise, sympathy and thanks to Babine, who has given us this ode, lament and meditation.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"... deeply moving and beautifully paced ... Nothing is simple, easy or predictable in Wes’ story, yet it is highly believable and inspiring, and a thoughtful study of the complexities of family and the nature of true belonging. Winter Loon is a page-turner, beautifully rendered, and a most impressive debut.\
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"This mesmerizing book by London neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan is a true gift to readers who may have brain injuries or disorders, and well beyond that population, to anyone interested in the brain and how its wounding shapes behavior ... The doctor comes across as compassionate and humble; she describes misdiagnoses and failures, as well as breakthroughs and near-cures. Her patients emerge as complex and strong people whose resilience she celebrates.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneThankfully, both of these exceedingly depressing narratives, which play out largely in endless passionate dialogues — wow, can these characters talk — are redeemed by sophisticated storytelling, compelling characters and sharp humor that slides in whenever the reader is tempted to toss the book ... Kingsolver is a writer who can help us understand and navigate the chaos of these times.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Barker turns the myth on its head, showing how the tale of love and courage that is one of the foundations of Western civilization is an inglorious, corpse-strewn story soaked in hubris and blood, one largely built on physical and sexual violence against women and children ... Silence is a brilliant, jarring tale, and one with many a disturbing echo for our own times.\
RaveThe Star TribuneMany a reader has reveled in Peter Mayle’s musings on the expat life in southern France since A Year in Provence arrived in 1989. It’s only fitting that he give us one more taste in My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now ... Mayle set a new course for travel writing with his self-deprecating account of an English couple’s adventures fixing up a home in a culture that does not mark time like Big Ben. Other installments followed as he and his wife, Jennie, learned French, made friends and became part of the Provençale community ... This flawless novel, written in 2013 and newly published in paperback, is an epic tragedy graced with tendrils of hope. Tragic, too, is the reality that its gifted author, Canadian Richard Wagamese, is no longer with us, having passed into the mystery in 2017.
Fatima Farheen Mirza
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"This novel, the first by 27-year-old California writer Fatima Farheen Mirza, is a stunner, worthy of a place among the finest books ever written about an American family ... A Place for Us is a remarkable, beautiful and timely story, well deserving of the rave reviews it’s getting from every corner.\
RaveThe Star Tribune\"A Spy in Canaan, by Commercial Appeal investigative reporter... Marc Perrusquia, is a meticulously documented, finely written account of Withers’ life and times and of how his duplicity came to light. Withers’ story is fascinating and troubling, that of a man who regularly displayed courage and treachery ... This remarkable book more than succeeds in [Perrusquia\'s] quest.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune...thankfully for us, it’s a well-told story about people, not issues ... The book is at its strongest when Alam explores the primal intensity of being a new parent, bio or adoptive ... It’s good to be able to say that the children in this book fare better than the adults, a bright thread.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"...a wise and beautiful ode to the imagination ... Delightful anecdotes abound ... But as with any memoir, the main character is Hampl herself. As always, she is on a journey to understand herself, and in doing so, to help us learn how to discover what is most precious and enduring in our own lives. It is an honor to encounter her anew, and to have her gently remind us that sometimes it’s wise to put down our to-do lists and to give ourselves over to musing out the window, to remembering that \'the imagination is the crucible of freedom.\' ”
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneTamirat's debut novel has problems. It continually flies off into tiny tangents that are left hanging like fraying silk. It's often hard to tell who's speaking in the snappy dialogues that make up most of the book. And the plot is so confusing that even at book's end, when a dramatic chase has you completely hooked, it's hard to say what is happening and why. And yet it's a captivating story, and we come to care deeply for the unnamed narrator ... The novel is both a coming-of-age story and a lament for an immigrant community that is not quite at home in old country or new. While this book would have benefited from a careful rewrite or two, it is nonetheless a worthwhile and spooky read.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"... wonderful ... Though her journey is clearly a metaphor for the hazards of feeling overmuch, especially falling in love, in this fraught life, it also easily stands on its own as a lovely, funny, melancholy modern love story.\
Terese Marie Mailhot
PositiveThe Star TribuneSomehow, she has found the words—most unusual ones—to tell her story, and because she uses words in such strange ways, the result is spooky and powerful. Although many critics have described this book with stuttering superlatives, readers will differ on whether it’s poetic or incoherent, brilliant self-examination or wordy narcissism. Whatever the conclusion, it’s a roller coaster of a read, and perhaps one especially valuable for those who have struggled with mental illness and/or obsessive love.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWe are catapulted into a scene in which blood darkens the dust and splatters the walls after a horrific mass murder in rural North Dakota. With one gruesome, arresting paragraph, Erdrich has us hooked … The Plague of Doves is a representational fictional slice of American history, that grand garbled story in which good and evil, guilt and innocence, love and hate have become tangled up in events and genealogies. Beautifully written and frankly far more arresting than Erdrich's past two novels, it succeeds as a quintessential American story more than it does as a whodunit, page-turner though it is.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...picks up Isabel’s story where it left off in Mrs. Osmond, an ambitious sequel to Portrait that expertly channels James’ distinctive ornate voice, from its maddening page-long sentences of psychological analysis to its nuanced flashes of wit and irony ...as in James, the labor is worth the reward, for Mrs. Osmond is the timeless, almost archetypal tale of a woman learning from her misfortunes and putting that hard-won wisdom to the test to overcome, or at least endure, them ... Without breaking character, and with the same distinctive ways of speaking they had in the original novel, they come together to create another story entirely ...a brilliant and beguiling novel on its own, and a reminder to us that not only does great literature endure, it engenders.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribunePowerful and poignant, North Carolina author Wiley Cash’s third and best novel tells the story of Ella May, an impoverished, imperfect and once again pregnant young woman who stumbles into the role of union activist at a textile mill...this is the very best kind of historical novel — one whose events are largely nonfiction, and whose characters, invented though they may be, probably closely resemble the souls who did walk the Earth during that time ...a fine and subtle writer, who tells an American story painful in the way the most authentic American stories are — replete with personal, political, sexual, racial and class strife, yet redeemed by gritty individual and community faith in a better, fairer world.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneLabor Day is about the power of love and sacrifice, and about how what appears to be the right thing can be the wrong thing, and vice versa … The reader becomes fond of all three characters, especially Frank, who is endlessly kind. But he's also hard to picture. In fact, the whole story is hard to swallow. Another problem: Henry's voice comes across not as that of a boy, but as that of a middle-aged woman ... much like Joyce Maynard. Still, this is a sweet, romantic story, and if you're in a wistful mood, it will sit well with you.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs long as America has novelists such as Jesmyn Ward, it will not lose its soul ... Sing, Unburied, Sing is nothing short of magnificent. Combining stark circumstances with magical realism, it illuminates America’s love-hate tug between the races in a way that we seem incapable of doing anywhere else but in occasional blessed works of art. But first, it tells a great story ... The book’s title could be read two ways — as an ode to the haunting music of the undead, whose histories shape our own, or as an exhortation to those still living to stand tall and proud against every form of bondage ... This novel is her best yet. Her voice is calm, wise, powerful. Politics and outrage are wholly absent from Sing, and yet it beautifully illuminates the issues that wrack our nation through the story of one American family that we finally recognize as — us.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneDellarobia's discovery launches one heck of a good story full of colorful yet subtle characters. The town's chief pastor, a blessedly likable fellow named Bobby Ogle, declares the insects' visit a divine miracle. An enigmatic entomologist, Ovid Byron, arrives from distant parts to pitch a trailer laboratory in Dellarobia and Cub's back yard, explaining that the monarchs once migrated to Mexico, but have been confused by dire weather there and could be near extinction if the Appalachian winter lingers. Others, including Dellarobia's in-laws, see dollar signs … So captivating is this grand, suspenseful plot and the many subplots rising and falling beneath it that it takes some time before we realize what this story is really about – climate change. Kingsolver's social conscience has fueled all of her novels, but in this one, the issue plays second fiddle to the story, and frankly, that makes for a better book.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] brutal, brilliant debut ... Tallent is an amazing writer. His prose is expansive and ornate, wild and bold. Much of it is spent describing the beautiful, dense, dangerous landscape and seascape that both imperil and shelter Turtle. Nature is as powerful a force as it is in a Jack London novel — mighty, beautiful and indifferent to human fortunes. Reading this book is like watching an electrical storm, both beautiful and dangerous. Works of fiction about child abuse, such as this book, Emma Donoghue’s Room, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and several works by Joyce Carol Oates, can be excruciatingly hard on a reader, even when they are admirable as literature. A story about that subject had better have something more to offer than hypnotic horror. My Absolute Darling is worth it, with fragile tendrils of beauty and hope tenaciously emerging here and there in the gothic web the story weaves. There’s a faint sense that Turtle will survive, despite profound damage. Her story is mesmerizing, though occasionally unbearable. May the aptly named Tallent tell us many more.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneBelle Boggs grew up in Virginia's Tidewater region, in a rural area near the Mattaponi River inhabited by hardscrabble whites, blacks and American Indians. Her respect for that land and its people, as well as a profound understanding of what's unique and what's universal about them, shine through in Mattaponi Queen, her debut collection of linked short stories... The quality and power of this young writer's imagination and writing are such that even if you've never been to that area, never plan to go, don't know, don't even care, where it is, you can't help but be snared good by these stories and characters ... That's Boggs' gift, for infusing mundane moments with magic. It's what the finest fiction does for us, helps us see what we might otherwise not. Belle Boggs' arrival is a gift to those who read looking for just such insight.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn this sprawling story, Kingsolver does what she does best – craft characters whose fates are shaped by culture and era – better than she's done before … Kingsolver does an admirable job of turning Rivera, Kahlo and Trotsky into fictional characters you can believe in, thus bypassing the downfall of many historical novels … Kingsolver shows how the McCarthy era was a toxic time in history without saying as much, simply by showing how those who embraced the hysteria, from the press to longtime neighbors, ruin the life of one man by twisting his words and misinterpreting his dreams. The parallels to modern America, where untruths, nonsense and trivia often serve as our culture's bread and butter, are painfully obvious.
Stephanie Powell Watts
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWatts’ novel, although far from perfect, would stand on its own even without that [Gatsby] inspiration, but knowing what she’s doing lends extra depth to some of her story’s more startling plot twists. It’s a brilliant, timely idea — demonstrating that a quintessentially American classic is just as effective with a largely black cast ... The premise and plot are so clever that one forgives the novel’s main flaw — the sort of loosey-goosey writing one often sees in works by young writers. Watts’ characters’ dialogue is quite well done — so much so that we blanch with irritation at the paragraph or two of psychological explanation that seems to follow almost every conversation ... [Watts] has done something marvelous here, demonstrating that the truths illuminated in a classic American novel are just as powerful for black Americans.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIt's a bizarre plot that becomes a beautiful, sad, engaging story in the hands of American author Sarah Domet, one that gracefully jumps from the girls' present lives to their pasts to their futures, not necessarily in that order. This, her very first novel, belongs in the ranks of the best books of 2016.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneKeneally creates an intricate, intense world driven by power plays, culture clashes, secrets and deceptions. Napoleon, whom Keneally manages to make both appealing and repulsive, plays people like chess pieces, and the Balcombes' devotion to him is ultimately their ruination ... Betsy's passage from child to woman, which occurs during a shocker of a scene, is jaw-dropping and extremely affecting. But it's hard to wade through the labyrinth of endless, seemingly pointless mini-scenes and navigate the scores of characters to follow the story's main thread. One grows bored even as one admires Keneally's mastery of his subject and sentences. This is a book you get lost in, but not in the hoped-for way.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[The Doll-Master's] six stories are especially bone-chilling because they contain no element of the supernatural. All could have happened in your city or town ... At the heart of each story is a predator-prey relationship, and what makes them so terrifying is that most of us can easily picture ourselves as the prey, at least at some time during our lives. If you're feeling vulnerable, this is not the book for you. Or, perhaps it is — a warning not to trust or give too much when you're not sure of The Other's motives.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] nuanced, witty, wise, eccentric story ... In some ways, this book is the story of Arild as much as it is of Braverman. He’s the unlikeliest of heroes, a puttering, low-key, mild-mannered, married man old enough to be Braverman’s father. He offers her shelter, safety, humor and kindness, becoming a platonic father figure, someone she can completely trust when she most needs to trust someone ... Braverman is a lyrical, understated writer, but her story’s pacing is often confusing, as she moves back and forth in time, and some of her anecdotes veer off into nowhere, with no point. Still, this unusual memoir will resonate with anyone who has ever chased a dream through a thicket of difficulty.
MixedMinneapolis Star TribuneYet, she says, there is beauty and meaning to be found in [loneliness]. On an artistic level, that’s a fetching argument. But on a psychological one, it is not. The lonely people in this book, including Laing, are damaged and struggling. Thus does her courageous attempt to celebrate loneliness fall short. But there is bravery in helping us recognize and ease it, in ourselves and others.
PanMinneapolis Star TribuneWere this the work of a lesser talent than Allende, now 73, it would be a charming romance. But it’s hard to give up the belief that she is capable of more complex, subtle stories of the heart, which she undeniably knows very well.