RaveNew York Times Book ReviewBeguiling ... Its epistolary structure lending a confessional tone ... A nervy, episodic read, yet its pivots are sobering in their scale ... Khalid is such a gifted commentator that his methods bear close examination ... Brother Alive is neither a press bulletin nor a position paper. Khalid’s sentences abound with florid, poetic metaphors while maintaining the clipped, declarative tempo of Scripture.
MixedThe New York Time Book ReviewHeller’s conservationist streak is evident in the way he writes the novel’s villains, a gang of vulgar capitalists plundering nature with the aid of assault rifles and tricked-out pickups. In the book’s finale, the violators are met with an Old Testament wrath, a revenge fantasy bloody enough to make John Rambo blush ... Flat dialogue and implausible plot elements doom The Guide as a piece of literature, but it’s the perspective that defangs it as a thriller. The pseudo-omniscient narrator is clued into the lodge’s secrets long before Jack and Alison, leaving the couple to stumble through obvious twists and telegraphing climactic reveals. For such a placid suspense novel, The Guide lacks the interior monologue that a more limited point-of-view would bestow. Jack is, by turns, an Ivy League golden boy, blue-collar simpleton, shellshocked survivor and bloodthirsty vigilante, inviolable save for his inexplicable mood swings; without insight into his doubts and fears, there’s never any reason to believe he won’t save the day. Where Jack is a cipher, the vantage elevates Alison to virtual sainthood, identifiable only by her generosity and impeccable morals ... If this makes The Guide resemble a dopey summer blockbuster, perhaps that’s by design. In its current, highly variegated model, the vacation thriller is more companionable than immersive, an embellishment for weekend getaways rather than a stand-alone exercise. To that end, Heller’s unorthodox pacing feels deliberate: You can crack open “The Guide” at cocktail hour, read a few pages of his florid topographical depictions, and forget all about the hostage plot at the book’s core. Still, there’s a sense he’s reaching for something weightier. The real villains in Heller’s fiction aren’t the double agents and gun-toting mercenaries, they’re the extractive industries and insatiable culture imperiling his beloved western vistas. He’d be wise to try a format less impervious to his own argument.
PositiveThe Washington Post... a throwback to the sprawling 1990s systems novel on both a conceptual level and a sentence-for-sentence basis ... With a narrative whipsawing among four neurotic protagonists, Paradise, Nevada charts a collision course through the gaming industry, grappling with Vegas’s objectifying entertainment complex and accelerating tech sphere ... While Diofebi’s exposition and extensive footnotes owe a debt to Wallace’s work, his closest analogue is Tom Wolfe, whose breathless reporting and visual detail prompted critics to wonder why he bothered writing fiction at all. In Diofebi’s case, the conceit is clear enough — if anything, his characters feel too much like mouthpieces for his arguments, and not enough like people. The protagonists are earnest rubes, the antagonists villainous caricatures, and as in Wolfe’s best-selling tomes, the unlikely subplots thread into a fiery, calamitous climax ... It’s reductive to criticize such an ambitious debut for its length, but there’s a great little poker novel buried within Paradise, Nevada — one which, admittedly, would have been a harder sell to the literary presses. The book’s drama unfolds at the card table — the rivers, the flops, the risks and consequences — in a way that jolts adrenaline regardless of your familiarity with the game ... Diofebi’s scuzzy ambiance is delicately crafted, his scenes deftly taxonomizing tiers of desperate gamblers and casino staff like species in a field guide ... Diofebi is oddly wary of all the poker talk, frequently reminding us that Texas Hold ‘Em was a short-lived fad among unshaven young men. He needn’t apologize — it’s clear that he’s fascinated by these decadent Obama-era subcultures, and the book’s consideration of pickup artists and fraternity brothers is more compelling than his writing about the labor movement and the border crisis. He also displays a thorough understanding of the Mormon Church and its history, although his efforts to draw throughlines to our uneasy present often feel labored. Diofebi is a keen observer of power structures, and any one of these themes might have warranted a full book’s examination. Paradise, Nevada brims with big ideas, even if they don’t always cohere into a single systemic critique.
Lynn Steger Strong
MixedThe Washington PostWant is, to the credit of author Lynn Steger Strong, a forerunner in the genre of anti-white-savior novels ... Readers seeking a syrupy redemption tale like Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers should look elsewhere, and also get a clue ... hastily grapples with a litany of contemporary social issues, briefly alighting upon gentrification, infantilizing workplace culture and the anonymity of urban life. Strong evokes digital relationships with keen precision, and there’s a well-conceived #MeToo subplot that nevertheless feels a bit shoehorned. The classroom scenes, while periodically hampered by hackneyed dialogue about dress codes and black women’s hair, derive incisive commentary from a self-conscious white gaze ... Strong’s flat affect is reminiscent of Halle Butler and Catherine Lacey. The prose begs for attention, then shies away in shame and humility ... While the abundance of literary allusions can seem like scaffolding for a skimpy plot, the narrator’s obsession with highfalutin European fiction underscores the drudgery she perceives in her day-to-day life ... Still, an anti-white-savior novel isn’t the same as an anti-racist one, just as acknowledgment of privilege isn’t synonymous with its rejection. Too often, Want feels like a study in allyship fatigue, the systemic inequities suffered by its black and brown characters ceding emotional territory to the domestic drama of their white counterparts. Strong writes convincingly of the desiccated American Dream, the hand-to-mouth existence of young adults in the recession’s shadow, but Want finds a white woman cruising the thoroughfares of black trauma before retreating to gentrified Brooklyn with a loan from her parents ... if nothing else, Want would have been far more resonant had it arrived a year ago. But as with any social novel, urgency is paramount
PanThe Washington PostFor a novel concerned with class politics, marital infidelity and office predations, The Last Book Party is completely illiterate regarding the dynamics of power and privilege ... [Eve] is a narrator blissfully exempt from conflict, neurosis and anxiety ... the politics of the Cape’s seasonal \'wash ashores\' and their year-round neighbors in The Last Book Party are gratingly insensitive. Eve laments her well-to-do family’s ordinariness, bemoaning their unpretentious taste and subdued cocktail parties ... Somewhere, Daisy Buchanan lifts a champagne flute in salutation ... Dukess’s novel is a postcard from another era, blind to itself and the world, but the fatal mistake is the assumption that it would be anything but irritating in this one.
PositiveThe Kenyon ReviewCheek’s scenery is luxuriant, and his cast chews it adeptly ... The troupe’s before-the-fall glory works in service of a seeping expositional intrigue—but aren’t these waning, languorous days of summer, dear reader, exactly what you came for? The Victorians are well-furnished, the dialogue well-paced, and we’re absolutely privileged with the company of our dazzling visitors ... Cheek lends a keen eye and deft touch to ensemble scenes. Players make graceful introductions and veer from suspects to confederates over the course of succinct conversation ... Fitzgerald looms as a hazy reference point above books like this, and Cheek performs faithful homage without stooping to insipid karaoke. Each of Cape May’s vividly sketched beau monde carries uncertain baggage, and as it’s a novel rather than a still life...Cheek doesn’t contort himself in exhibitions of hypermasculine poetry or heady philosophy, but flexes a whole battery of narrative stops. For all their smartly evoked mid-century refinery, the characters’ animal impulses are wholly unvarnished. In a subtle, even Fitzgeraldian tragic turn, Henry becomes a victim of his own ruin ... Cheek executes considerable characterization in passing. Cape May’s characters do not have interior lives; it’s summer, go play outside. The narration, a third-person limited loosely if noncommittally restricted to Henry’s perspective, stumbles in spots but proves strategic as his affair unfolds. He and Effie are an earnest if not entirely naive couple, their marriage a product of cultural and regional expectations. Via Cheek’s breezy descriptors they are rendered raw, likeable, and frustratingly human ... a fine novel of leisure which relies on touchstones for its resonance but invention for its luster, a sure-handed debut which doesn’t mire itself in asides or neuroses. Henry and Effie are beautiful and pure in the manner of all young lovers; in them Cheek captures a zeal for life and wariness of overindulgence. In youth’s cocktail hour gloaming, even betrayal is glamorous.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn conjuring an adolescent burnout, Anwyll might have taken cues from the slacker canon of westward-slouching beatniks and Kevin Smith antiheroes. Instead, his Stan Acker assumes the lineage of J.P. Donleavy’s Sebastian Dangerfield and John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly—although the comedy of Welfare is, by necessity, comparatively muted. A values-neutral indigent, Acker is a reflecting pool of human nature and dysfunctional institutions, casting their vagaries in grisly magnification. Where a more romantic ne’er-do-well might be afforded a comeuppance or redemption, Stan’s coming-of-age is precluded by the immediate needs of survival. Welfare evokes poverty as a trial of rote drudgeries ... Anwyll’s rhythmic prose is constructed of staccato, bullet-point sentences ... While the most self-pitying of Stan’s monologues approach melodramatic balladry, his penetrating observations of forlorn peers yield acute insights ... Welfare is a relentless Sinclairian censure, exposing a society so fundamentally broken that full-scale upheaval seems the only solution.
MixedThe OutlineCaptures the allure of mass Disruption in light of inflexible government locked into four- and eight-year cycles. A panoramic collection of civilian interviews, it\'s intended to resemble Studs Terkel, but the effect is much closer to Humans of New York ... While the interviews themselves are something of a mixed bag, McClelland’s portrayal of systemic iniquities upon individual lives makes for an affecting read ... McClelland’s passages are softly prescriptive ... McClelland’s subjects characterize Bay Area gentrification as a malicious attack, as if every twenty- and thirty-something in San Francisco is a billionaire Harvard grad who’s personally decided to displace native residents — rather than cash-poor arrivistes adapting to an American economy in which approximately three-and-a-half cities have any industry to speak of at all.
MixedFull StopSummer Cannibals’s sluggish first half is all foreboding ... Hobson empowers Margaret as a witchy femme fatale, but her supposed villainy at the expense of her daughters is hardly tantamount to David’s unconflicted savagery and egotism. Casting her manipulation as a counterweight to David’s depravity has the unfortunate effect of conflating a vengeful woman with a hysterical rapist ... Hobson is most impressive when her omniscient narrator executes naturalist depiction, tacitly suggesting that the domestic atrocities of Summer Cannibals are another function of brutal biologies ... Even with its ridiculous S&M politics, Summer Cannibals is governed by such a straight-faced sensibility that it’s a rather humorless affair ... With its timely satire of sex and manners, Summer Cannibals inverts the beach read by promising a lusty domestic romp which in fact houses something much darker. But its brutality and antipathetic characters result in foggy resolutions ... As broadstroke commentary on the nature of patriarchy, however, Hobson’s debut is by turns riveting and resonant.
MixedThe Washington Post\"In the 1984 song \'My Hometown,\' Bruce Springsteen evoked his own high school days: \'There was a lot of fights between the black and white; there was nothing you could do.\' Unfortunately, Zadoorian’s analysis of racial tension doesn’t go much deeper ... The book’s final act charts Danny’s struggles with his mother, a bigot, addict and manic-depressive who, in ’70s parlance, is diagnosed with simple melancholia. Like a wistful AM radio staple, their song doesn’t end with a clear-cut resolution, leaving Danny, as ever, to dowse his sorrows in the comfort of hi-fi headphones. It’s in these small moments — a lonely boy experiencing premature nostalgia — that Zadoorian shines, ensuring that even if Beautiful Music isn’t a smash hit, it’s a passable B-side.\
RaveFull StopWith a tapestry which brings to mind a nineteenth-century naturalist novel, The Comedown supplies a dozen hypotheses on how children become their eventual adult selves, isolating the inputs which produce divergence among even siblings and spouses ... While a few of The Comedown’s characters exhibit a saccharine quaintness ostensibly ill-suited for their desperation, the sprightly pacing means their deep backgrounds are executed in brief snapshots, and Frumkin manages to sympathize with them without needing to occupy them herself ... Frumkin’s race writing in The Comedown is perceptive and modulated. Both the Jewish and black families are recognizable yet atypical, and the intersection of white guilt with sexual fulfillment makes for some of the book’s most compelling, if delicate, passages ... The Comedown’s non-chronological narrative can make for rough going early on, but as Frumkin leaves no heartstring untugged, it makes the exposition suspenseful in itself. If it’s a trick, it’s a brilliant and thrilling one, with each pivot and retread diligently plotted ... The Comedown is a romp which never loses track of its compassion, messy in a charismatic, lifelike way, a giant, leaping wash of twentieth and twenty-first century Americana which never lapses into cliche. Frumkin’s characters linger long after the final page, such that finishing the book is a comedown of its own.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesA coming-of-age tale hinges on the precision of its characters, and Some Hell suffers from an overabundance of central casting ... Narrative shocks — an unplanned pregnancy, a closeted relative — are haphazardly deployed, often with neither precedent nor resolution ... If Some Hell sputters as a bildungsroman, it is more successful as a suicide novel for its refreshing lack of judgment ... The book's finest subplot concerns a predatory science teacher, and Colin's alternate terror of and willingness to please a male authority figure. These passages make for alert, timely commentary on the subtlety of abuse ... Nathan's characters — both the quick and the dead — experience hell, but the reader winds up somewhere closer to purgatory.
RaveThe Washington Post\"...a breathtaking collection ... As media pundits decry position-paper-styled op-eds and music critics offer letter-graded album reviews, Abdurraqib’s wide-ranging appraisals feel intensely vital. Abdurraqib’s famous subjects are treated as humans first, artists second and celebrities a distant third. As such, his portrayal of pop music reads true to lived experience, evoking a medium in which emotiveness overshadows mechanics ... Paragraphs open with piercing salvos, with sentences that move with hammering force and finish with finesse and flourish ... Rhythmic repetition makes for roaring passages that beg to be read aloud, but for all his poetic muscularity, Abdurraqib understands the value of linguistic economy.\
MixedThe Village VoiceWith so many layers of character origin, The Futures is, variously, a campus novel, a Wall Street caper, a bildungsroman, and the saga of a long, slow breakup. But the most interesting element is that, in attempting to take stock of the financial crisis, Pitoniak is among the first novelists to try to articulate the Bloomberg era's significance ... among chapters set in Manhattan, New Haven, and the couple's hometowns, a tangible sense of place is fleeting, with breathless jumps from thinly sketched apartment to coffee shop to boardroom. The predictable setups and environs make too universal what should be an only-in–New York landscape of high stakes, high culture, and larger-than-life characters ... Pitoniak's grating tactic of alternating first-person narrators on a chapter-by-chapter basis (Evan's percolate, while Julia's drag) results in extraneous reiterations of the same scenes, and The Futures suffers from perfunctory dialogue and a flashback-laden narrative that sags during long passages of self-reflection. By casting the protagonists' plights within a tale of circumstance, the recession's impact is frequently minimized ... Pitoniak ultimately manages to answer many of the bigger questions she poses, and her greatest triumph is a perceptive speculation on the thin, blurry line separating crooks from heroes on Wall Street.