RaveThe Boston GlobeIn its emotional heft and honesty, its ability to go fearlessly to the darkest places, its pellucid empathy and its spot-on rendering of the pandemic experience for both individuals and the country, it is perhaps the best of the four marvelous novels Strout has written featuring Lucy Barton ... Reuniting with familiar characters and stories is a pleasure Lucy by the Sea offers Strout stalwarts, but new readers will find the novel engrossing, too. Strout provides all the back-stories and histories we’ll need, refreshing the memories of dedicated fans, deftly bringing new readers up to speed ... We have the sense that Lucy is confiding in us, admitting to things she wouldn’t tell those closest to her, bringing her uncomfortable emotions, flaws, and less admirable actions to us with unsparing honesty ... The intimacy Strout creates between narrator and reader is both comforting and challenging as she takes us into the human heart by which Lucy lives — its tenderness, its joys, and fears — and gives us thoughts too deep for tears ... The murder of George Floyd, the 2020 presidential election, Jan. 6 — all of these cataclysmic events are discussed by the novel’s characters, and their effects resound through the story, always in subtle and surprising ways. Strout is never preachy or didactic ... The rare moments of solidarity and understanding she achieves with those very different from her are deeply moving ... No novelist working today has Strout’s extraordinary capacity for radical empathy, for seeing the essence of people beyond reductive categories, for uniting us without sentimentality. I didn’t just love Lucy by the Sea; I needed it. May droves of readers come to feel enlarged, comforted, and genuinely uplifted by Lucy’s story.
Joyce Carol Oates
MixedBoston Globe... violent and vile, timely and terrifying ... resonates powerfully with contemporary concerns ... There is much to admire about Babysitter. Its pages are lit up by Oates’s searing rage about patriarchy’s toxic stain, the church’s enabling of and eager participation in the sexual predation of children, racism’s pernicious taint. Its characters are simultaneously repulsive and strangely sympathetic — both Hannah and Mikey do terrible things and yet we understand how insecurity, alienation, and a history of abuse make them vulnerable. Some sections are almost unbearably creepy; Oates’s ability to create a sickening sense of horror is as keen as ever ... And yet, as a whole, Babysitter is less enthralling or frightening than it might have been. Oates tips her hand far too early and makes her heroine not just naïve and vulnerable but downright nuts, because YK’s psychopathy and her extreme peril in his company are evident almost from the outset. A story about a compelling yet unsettling lover, the depths of whose evil is revealed only bit by bit, would have been more satisfying to read and more psychologically plausible. But by having Hannah return to a man who has assaulted her gruesomely, twice, with whom she has virtually no emotional or romantic connection, whom she condemns for his \'brutal behavior: crude, coarse, punitive, sadistic …misogynistic,\' and whose henchman has also attacked her sexually, Oates strains credulity to its breaking point ... Moreover, overwrought repetition burdens the narrative. \'I get it!\' I kept writing in the margins as yet another rant about patriarchy or passage about Hannah’s ennui and desperate need for attention and love appeared. Oates clots her pages with aphorisms about female vulnerability and male aggression as Hannah’s self-hatred is driven into our heads with numbing redundancy ... The ideological blatancy produces some stylistic infelicities. Joyce’s characteristically heavy use of italics is taken to an almost parodic extreme here, as is her reliance on verb-less sentence constructions. Ordinary English subject-verb word order is marginalized, often in favor of lonely, attenuated prepositional phrases standing in for sentences. The combination of moralistic fervor and strained style gives the book a sense of high-pitched excitement but also eventually of monotony and rhetorical thinness ... Oates’s righteous anger, her ability to invest her story with mythological resonance (surely Leda and The Swan looms), and her talent at creating eerie scenes all make Babysitter a worthwhile read. Harnessing the screed and subtilizing the situations could have made it a great one.
RaveThe Boston Globe\"Despite her anxiety that her experience alone is not sufficiently dramatic or compelling, Jamison’s own story makes for riveting reading ... Desire and romantic love are major themes, explored with aching vulnerability and unsparing honesty ... Against the temptation to single herself out along a line of likewise exceptional singletons, she orchestrates a multivoiced, universal song of lack, shame, surrender, uncertain and unsentimental redemption ... It is a pleasure and feels like a social duty to report that Jamison’s book shines sunlight on these creepy, crepuscular enchantments. Wisdom floods the scene, and genius never flees. Quite on its own terms, The Recovering is a beautifully told example of the considered and self-aware becoming art.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeEgan deftly and movingly joins Manhattan Beach’s ostensibly very different characters with surprising parallelisms, arresting images, and an ethically capacious gaze...her characters attain a shared humanity across boundaries of race, gender, or moral code. The gangster Dexter Styles elicits as much empathic care as does the plucky, indomitable Anna ... Throughout the novel, Egan summons the sea in all its primordial allure and exploits all of water’s myriad associations and oppositions — depth and surface, buoyancy and gravity, the unconscious, cleansing, and rebirth — in a book that shimmers with poetry. At once a suspenseful novel of noir intrigue, a gorgeously wrought and richly allusive literary tapestry, and a transporting work of lyrical beauty and emotional heft, Manhattan Beach is a magnificent achievement.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe tangled necessity of such doubleness is one of Krauss’s core themes and the key to her characters’ quests: how we are at once shaped and confined by the forms we require for life, be they stories, relationships, or places. Krauss enters deeply into the ideas of form and formlessness, and sometimes these excursions dead-end into arid regions of metaphysical inquiry. But the austerity is largely met, or at least freshened, by a countervailing, vivifying impulse ... Structure is necessary for life, also for reformed life. One of the gifts that it provides is a plan for organizing ourselves, sometimes against the very objects we have become, so we can spring forward with opposed concentration, as Nicole and Epstein begin to spring, and Krauss does too.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...a fierce howl of pain and a dark hymn to Sherman Alexie’s immensely difficult, indomitable mother ... Like Lillian with her children, Alexie can exhaust us with his intensity, his inability to be pinned down, and his loquacious repetitiveness. But with his self-lacerating wit, his reckless candor, his gusto, he woos us back again and again. He swims in self-theatricality as his slippery medium; he is large; he contains multitudes. The Whitmanian appeal of his performance is wholly self-conscious — and largely winning ... Mystery, paradox, the currency of counterfeit secrets: The drama of not knowing is what we are left with in this searching, concealing, by turns hilarious and wrenching, vibrantly alive book.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen
RaveThe Boston GlobeMany of the stories hover between realism and surreal dreamscape. And Murakami’s voice — cool, poised, witty, characterized by a peculiar blend of whimsy and poignancy, wit and profundity — hasn’t lost its power to unsettle even as it amuses ... Even the married men exist in their own private bubbles of disquiet and despair. Deep isolation pervades each story ... The men of these stories are trying to have it both ways. It is not surprising therefore that they find themselves caught in the middle of nowhere. Murakami’s imagination is the luminous half-light of that common, contradictory country.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeVery tall, with an unusual face, a Turkish-American girl who grew up in New Jersey, attends Harvard, and aspires to be a writer, Selin is clearly a stand-in for Batuman. Moreover, parts of The Idiot replicate almost verbatim sections from essays in The Possessed ... Batuman nails the details of mid-1990s college life. Albert Einstein, REM, and Ansel Adams posters, Edward Gorey and Klimt prints abound. We have snoring roommates, fajita night in the cafeteria, meet-ups for frozen yogurt, CARE packages from parents, halogen lamps, black Jersey clothes from the Gap, fake IDs ... The Idiot is told in short, largely self-contained segments, a tactic that makes for sharp, well-defined scenes but sometimes undermines the novel’s flow, coherence, and elegance. It also peters out rather unsatisfactorily. But Selin is such good company that we easily forgive any formal lapses. At once a cutting satire of academia, a fresh take on the epistolary novel, a poignant bildungsroman, and compelling travel literature, The Idiot is also a touching and spirited portrait of the artist as a hugely appealing young woman.
RaveThe Boston Globe...startling and impressive ... collectively they reveal Moshfegh’s pervasive preoccupations: ugliness, depravity, wackos and weirdos, the sordid and the morbid, the perverse and the profane ... Despite her unsparing dissection of their paranoias, fetishes, and failings, Moshfegh doesn’t condescend to her characters; she is both gimlet-eyed and compassionate. These are 'sad. . . lonely and troubled' people, but many are improbably appealing; even the most twisted and tortured have recognizably human qualities ... The stories, quite frankly, are not just grotesque; they are gross. Reading them is an uncomfortable experience. The squeamish and the Pollyannaish will likely find life inside Moshfegh’s world harsh, painful, torturous. But if you can stomach the discomfort, there is both piercing wit and unexpected poignancy to be found in Moshfegh’s original and resonant collection.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"His history of American philosophy is lucid and compelling. He writes with refreshing clarity, humility, and a welcome absence of jargon. We learn a lot about the human beings behind the famous tomes ... Kaag is delightfully self-probing, radically honest about his own flaws, and insightful in linking his intellectual interests to his personal history ... strangely in a book designed to put people first, none of the other individuals — not Kaag’s late father, his mother, his first wife, the Hocking granddaughters, not even Hay — really comes alive as distinctive and memorable ... Overall, however, American Philosophy, still manages to be a lovely, intelligent, edifying, and admirable book.\
RaveThe Boston Globe[Critics, Monsters, Fanatics] is bristling with energy, pulsing with electricity, vibrantly alive ... both a testament to her inimitable brilliance and a clarion call for the indispensability of the critical enterprise ... Reading her, we watch a mind stroll about, hungry, fearless, supple, in unrelenting search of truth, beauty, meaning ... Throughout, Ozick emphasizes how once towering figures in the literary firmament have been reduced to minor deities or cast out of the heavens altogether; others hover on the brink of oblivion.
MixedThe Boston GlobeBut there aren’t a lot of perspective-changing insights here. O’Brien doesn’t really illuminate the nature of evil in a book that seems badly to want to. This is owing in part to Vlad and Fidelma’s being the least interesting characters in the novel ... These objections aside, The Little Red Chairs has much to recommend it: beautiful writing, immense ambition, a vivid cast of supporting characters, and a rigorous humanitarian ethos. But we want to have been better beguiled, more intricately and subtly seduced by the author’s imaginative power.?