PositiveForeword Reviews... a lighthearted exploration of the roles that chance and coincidence play in human existence ... Carroll illustrates his concepts through apt, surprising situations that all come down to chance ... Acknowledging that humorists are as likely as scientists to mock notions of determinism, the book culminates in a brief imagined dialogue about chance between six comedians, two writers, and a Nobel Prize-winning biologist. Sarah Silverman tells how she survived a freak bout of epiglottitis, while Kurt Vonnegut recounts multiple lucky shaves during World War II. The voices, recreated from the figures’ writings and interviews, are convincing. The novelty of this playful finale makes up for familiar material on natural selection and DNA ... ranges from examining trivial events to sobering ones, but remains relevant throughout, revealing how chance affects everyday life.
MixedPittsburgh Post-Gazette\"Only roughly half of the flash fiction builds a credible triumvirate of character, incident and meaning — including the title story, which ponders the inescapability of metaphor. Some of the rest feel insignificant ... Ending with a novella feels like a jolting change of gears. Couldn’t this story have been just as powerful, or even more so, at a fraction of the length? Isn’t the point of short fiction to convey as much as possible, in as few words as possible? (No matter that it doesn’t hold true for all the stories in this particular book.) ... Dark? Yes, but humor and a love of language shine through. And anyway, these stories are all about, to borrow Bertolt Brecht’s phrasing, singing in these dark times.\
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteBarry may be a figure of fun, but it’s still unpleasant to spend so much time with his chauvinism (\'he never remembered women’s names\' but gets plenty of them to sleep with him), which isn’t fully tempered by alternating chapters from Seema’s perspective. Setting him up as a white savior figure, even if that is undercut by his bad luck (before the bus tour is over he’s panhandling with a cardboard sign) means the novel’s attitude toward the lower classes, immigrants and the disabled veers toward condescending ... To the extent that Barry is a stand-in for Donald Trump (sleazy rich guys who get away with misconduct), the epilogue seems to turn the novel into a morality tale by giving its antihero a second chance to be a decent father. If this lousy human being can be redeemed, perhaps one can hold out hope for the restoration of the whole country? One suspects the message is neither so simplistic nor so rosy. Pitched somewhere between the low point of \'Make America Great Again\' and the loftiness of the Great American novel, Lake Success may not achieve the profundity it’s aiming for, but it’s still a biting portrait of an all-too-recognizable America where money is God and villains gets off easy.
Alan P Lightman
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books\"Lightman’s sharp, concise treatise ruminates on the cultural forces that have enslaved us in the West to productivity. In short, he blames the internet, but specifically smartphones. Being constantly wired chains us to our devices and deadlines and fosters a state of near-constant distraction that we give the optimistic label of \'multi-tasking.\' The rise in adolescent depression, in particular, may be a direct consequence of this connected lifestyle. An addiction to social media, Lightman says, goes hand in hand with neurosis about missing out on friendship and affirmation. Yet he himself is no Luddite: he admits he’s recently acquired a smartphone and finds it invaluable for navigation, even as he recognizes in himself the worrying urge to check for messages every few minutes.\
Patrick Chamoiseau, Trans. by Linda Coverdale
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteSuch poetic turns of phrase, rich with alliteration, are characteristic of the novel’s language. It is full of delightfully unexpected verbs (\'He sent his body across dead stumps\') and metaphors, such as \'chessboards of reverie\' and \'vulva dark, carnal opacity.\' The originality and musicality of phrases such as \'Gluey luminescence\' are also a testament to Ms. Coverdale’s skill ... At not much more than 100 pages, this is a nightmarish novella that alternates between feeling like a nebulous allegory and a realistic escaped slave narrative. It can be a disorienting experience: like the slave, readers are trapped in a menacing forest and prone to hallucinations ... The lyricism of the writing and the brief glimpse back from the present day, in which an anthropologist discovers the slave’s remains and imagines the runaway back into life, give this book enduring power.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksIt’s a pensive, pleasantly meandering book that blends memoir with travel and biographical information about some of Hampl’s exemplars of solitary, introspective living, and it begins, quite literally, with daydreaming ... the magic is in the day-to-day details. Hampl also affirms the value of living a life of orderly solitude, of the freedom arising from discipline ... Hampl drifts and dreams through seemingly irrelevant back alleys of memory and experience. The latter is a case of form following function: her book wanders along with her mind, in keeping with her definition of memoir as \'lyrical quest literature,\' where meaning always hovers above the basics of plot.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteIn another context those metaphors might induce a cringe, but here they are a clever re-creation of a childlike perspective. However, the language of possession and desire feels overly dramatic here. Such vocabulary might be appropriate to use for high school seniors, but it’s impossible to forget that these are just 11-year-olds ... it’s impressive how Ms. Chevalier takes these ordinary elements and transforms them into symbols of a complex hierarchy and shifting loyalties. Most remarkable, though, is how the novel explores the psyche of a boy isolated by racial difference ... For all the parallels to the plot of Othello, this is an engrossing and ultimately convincing story of its own, with characters you’ll believe in and a tragic ending worthy of the Bard.
PanThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...atavistic glorying in gore is a trademark of Mr. Vann’s work but there’s an extra layer of nihilism here. Medea has lost faith in Hekate, whom she once served as a priestess; now there’s 'no one to call on. Empty invocations.' The long stretch between the opening scene and the 'Argo' landing at Iolcus is an oddly monotonous swirl of battles and sex scenes ... The relentless present-tense narration, incomplete sentences, and lack of speech marks may represent resistance to traditional storytelling techniques, but simultaneously render the characters emotionally inaccessible ... Strange that Mr. Vann’s most straightforward tribute to Greek tragedy should result in his least resonant and cathartic novel.
Stephanie Powell Watts
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteDespite the plural narrator’s often chatty informality, the novel is infused with haunting lines about the persistence of the past and the danger of hope. These aphorisms represent the accumulated wisdom of a town full of disappointed dreamers ... the storyline, although it veers toward soap opera melodrama in places and occasionally lingers on particular scenes for too long, still feels like a tribute to American literature’s greatest stories of dejected idealists.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteA 400-page book of disparate essays is a hard ask, and even visual arts aficionados may struggle through the long middle section. All the same, patience will be rewarded by Part III, 'Being There,' in which Mr. Cole deftly blends memoir and travelogue ... Although erudite and wide-ranging, these essays are not quite as successful as, say, Julian Barnes’ or Geoff Dyer’s in making any and every topic interesting to laymen. Still, Mr. Cole proves himself a modern Renaissance man, interweaving experience and opinion in rigorous yet conversational pieces that illuminate the arts.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThe first few chapters of this well-crafted novel, Mr. Hawley’s fifth, are particularly intense. Scott surfaces amid flames on the water and has to guess which direction to swim ... Crucially, though, Mr. Hawley doesn’t make the mistake of conflating the characters under easy labels such as 'victims' and 'survivors.' Instead, he renders them all individuals with complete backstories. The variety of characters gives him a chance to explore many worlds — media, finance, art — without committing to just one ... Before the Fall lies somewhere on the continuum between crime and literary fiction; if it’s not quite Jonathan Franzen, nor is it Robert Ludlum. Echoes of suspenseful television favorites are hardly incidental given Mr. Hawley’s recent work on FX hit Fargo. This is a pretty much ideal summer vacation read—though you might think twice about taking it on a plane.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThe novel maintains a languid yet subtly tense ambience. Everything is slightly off-kilter; although it’s vacation time, the title’s promise of relief is deferred ... Offbeat and atmospheric, this debut novel is probably too quiet to make a major splash, but has its gentle rewards.
MixedThe Pittsburg Post-GazetteWhile the plot of Mr. Splitfoot ultimately feels like a bit of a jumble, its vision of unexpected love and loyalty remains compelling.