PositiveThe BafflerLike his cohorts, Douthat believes that his experience of misfortune makes him just like any one of us—who may contract Lyme and then be dismissed by doctors. In other words, we must forget that even Douthat’s suffering, sad as it is, has been monetized by a book deal ... If Douthat knows that every single person inhabiting a large city has a country house fantasy, he doesn’t let it show. The Douthats jump into the adventure with the entitlement—a Times review called it \'maybe a little self-satisfied\' feeling—of those who are used to having things work out for them. The need for narrative tension dictates that it doesn’t ... In ensuing chapters, the disease takes over his entire life (although fortunately for him, he is still able to write his column) ... One cannot but feel terrible for him; and that his wife Abby is able to handle the sudden subtraction of a husband’s help dealing with a newborn also deserves sympathy. Interspersed with these moving accounts of how Lyme disease affects Douthat are generally informative chapters about the Lyme debate ... The Deep Places says it is a memoir about Lyme disease, but perhaps it is really the story of attempting to realize a dream using one’s wealth and then failing miserably owing to life’s unexpected interventions. That is a story we all know, a journey we have all taken. Perhaps in undertaking it, Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist, can have empathy for the rest of us.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)For Srinivasan, the notion that people who are fat or transgender or simply don’t fit the white and blond mould are sexually undesirable is a matter for political contestation and moral analysis ... It is a compelling argument ... The book effectively highlights how sexual desire – who we are and are not attracted to – is political and affected by the prevalent injustices in society and relevant to their elimination ... Titillating chapter titles such as \'On Not Sleeping With Your Students\' seem unnecessarily performative. But perhaps that’s a reflection of where academic feminism is right now. In the end, Srinivasan accomplishes what she sets out to do: deliver a treatise both ambivalent and discomfiting, one which reveals the inadequacies in what we had imagined to be solutions.
RaveThe BafflerSo father, uncle, and cousin say nothing, nor do they go directly to the home of the boy who was reported to have been with the girls. Faleiro sums it up: \'They didn’t because it wasn’t just the girls’ honor that was at stake, it was the family’s too. And the family had to live in the village.\' It is an astute observation in a book that has a good many of them ... When community leaders no longer have sole access to information, they no longer have access to exclusive power. The Good Girls presents a stunning example of just how this confrontation between new technology and old systems of shame and honor takes place ... The mastery of Faleiro’s narrative is in the dexterity with which she presents a deeply complex story, refusing to turn to reductive and singular themes to make her point. The investigation that she presents to readers in The Good Girls is not just the story of an honor crime or a caste killing or a clash between traditional mores and modern technology; it is, instead, all of these things at once ... Literary nonfiction has long been a genre dominated by the white and Western, so Faleiro’s foray into it is particularly venerable. In The Good Girls, she accomplishes the pioneering feat of taking this genre to a new and different place, using its simultaneous capacities for facts and feelings to capture the moment of a community’s transformation.
RaveThe Boston Globe... scampers between memoir and fiction ... Akhtar is not only a brilliant author but one who seems the presumptive legatee for what could be called the Rushdian tradition. Being a Rushdian means no simplistic mimicry of magic realism, of which Rushdie is a master, but rather a searing (and often sneering) dissection of the recurrent themes of our age: family, migration, religion, and capitalism ... Rendered through Akhtar’s deft cinematic telling, the characters are memorable and almost familiar ... does not have the fantastical stylish flourishes of Rushdie’s fiction, but it has a flavor that is rather similar to Rushdie’s own memoir, Joseph Anton ... a blurring and entangling of the real and the fictive such that the boundaries between the two disappear ... treads deftly through decades of historical ground ... can also be construed as an elegy for an America that no longer exists, a post-9/11 America, when only Muslims (rather than Blacks, Hispanics, and everyone else) were the singular enemy and systemic racism was far from being acknowledged as a problem by presidential candidates. The pulsing beat of Ayad Akhtar’s incisive and masterful work underscores this, as does his own transformation so aptly chronicled in the book.
RaveThe BafflerIn lyrical and compelling prose, Arsenault reveals the dependencies that the mill created in bleak blue-collar Mexico and the nearby larger town of Rumford ... her story of a paper mill that sustained and also poisoned its people is one of the most remarkable that I have read ... Mill Town does not deliver a specific indictment. What Arsenault presents, with mesmerizing lyricism and endearing honesty, is the story of a dying town wedded to a paper mill that once anchored the local economy while also bringing pollution and cancer. Mill Town puts forth larger questions of the human relationship to the environment; of the violence done to the land that eventually translates into the devastation of the people that live on it ... Mill Town exposes how the truths of polluting mills, the harm they caused and the harm that they are still causing, are easily discoverable.
PanThe Baffler... a would-be-funny novel were it not so obviously constructed as a platform for Shriver’s ideological positions. All of Shriver’s gripes with the world, about wokeness and political correctness and affirmative action, are in there—tedious long bits relished by the writer but not the reader. In using her characters and circumstances as a launchpad for her invective, Shriver seems to have forgotten a basic rule of fiction writing: the author’s allegiance is to the reader rather than to the authorial self ... Behind the faux-bravado, the feckless provocateur, I would bet, is a very frightened woman, scared of losing her money, her entitlement, and her relevance, a Shriver becoming merely shriveled, unable to deliver the authenticity she claims to craves in others ... As many fans of the Shriver oeuvre like to reminisce, a New York Times review of The Mandibles called her the Cassandra of American Letters. A more apt, more relevant characterization of Lionel Shriver as she exists today would be the Karen of American Letters, a disgruntled literary scold who uses her privilege against others who are seen as threats. She brings the I would like to speak with the manager attitude to the publishing world. Her voice cries out for a return to the days when whiteness was great, its dominance unquestioned.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... eminently readable ... Here in all their gutsy glory are women whose voices have not received the prominence that is their due within the story of Islam ... an act of reclamation on several fronts. For Muslim women, it provides an empowering and exhilarating genealogy of strong forebears whom they can connect to their contemporary journeys of empowerment. For Western readers, it exposes the untruths that have characterized Muslim women as deferential beings in need of rescue ... provides the substance of a feminist narrative that has always existed within Islam. The question remains: Will Kamaly’s book will be relegated to the margins, shelved away under \'other\' feminisms, or will it be integrated into the larger history of feminism, now dominated by white and Western women?
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... superb ... Moaveni offers detailed depictions of the lives of Nour, Dua, Kadiza and her other subjects, and in doing so invalidates the stereotype of the Isis bride as a seductive, sinister figure bent on mass murder ... Dalliances with terror, like everything else, have different consequences for different women; the mastery of Guest House for Young Widows is to show us just how distinct and devastating each can be.
MixedThe BafflerA diplomat’s professional life and his bedroom pursuits aren’t normally considered all part of the same story. But they are for George Packer...who spends as much time focusing on the details of Holbrooke’s relationships with women as on his diplomatic escapades ... Packer details the shenanigans of the Holbrooke-Sawyer Manhattan power couple enterprise (starting in 1981, Holbrooke took a break from diplomacy to make money in consulting) with inflections of lascivious delight ... By the time Kati Marton, who would end up being Holbrooke’s last woman, arrives toward the end of the book, both the reader and Richard Holbrooke are a bit fatigued ... Holbrooke may have gotten away with a patriarchal, self-serving, and largely shortsighted view of the world before him, treating one and all like the gaslit wife. One cannot but rejoice that the century of such men is past, even if their bullish escapades have left the world losses that weigh heavy and deep on the shoulders of the present.
Andrew G McCabe
MixedThe BafflerWe see in [Mccabe\'s] book the difference between the act-at-any-moment, constantly-facing-lethal-danger hero that McCabe imagines himself to be and the reality of a politicized FBI marked by the very bureaucratic snafus (such as the \'improper\' release of information to the media) that actually led to his demise as acting director ... McCabe describes the agency’s counterterrorism division’s approach as one akin to a boy on a beach encountering a shiny pebble, then another, and yet another, while putting them all in his pocket. The FBI after 9/11 picked up one, then another, and then yet another suspect and put them all in detention. The metaphor, like all of McCabe’s clever and occasionally smarmy ripostes, hides a cruel reality. The pebbles in that case weren’t unfeeling stones but actual people, their shininess less tangible threat and more the fact of being Muslim or from South Asia or the Middle East. The lives of these \'pebbles,\' who bore the cost of the FBI not knowing what it did not know about terrorism, were devastated by the long near two decades of being targeted and harassed. That fact, of course, is left out of , as is any consideration of the architecture of the Islamophobia on which Trump erected his electoral victory.
MixedThe Baffler\"It is an endearing story, with its Oprah-endorsed... appeal underscoring the everyone-loves-her charisma of the most admired woman in America. There is lots more of the same in Becoming; it is laden with curated-for-cuteness interludes. Indeed, sometimes you can almost hear the collective gasps of an invisible Oprah audience rise up from the page ... There is nothing wrong about writing a book designed to please Oprah audiences ... The most striking moment of the book comes not in the baby-birthing and post-White House toast-making but on page 210, when Michelle confesses that in order to permit Barack \'the freedom to shape and pursue his dreams\' and to also be there for her girls, she \'had numbed myself somewhat to my ambition, stepping back in moments when I’d normally step forward\' ... The stories and quips of what Michelle Obama gains at the cost of her tamped down ambitions are interesting, but they do not answer the question that is left languishing on or around page 200: Who would she have become if she had not been so completely absorbed into a man’s plan?\
PositiveBarnes & Noble Review\"What emerges is a story as delicate as it is engrossing. In impressionistic yet precise language, Laing’s Kathy unspools herself ... It is in these interludes that feature the Internet that Laing’s powers of literary alchemy are most on display. In juxtaposing the almost-real Kathy Acker against an innovation not quite of her time, we are led to consider the question of who and what might be said to constitute an \'avant-garde\' today ... While the juxtaposition of a later technological innovation against an early innovator works well in Crudo, the selection of the current political moment as the setting for the novel’s action works less so ... But there is magic in Crudo, and it lies in the care with which its narrative gathers the fragile yet knotted skeins of our desires; of wanting love and fretting over lost freedoms, of desiring the making of art that transcends even as we descend into the banalities of our daily lives.\
RaveThe GuardianMen everywhere, it seems, were threatened by the rise and reign of women, their racism and misogyny tied together in knots. It is the disentanglement of some of these that Ruby Lal attempts in Empress, a luminous biography ... What Lal presents is the story of a woman from the imperial harem without the usual obsession with the harem as a realm of cheap erotic associations. It is a captivating account, its depth of detail recreating a world whose constraints of lineage would seem to preclude the advance of an unknown, self-made, widowed queen ... Lal’s book is an act of feminist historiography. Beyond its excavation of the achievements of a queen deliberately \'effaced from the record,\' it usefully portrays Nur Jahan as an imperfect character, though an exceptionally courageous one. In a world and time in which a woman’s power depended on the men she could manipulate, Nur Jahan deployed charm, wit and threat in the service of her own influence.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"Told poignantly and with a blunt honesty that seems a characteristic of Alinejad’s life and writing, here is a gripping tale that permits us to peek at the inner workings of the Iranian Revolution and consider the question of its health and longevity ... The Wind in My Hair exposes just how vexing it is to disentangle the veil from the context in which it is worn and thus to wage a transnational fight either for its permissibility or its elimination. Now in exile, Alinejad, a woman of exceptional courage, must face the tragedy of being territorially torn from a struggle that is uniquely Iranian and also crucially feminist. In Trump’s America, the agenda of My Stealthy Freedom confronts the further danger of being sucked into the maw of a massive American warmongering machine, eager to drop bombs, to eliminate veils and mean Muslim men. This is not Alinejad’s goal, and she tries mightily to articulate the difference, the possibility, of opposing both those who enforce the veil and those who wish to ban it.\
RaveThe Guardian\"In the pages of Directorate S, the story is delivered with a literary prowess that has been absent in previous western accounts of America’s longest running war. The dance of blame, with the US swaying at one moment towards Pakistan and the next towards Afghanistan, is a choreography familiar to CIA chiefs, US presidents and writers who have tackled the subject. Coll refuses to follow this tired tune, and the result is masterful ... In the 15-year story that Directorate S tells, Afghanistan has been built a bit and bombed a lot, the Taliban have been fought with and then courted, the Pakistanis embraced then abandoned. What the British tried to document in Curzon’s day the Americans refused to learn; there is indeed trouble on the Frontier again, and in Directorate S we have the definitive account of it.\
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewThe suspense...is tremendous, a vivid explication 'of how a situation can turn from benign to brutal in the blink of an eye, the space of a breath' ... the tensely pulled tendons of her fiction have prompted critics to focus on the way her novels mingle the thrilling nature of fear with the mystery of the unknown. The mastery is visible here, even when there is no mystery, just the magnification of a moment of terror ... O’Farrell’s book is a long and lyric pause on life’s aborted endings; there is no clichéd prescription to the ready-made gratitude of end-of-life memoirs here. O’Farrell offers instead an invitation to hover intellectually and emotionally on the precipice with her.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewThe losses contained in the pages of When They Call You a Terrorist are acute, but they are rendered with lucidity and lyricism; the endings of many chapters have a lilting, almost incantatory rhythm ... Hardship can birth tenacity more formidable than fear, and Patrisse Khan-Cullors’s story, told so evocatively in When They Call You a Terrorist, is proof of it. Even as she acknowledges the dire character of the present, she refuses to bow before it.
PositiveThe Barnes and Noble ReviewThe intertwining of the families, two contrasting models of motherhood equally possible in contemporary America, sets up the conflict... In this, the central action of Little Fires Everywhere, Ng is masterful, exposing with terrifying acuity just how the well-meaning wealthy, afforded so much moral reverence in contemporary America, can be cruel and even evil ...question of who qualifies as a good mother, along with the idea that the state or the wealthy and the white must protect immigrant children from the cruelties of their unfit immigrant parents, are issues woven through... Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere does just that, isolating and teasing out the threads of class conformity, racist fear, and the hierarchies and codes that partake subtly of both.
Édouard Louis, Trans. by Michael Lucey
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review\"The events in the book, as the author Édouard Louis has recounted in several interviews, are all true, and they are also terrifying ... The intimate drama of Eddy’s struggle vis-à-vis his sexuality is set against a larger landscape of constraint and claustrophobia that we rarely reflected in literature on or about France ... At the end of The End of Eddy, as all though life itself, there is no complete self-acceptance, no final liberation; for Eddy and for everyone, the struggle to love oneself is always contradictory and never complete.\
Omar El Akkad
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review[American War] is proof of the premise that while philosophy can urge contemplation, it is fiction that can lure us into compassion ... The world of American War is a prophetic one, with loss and privation and conflict the cornerstones. It is also a compelling one, the warp and weft of its details constructing a universe whose internal logic is as convincing as any real-world account. All of it can be chalked up to Akkad’s mastery of detail, his depiction of an ecological collapse hastening the end of human compassion, filial feeling, normalcy, beauty, and possibility ... It’s a species of fear we could do with more of right now.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewThe literary genealogy that Elkins constructs for the walking, idling, loitering, wandering woman in Flâneuse is urgent also for its connection to feminist efforts in places that do not appear in the book ... In Flâneuse, Elkins undoes women’s penchant for self-blame by revealing feminine discomfort in urban spaces as a product of our exclusion from the right to freely explore them. The consequences go beyond chafing at the boundary: Creativity is the product of an alchemy that involves who we are, what we see and where we see it. Elkins presents an assessment of the cost of staying home, of closing ourselves to the inspirational, generative, or romantic encounter — walled and warded off by getting in a car, or a bus, or a train, by saying no to that risky endeavor: taking a walk.
RaveThe New Republic...deftly and terrifyingly underscores the absurdity of a society tacitly ordered by skin color and the privileges accrued by those who have ended up at the winning end, circled and watched by those who have not ... In other stories, Gay employs the surreal and allegorical to explore the contradictions of desire, of the yearning for motherhood and the cruelty that women can inflict on other women ... Difficult Women is a dark book, pulsing with repressed anger that emerges in sudden starts and with the accompaniment of violence...It takes courage to write such a book, to bank on un-likeability, on women unraveling in such a variety of ways. In reveling in this exposure of rage, Roxane Gay charts a markedly different literary course than is routinely allotted to the 'diverse' or 'minority' female author ... Gay peels it all back, exposing the raw, the enraged and the perversely beautiful.
PositiveThe New RepublicIt is precisely this myth—that violations buried are violations dead—that Jessica Valenti dissects with precision in her memoir Sex Object...Sharp and prescient, Sex Object is also an antidote to the fun and flirty feminism of selfies and self-help that has been the mainstay of the early 2000s. As Valenti says, 'the feminism that is popular right now is using optimism and humor to undo the damage that sexism has wrought,' taking Amy Schumer, Beyonce, and Sheryl Sandberg for its heroines. Along with Andi Zeisler’s recent book We Were Feminists Once—about the t-shirt slogan-style commodification of feminism and female empowerment—Valenti’s book is a long awaited corrective.