RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Promise adopts a protean tone, now menacing, now darkly mirthful ... the novel registers seismic rumbles of a changing South Africa ... The Promise offers all the virtues of realist fiction, plus some extras. Galgut keeps the surface of his prose choppy, roiling it with diverse narrative tools: points of view that shift within paragraphs, or even sentences; cryptic rhetorical moves, including addressing the reader directly [...]; scenes that blur together with no transition; and an intermittent metafictional patter [...] A reader can shrug it all off and focus on the family’s story, or take pleasure in a brash writer’s narrative norm-breaking ... The novel’s cinematic present tense and kaleidoscopic point of view create a mosaic of what everyone in the room is thinking at a given moment. The picture is anything but pretty, a veneer of civility barely hiding the barbed sibling resentments that surface following parental deaths. Don’t look for much hope in this novel ... Galgut in The Promise is a gleeful satirist, mordantly skewering his characters’ fecklessness and hypocrisy.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere’s a gamble in using ambivalence as the launching pad for fiction, and a couple of these stories drift and bog down ... as much existential as it is temperamental, reflecting protagonists grappling to relinquish the sense of an overarching narrative in their lives. These are stories about the death of stories ... Ford has a gift for nimble interior monologues and a superb ear for the varieties and vagaries of human speech. His prose can strike a Hemingwayesque cadence ... At 76, Ford is of the last generation of writers to have grown up directly under the Papa-and-Scott dispensation, and it’s gratifying to hear his sentences pay homage ... Acutely described settings, pitch-perfect dialogue, inner lives vividly evoked, complex protagonists brought toward difficult recognitions: There’s a kind of narrative, often dismissed as the \'well-crafted, writing-class story,\' that deals in muted epiphanies and trains its gaze inward, to pangs and misgivings. Some readers may no longer admire this kind of story. But I still love it. What is craft, after all, but a good thing well made?
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewChristmas in Austin is a profoundly domestic novel. The plot is desultory; what occurs is talk, plus copious inner musings about family relationships. The Essingers argue about anything — whether dinner is being cooked properly; whether it’s too cold to let the children sleep in the playhouse; whether to go out for doughnuts. Markovits specializes in innocuous little moments of daily marital abrasion ... Can routine family life, can tedium itself, be made interesting and sympathetic if you pay close enough attention to it? The answer, on the basis of this fine novel, is a resounding yes. Markovits delivers an engrossing inquiry into the nature of familiarity: family stories and code words, special places in the old neighborhood, cherished holiday rituals. Though the Essinger siblings are anything but quiet, a quiet sadness pervades this account of holiday homecoming, and of their entry into early middle age. The novel forms a post-mortem of the happy childhood and the faint sense of anticlimax that millennials carry in its aftermath. With attentive and intelligent sympathy, Markovits digs beneath Tolstoy’s dictum about happy families to raise the question, What is family happiness? ... Right down to its random-seeming ending, Christmas in Austin is aggressively inconclusive ... For what is family, after all, but a conversation that never ends?
J. M. Coetzee
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...admirers can now turn to Coetzee\'s terse, gritty memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From Provincial Life, which chronicles his childhood in a small city 90 miles from Cape Town in the 1940\'s and 50\'s ... Written in a third-person, present-tense voice that effaces adult perspective and lends harsh immediacy to the inner agonies of the child, the memoir explores a profound ambivalence about what in most respects looks like a routine middle-class boyhood.
John Le Carré
MixedThe New York TimesThe Constant Gardener inhabits a moral universe far less murky than the precincts of ambiguity where le Carré made his name … Le Carré is a superb moralist of the quotidian, a master at showing how our humdrum daily dealings with spouses and colleagues reveal us … The Constant Gardener makes some ungainly narrative moves, using whole chapters of police interrogation to establish basic plot points, and dishing out boatloads of documents for us to sort through. The effort hints at another kind of book altogether — namely, investigative journalism — and as we follow Justin's search for the truth, The Constant Gardener feels ever more like an exposé, an angry diatribe against corporate malfeasance.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewHow to write freshly about characters whose lives have lost all freshness? It’s the same challenge [Richard] Yates faced, and Spencer struggles with it. Halfway through the novel, with Thaddeus exhibiting gloomy regret about the choices he’s made and his marriage skidding hard into what feels like middle-aged disaffection, it’s startling to recall that he and Grace are not even 30. Young Fogies, they’re caught up in a tedium so premature as to seem imposed. Covering a period from 1976 to 1990, River Under the Road contains cultural scene-setting, reminiscent of Updike’s Rabbit novels, that captures the social and political mood of 'me-decade' self-indulgence morphing into Reagan-era conservatism. And Spencer doles out apt metaphors for difficult moments ... But elsewhere Spencer’s prose drifts from the enthusiastic into the maudlin and stilted ... River Under the Road takes us down an all-too-well-worn path.