MixedThe AV Club... there’s nothing all that pulpy about it. That’s not a bad thing, of course; it’s just not the grimy, scintillating read its tawdry cover suggests ... a clever spin on an old trope, and King mines morbid humor from Jamie’s own lack of interest in serving as ghost translator. But it isn’t long before we’re reminded that rules were made to be broken. There’s more in the stars than ghosts and dead people ... And there’s more in Later than its trim 260 pages might suggest. King, who tends to stretch stories out like taffy, crowds Jamie’s encounters with the undead with a mad bomber, a shady detective, and a sordid drug lord. It’s in those scenes, stuffed as they are with pills and guns and ball gags, that King attempts to hard-boil his story, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been reheated a dozen times over on cable—aside from how Jamie’s link to the dead affects everything. And while Later’s vision of the dead is plenty creepy on its own, it takes on added resonance when King weaves it in with the events of one of his most-loved novels, one familiar to even his most casual readers. It’s inessential, the twist, but plenty interesting in the larger realm of King’s oeuvre, which the author’s knotted into a literary universe all his own ... King has always had a knack for funneling the complicated inner realities of adults through the eyes of children, and some of Later’s most affecting passages find Jamie piecing together his mother’s struggles via empty wine bottles and scraps of overheard chatter.
PositiveThe A.V. ClubHawke’s prose isn’t unlike his acting—amiable, punchy, and prone to monologues—and his talent for rounding out the story with verbose oddballs remains as enjoyable now as it was in 1996’s The Hottest State and 2002’s Ash Wednesday ... It’s charming at times...and tiresome in others...but never uninteresting ... Hawke, a rubbery actor whose career has long pivoted between stage and screen, has invaluable, accessible insight into both the culture of Broadway and the experience of enduring it as a relative outsider. He juxtaposes the lofty rhetoric of the theatrically minded, who tend to frame performance as holy and universal, with the personal, unglamorous memories that truly fuel art ... the author’s clear-eyed writing here helps the reader better appreciate the rawness of his screen and stage work, if only for how fiercely he’s wrestled with its effect on his own identity ... This is a book about Ethan Hawke, and that’s exactly why it works.
PositiveThe A.V. Club\"Kunzru is wise to keep the narrative both rooted in the real world and mostly divorced from the current moment more specifically. By doing so, he’s able to isolate the behaviors inherent to the online culture wars—the baiting, the debating, the veils of humor—and view them through a historical lens ... But Kunzru’s story isn’t strictly a critique. Anybody who’s struggled with shitposting’s influence on modern discourse, the layered irony and perpetual smirk, will identify with the narrator ... He worries he’s the butt of a joke he doesn’t understand. He obsesses over what he claims to hate. He wants life to be like a poem, despite all evidence to the contrary. Kunzru finds the humor and humanity in it all, but even as the story spirals into well-earned hysteria, he never downplays the severity of the mental derangement unfolding on both sides of the aisle in a post-truth era, nor the ways each can intersect in the realm of conspiracy.\
MixedThe A.V. ClubMalorie’s depiction of a world where disruptive safety protocols have fundamentally altered old ways of life is all too timely ... Structurally, Malorie operates much like its predecessor, oscillating between its makeshift communities and the blind, perilous journeys that bridge them. Having now established the world’s new rules, though, Malerman is able to broaden the narrative and take us beyond the realm of mere survival ... That Malorie doesn’t want these answers is both consistent with her arc and a total drag—resisting a story’s natural momentum inevitably results in redundancy, especially for a story’s ostensible protagonist ... for all its compelling questions and rich perspectives, Malorie still suffers some from Malerman’s leaden prose, which only really springs to life when a creature lurks just beyond the cloth ... The world of Malorie is more interesting than the characters that inhabit it, which bodes well should Malerman embrace the franchise potential of Bird Box.
MixedThe A.V. ClubKing excels at marrying the forensic techniques of procedural fiction to his supernatural premise; the story is at its best when Holly is in detective mode, analyzing old footage and comparing the myriad faces adopted by the creature ... If It Bleeds still reads like an alternate sketch for The Outsider, a collection of ideas that didn’t quite coalesce with that book’s creature. And King positing that this new monster could be a “cousin” of sorts to the previous one doesn’t quite hold water either. But as both a horror story and demonstration of Holly’s viability as a protagonist, it works ... The Life Of Chuck is little more than some existential musings built around a sketch of a character ... bookended by two satisfying, if unremarkable, stories that riff on some of King’s greatest hits ... King’s retained his gruesomeness in his twilight years, but the optimism he embraced in Elevation and The Institute ripples throughout these stories as well. What If It Bleeds emphasizes, though, is King’s sense of wonder; nearly every story in this collection marvels at the breadth of the human mind, the unknowability of death, and the idea that, when we all contain multitudes, we’re all, in our way, shape-shifters.
PositiveThe A.V. ClubThere’s perhaps no living writer better at chronicling the most crucial emotional flash points of the young modern male than Teddy Wayne ... Wayne’s knack for unpacking the fragility of masculinity continues to shine ... binge-worthy ... Billy initially resonates as the kind of character only a rich kid would write, but it isn’t long before this fetishization of the lower middle-class is revealed to be intentional ... is foremost an exploration of male intimacy as told by a less sinister brand of loner than the one Wayne tracked in his previous novel ... a lot for a book that runs under 200 pages, and, unsurprisingly, not everything is unpacked as satisfyingly as it could be. The clash between the narrator’s casual progressivism and Billy’s center-leaning values, for example, feels glanced over, yet another rash of self-doubt for the narrator to itch. And though Wayne writes insightfully about the logic and workings of MFA programs and the existential question of what makes art meaningful, the book can’t help but feel as if it were written for other writers. That said, the narrator ruminating on the “egotistical delusion” that the artist’s \'pain had more beauty, more holiness than the average person’s\' will no doubt cut deep for many ... benefits from its immersive point of view. Wayne has a talent for burying us so deep in the psyches of his damaged characters that we only begin to see the true nature of their despair once it begins manifesting physically ... can feel claustrophobic, but it’s also indicative of the deep well of empathy Wayne has for his difficult, emotionally volatile characters. Longing, be it for a lover or a friend, can be as ugly as it can be beautiful, but it’s nothing if not human.
PositiveThe A.V. ClubBy virtue of necessity, the narrative is told almost entirely from Luke’s perspective, robbing us of the strengths of King’s oft-peripatetic point of view, which in books like It, The Stand, and Under The Dome, emotionally mines myriad individuals for the benefit of the whole. Here characters either disappear or disengage from Luke just as they’re starting to crystallize, only to resurface after a new batch of characters has been introduced ... One longs for King to dig into these villains ... has its fair share of blood, but it’s a shockingly idealistic and optimistic story, one that, in a well-intentioned if utterly cringeworthy sequence, directly echoes the slogan of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The warmth is welcome, though, especially in a story that investigates the nameless, faceless forces exploiting our most vulnerable. So, even if the bonds don’t quite resonate, the young heroes still do. Like Danny Torrance before them, they’re impeccably balanced between being wise beyond their years and as emotionally tender as their age would suggest. King’s always excelled at couching coming-of-age narratives in moments of horror, and The Institute’s most thrilling stretch finds Luke reckoning with his own loneliness during a punishing test of mental and physical will ... archetypal King in that it contains much of what we love about and associate with his name—powerful kids, supernatural forces, small towns, heartfelt explorations of friendship—but it’s also a grander glimpse of the bright-eyed King we saw with last year’s hokey Elevation. It’s easy to miss the guts, but contrary to what some might think, nobody reads King just for the guts.
MixedThe AV/AUX Club\"... a lot of mythology to consume, especially in the book’s disorienting early chapters. Malerman builds a striking world, but he struggles to ease us into it, especially since, despite this being their story, only a few of the boys crystallize into layered characters ... It’s all very high-concept, and to think too hard about the endeavor raises innumerable questions about its logistical realities. As he did in Bird Box, Malerman’s crafted an irresistible scenario that’s rich in possibility and thematic fruit ... a lot clogging, from red herrings to odd digressions to a backstory for D.A.D. that’s thin enough to make one wish the character remained as unknowable as Bird Box’s monsters. The ending, too, is a mess, but one so shocking and cathartic that its audacity might be enough to win you over. That’s true of much of Malerman’s work here; his prose works better in moments of frenzy or peril than it does in the quieter spells, if only for trading the ponderousness for propulsion ... In some ways, Inspection feels like an inverse of its predecessor: Where the latter confined us behind a blindfold, Inspection rips it off. That’s a neat trick, but Malerman would have been better off leaving more of this world in the beyond.\