RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewLoss suffuses these stories ... They’re stories that look backward ... While that perspective isn’t new for Atwood, the lens seems to have changed ... Here, people look back in grief ... The Covid invocations feel tacked on, and it’s in their somewhat unconvincing attempts at timeliness that these middle stories miss as often as they hit. They don’t feel carefully curated so much as collected from the disparate corners of Atwood’s mind ... I’d be more tempted to dwell on the puzzle of that grab bag of middle stories being sandwiched between realistic, virtuosic, elegiac linked stories if the reasoning didn’t so simply present itself: This is Atwood. This is our four-faced Janus, who’s got one face turned to the past, one to the present, one to the future and the fourth inside a spaceship, telling stories about eating horses. Long may she reign.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... a masterpiece tome: part sociology, part oral history, part memoir, part call to arms ... The public face of ACT UP was often white and male ... But the organization itself was (if unevenly) devoted to medical access for all demographics...and this focus owed much to the work of activists from those demographics whose stories Schulman excels in highlighting ... Schulman has critical words for narratives...that center on a straight savior narrative, that tell only the story of white gay men, or that imply activism was the work of a few rather than of the collective. A stickler could argue that to zero in on ACT UP New York is to reinforce another kind of generalization: that New York, along with maybe San Francisco, was where AIDS happened, and where the response happened—to the exclusion of activism in other cities, on college campuses and abroad. To be clear, this is not a flaw in Schulman’s book itself, which could only achieve such depth by narrowing its focus to one specific organization. She also makes known the impact of those who brought ACT UP outside the city ... Here is a primer, a compendium of what one group learned and struggled with and accomplished. Here is a book to start a mighty shelf.
yörgy Dragomán, tr. Ottilie Mulzet
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... achieves, like its English title, a disconcerting juxtaposition of the mundane and the primeval ... not so much a work of traditional magical realism as a 471-page object lesson in the uncanny. Dragoman depicts the prosaic with a meticulous pacing normally reserved for the eerie or the ominous, adopting the obsessive focus of a director’s eye on, say, someone unlocking a forbidden attic door. Meanwhile, what might be genuinely magical (divination, a grandfather’s ghost, ants and foxes that act with folkloric logic) is indulged with no sharper a lens, so that it becomes disorientingly unclear what is normal, what is supernatural and what is simply the unstable ground of an adolescence flooded with trauma ... That this slippery narration — a risky choice — not only propels the story forward but also resonates with the book’s themes of instability and skewed perception is a testament to Dragoman’s powers. He reaches back to folklore but also speaks to this artistic moment, in which genre and its ancestral roots permute and enrich highly regarded capital-l Literature ... The timing is perfect: The novel reaches an American audience at a moment when we’re feeling not only the seismic shifts of historical change, and the hard reckoning after a strongman’s fall, but also the ways magical thinking, conspiracy and rumor seep through the cracks during times of turmoil ... Whether this novel will find the same success in the United States that it has found elsewhere depends perhaps on the extent to which American readers will surrender themselves, as Emma has, to the whims of a skilled but inscrutable abductor. Like the mysterious grandmother, Dragoman seems to have our best interests at heart. This is a story, after all, in which dreams and phantasms are kinder and more sensical than the random brutality of the concrete world. To that end, his telling is not just magic, but enchantment.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWe spend more time in Hamid’s childhood, his tumultuous adolescence, his angry young adulthood. The price we and the author pay, of course, for a story that looks back is that we know exactly where things are headed; our curiosity lies in how they get there. Fortunately, in this case, the trade pays off. With Sofer’s considerable talents, the betrayals (of both self and others) that leave Hamid a brittle shell of a man are fully worthy of our intense gaze ... Sofer’s characters deliver such preternaturally complete and impassioned speeches, ones so full of aphorisms, that it would be tempting to take a line from any one as a thesis for the book ... In the midst of the moral murk that constitutes our antihero’s soul, it’s helpful to have axiomatic arrows to follow. But Sofer is doing something more complex here than just handing us pithy answers. No one pronouncement sums up either Hamid or his situation; the sum of them, in all their disagreements, might get close ... Mindful of an audience not steeped in Persian history, Sofer goes out of her way to provide historical orientation — sometimes deftly, in old news clippings, and sometimes more heavily, in expository dialogue...While helpful for an uninformed reader, it’s perhaps a bit much for a chat with a child on the way home from the dentist ... raises the question not of whom the book is for but to whom it’s being narrated. To whom is Hamid Mozaffarian telling this story?...the book’s exposition is angled toward an outsider’s gaze — and there’s real discord between the narrative’s commitment to interiority and the sacrifices it makes in explaining itself. This is the perennial struggle faced by any writer whose imagined narrative audience and likely actual audience don’t fully align, but there are solutions more elegant than these ... The arc of Hamid’s life is finely wrought, a master class in the layering of time and contradiction that gives us a deeply imagined, and deeply human, soul — an enviable skill always, but essential for attaching us to a character who, despite his attempts at self-betterment, is essentially unforgivable ... The beating heart of American literature has always been the contributions of those looking both forward and back, both at America and at the world. Members not of skipped generations, necessarily, but of Janus-headed ones, writing toward something more difficult than forgiveness.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewSome... more traditional stories have landed in Smith’s first collection, Grand Union, and while still brilliant on the level of the sentence, the paragraph, the often hilarious skewering of humanity, they’re the least successful ones here, sour notes in a collection in which the best pieces achieve something less narrative and closer to brilliance. The more traditional stories become most interesting as examples of a mode from which Smith seems to be evolving away ... Thrillingly, the best work in Grand Union is some of the newest. Among its previously unpublished stories and the two most recently published ones, we find the surreal, the nonlinear, the essayistic, the pointillist ... For a lesser writer, we might wish more avidly for an editor to have stepped in to carve the book into something more specific, more pointed. But Smith’s stature will have made many of her readers completists and her artistic development a matter of interest. While the collection might not coalesce as a unit, it contains some of Smith’s most vibrant, original fiction, the kind of writing she’ll surely be known for. Some of these stories provide hints that everything we’ve seen from her so far will one day be considered her \'early work,\' that what lies ahead is less charted territory, wilder and less predictable and perhaps less palatable to the casual reader but exactly what she needs to be writing.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...as raw as this morning’s Twitter rant and as lasting and important as — and I say this neither lightly nor randomly — Ulysses ... Smith has always been sharp and brutal, and often funny, in her Kafkaesque moments — fruitless passport or loan applications, attempts to unsubscribe from emails — but when she skewers the inner workings of a bureaucracy that detains asylum seekers indefinitely, the tone rises correspondingly to the desperate laughter of gallows humor, the deadpan of the dead at heart ... Smith never physically describes the young Florence ... This shouldn’t work — what author gets away with a fundamentally foggy main character? — yet it does. Florence’s vagueness feels authentic and fundamental, self-protective, not as if Smith is using her as a symbol but (wonderfully) as if Florence is using us ... Spring slants more postmodern than its two predecessors ... Smith offers an excuse for those sections: They’ve been written in a notebook by the precocious Florence.It’s a shift in the novel’s framing that doesn’t quite work, and not just because 12 seems too young to have written these passages ... The overall work is still a marvelously manic patchwork ... That Smith manages to show things falling apart as well as some small center holding is to her great credit ... the defining, if baffling, literature of an indefinable and baffling era.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"... brilliant and upsetting ... In the hands of a lesser novelist, the intricate tangle of lives at the center of Late in the Day might feel like just such a self-satisfied riddle or, at best, like sly narrative machinations. Because this is Tessa Hadley, it instead feels earned and real and, even in its smallest nuances, important ... Here as in her previous six novels, it’s in part Hadley’s unflinching dissection of moments and states of consciousness that makes the [Virginia] Woolf comparisons irresistible, but it’s also her commitment to following digressions both mental and philosophical (a debate, for instance, on the ethics of tourism) rather than pushing away at plot ... It’s to her great credit that Hadley manages to be old-fashioned and modernist and brilliantly postmodern all at once ... We’ve seen this before, and we’ve never seen this before, and it’s spectacular.\