RaveThe StrangerWiener\'s perspective as an outsider\'s insider makes her sellout narrative feel fresh. She humanizes people who seem—to the cynical observer—to want to become drones, and she wrestles with her own slide into that lifestyle with the candor and philosophical complexity you\'d expect from someone who has published in well-respected magazines. But that perspective also importantly allows her to see right through the intoxicating mists of tech optimism and describe the real power these young entrepreneurs used to wield and (though it\'s kind of changing now) still do. Suffice it to say that after 50 pages, you\'ll want to throw your computer and your phone and your Amazonian spyware out the window.
PositiveThe Seattle Stranger[Offill\'s] black humor and occasionally deep insights will keep your eyeballs glued to the page in search of a cure ... overhyped but still very much worth a read ... Fans of NYC dinner-party zingers and stumbled-upon profundities will appreciate Offill\'s contributions to the field ... The more profound moments arrive in Lizzie\'s fervent search for new perspectives to combat her growing dread, though these new perspectives aren\'t always comforting ... Though some of Offill\'s jokes and profundities can feel a bit pat, the overall structure of the book is greater than the sum of its parts, offering readers the pleasure of looking back through a diary and realizing that all our apparently disparate anxieties may fall under the umbrella of the larger one: fear of extinction ... Though fiction can allow us to diagnose this problem in all its messy human nuance, Offill knows it can never give us the cure.
PositiveThe StrangerIn high-quality, almost incantatory literary prose, Englehardt\'s narrator examines the lives of the killer, the victims, the bereaved, the town, and himself in an attempt to find honest answers to frustratingly routine questions ... the book is not \'about\' the shooting so much as it is \'about\' the fraught process of using empathy as a tool to discover the motivations of characters and to gain wisdom from events. The move not only cleverly reflects the reader\'s position, but ultimately embodies in a literary technique the primary concern of the novel, which is, more or less, that any one of us—with the right cocktail of unexamined grief, psychological instability, misogyny, and easy access to guns—could be the shooter. Aside from landing that literary trick, Englehardt finds surprising details in this tragically typical narrative ... There is very little—if any—humor in the book. So the only thing to balance out the solemnity of Englehardt\'s enterprise is a kind of enduring sweetness, a nervous curiosity, and a keen eye for describing Arkansas in ways that make the place sound kind of nice actually, all of which make the book worth a read.
RaveThe StrangerThe fascinating, horrific but also sometimes hilarious story that emerges from the list is of a pacifist queer from rural Illinois transforming into \'an extremely assaultive \'feminazi\' and then transforming again into a slightly less assaultive feminazi ... This hero\'s journey—told in straightforward, unadorned prose—struck a thrilling revenge chord within me ... Though Woods details some repugnant stuff, one of the more infuriating aspects of the book is her need to demonstrate that she understands what normal behavior is ... She uses pseudonyms in all cases because her point isn\'t to call out the particular men she\'s met, but to show how common and widespread her experiences are. She hopes to find solidarity with other women who have similar lists, and hopes men \'come away with a greater understanding of how sexism shapes women.\' She certainly achieves that goal, times 10.
RaveThe StrangerThe obsession humming under the well-wrought, perfectly paced, at times riveting scenes about family and art and memory, etc. is the troubling (to say the least) rise in power of the man-child, the Large Adult Son, and his penchant for violence and tyranny ... It\'s altered autobiography in drag as third-person narration in drag as multiple-POV first-person narration.
Aside from being just kind of cool and wonderfully destabilizing, and aside from displaying the difficulty of ever truly jettisoning the ego in fiction, and aside from offering a form of collective speech that might combat the rhetorical tools corrupt politicians use to gain power, the perspective play accurately reflects the experience of living ... The most enjoyable parts of Lerner\'s books for me are his academic close readings of pedestrian situations ... The Topeka School is crawling with...insights, and they remind you that you\'re dealing with a literary genius whose books make you feel like your brain and heart are growing with every sentence.
RaveThe Portland MercuryBen Lerner again walks the outer edges of prose form and perspective in his third novel ... well-wrought, perfectly paced, at times riveting ... It\'s altered autobiography in drag as third-person narration in drag as multiple-POV first-person narration ... Aside from being just kind of cool and wonderfully destabilizing, and aside from displaying the difficulty of ever truly jettisoning the ego in fiction, and aside from offering a form of collective speech that might combat the rhetorical tools corrupt politicians use to gain power, the perspective play accurately reflects the experience of living ... The diction here is less erudite than it is in Lerner\'s other books. This keeps the psychoanalytical meditations moving at a good clip and helps Lerner\'s lyrical sequences—runs of quick sentences at the end of some paragraphs that unite many of the themes in the book like little linguistic super-cuts—hit harder ... The Topeka School is crawling with similar insights, and they remind you that you\'re dealing with a literary genius whose books make you feel like your brain and heart are growing with every sentence.
PanThe Seattle Stranger... essentially a structured, whimsical, somewhat gloomy journal entry covering late 2015 to early 2017 ... Listen, Patti Smith is a legend, her album Horses rules, and the writing here is good and full of a genuine curiosity about the world. But the book elicited two major responses from me: the occasional sagacious nod, and eye rolls that hit with concussive force ... Like William Blake, Allen Ginsberg, or Simone Weil, Smith is a visionary. She imagines waking dreams that allow her to see into the future and to uncover from the past hidden clues about life\'s great mysteries. But a visionary is only as good as the quality of her visions, and the visions in this book are, um, pretty idiosyncratic. Or else clichéd word-streams punctuated by coyotes ... The tension —charged with the grab-bag spirituality that characterizes so much boomer bullshit—is this: Will Smith find some sense of personal narrative closure in her life or will she eventually die feeling uncomfortable with the unknown? ... While that\'s a perfectly valid metaphysical concern, one that holds for everyone, Smith\'s conversations with the Dream Inn sign don\'t reveal much about what\'s beyond the veil.
RavePortland MercuryThis deeply weird and deeply queer novel begins with one of the most gorgeously and gorily rendered first chapters I\'ve read ...Though they sometimes slow the pace of the story, Arnett\'s rich, cinematic descriptions of scenes that don\'t typically warrant rich, cinematic descriptions set the reader firmly in the swamp-heat of Central Florida. The paragraphs of description also give Arnett room to flex her keen observational humor. She makes you feel like a Florida insider, bestowing a knowing affection on the bad taste and brashness of her characters ... The freakishly Freudian swirl of sex and death keeps the tension high. And Arnett\'s literary elevation of the grotesque smartly embodies the primary philosophical question underlying the story ... establishes Arnett as one of the South\'s new top talents.
RaveThe StrangerDreamy, beautifully written, hippo-inflected, grief-soaked ... [Chiem\'s] meditative sentences pull you close, and then, right when he has you where he wants you, he shows you some weird thing that makes you laugh, tear up a little, or remember that even your tiniest insights and observations are valuable to the world ... shows off Chiem\'s knack for writing about trauma while avoiding cliche.
MixedSeattle Stranger\"Kohnstamm attempts to use his gifts of description and characterization—which are considerable—to render the break rooms, beer fridges, trailer parks, and working-class people of his hometown. The idea is to find the soul of Lake City, the thing that makes it particular, unique, worthy. This effort is moderately successful ... Kohnstamm is at his best when he\'s sending up a special kind of virtue-signaling liberal who claims to live their life in constant service to the oppressed, but who doesn\'t actually do anything for them. The relationships between the characters bring out this underlying critique, but the narrator, weirdly, gets in the way ... The author\'s desire to highlight Lake City\'s uniqueness also leads him to manufacture regionalisms ... Such overblown regionalisms and reaches for \'authenticity\' feel desperate, which is maybe the most Seattle thing about the book. But local readers will likely enjoy the familiar locations and scraps of lore.\
RaveThe StrangerYou know that feeling when you\'re watching cable news and you realize the power of propaganda so totally eclipses the power of journalism that you don\'t even know what\'s real anymore? ... That feeling pervades former Seattle cartoonist Jason Lutes\'s exquisitely drawn historical graphic novel ... a single, gorgeous, door stopper of a collection ... an accomplishment reflected in the depth of the storytelling and the detail of his drawings ... The city of Berlin between the world wars is Lutes\'s first love and main character. Every dirty corner is either a refuge or a death trap, the broad streets run with blood and gleam with commerce, tenements stack up like fortifications but also like monsters come to destroy the populace. I would not be at all surprised if Lutes said he drew five hundred thousand million individual bricks and cobblestones over the course of Berlin\'s nearly 600 pages. The effect is a reading experience so immersive that when you walk outside afterward, you feel like things look different. You see the way he sees.
RaveThe StrangerThe fascinating thing about the book is clocking the ways this traumatic experience in the woods touches each woman's life. Bad faith conversations about trauma so often flatten the nuances of survival—either you're cast as an oversensitive victim...or you're an impervious warrior ... But as Fu...breaks up the main narrative with the stories of the women these girls would become, we see a spectrum of responses to trauma ... She builds them short, clean, and straightforward. This consistency gives her the ability to drop an extremely intense image or profound line out of nowhere, create convincing cliff-hangers, or slowly increase the stakes of a scene until you feel like a frog in suddenly boiling water.
MixedThe StrangerAll the spooky shit that happens is just on the edge of scary, just on the edge of believable, which makes it all the more terrifying. About halfway through the novel I was like, 'Okay, I GET IT. No one can never truly know another person—and that's WEIRD'...Though the novel just kept hammering away at that underlying premise, and though the characters felt flat, I still kept reading. The chapters, which are about two pages long on average, were just so brief and punchy that turning the page didn't seem like such a big risk. The sentences were quick, direct, and only occasionally decorated by the odd lyrical flourish. Their urgency drove me down the page and onto the next one ... Jemc creates great and real drama by alternating the perspectives: When bruises start showing up on Julie's body, the whole inside-the-relationship vs outside-the-relationship tension nearly snaps the book's spine in half.
RaveThe StrangerI hold no advanced degrees in psychology, but to victims of sexual trauma vulnerable to long bouts of depression following exposure to highly triggering content, I recommend approaching this book with caution. Or not at all ... The author’s use of pornographic language in the rape scenes—including in the child rape scenes—is only slightly less shocking than the fact that no one in her life helped her out of her situation. But it’s this language that sets her story apart from most chronicles of child abuse ... As a human being, while reading this book, I was in a functional state of shock from beginning to end. But as a critic, I was impressed by how well those horrific scenes were written ... I’m essentially recommending the book to you, if you’ve got the stomach for it. Because in this work about a horror no one should ever experience, there is also something that needs to be experienced.
PositiveThe Portland MercuryThe story is told in close third person, and since the narrator primarily shadows Rosie, Frankel’s sentences mostly reflect Rosie’s personality. They’re practical, calmly but thoroughly analytical, occasionally gritty, occasionally clever. They mostly tell it to you straight—but in moments of power, they swing into a literary register that lets the language do more of the explaining than the explaining does. This strategy makes for easy reading. I blew through the 323 pages in two days ... it’s not sanitized, and the pages aren’t gilt. It’s the old-fashioned kind of story that shows how cruel people can be to each other, and also how selfless—the kind children can understand but that adults can really feel.
RaveThe StrangerMary Ruefle's careful, measured sentences sound as if they were written by a thousand-year-old person who is still genuinely curious about the world ... The book reads like a literary diary that knows it reads like a literary diary. Just when we think we're in 'the real world,' or rather a subjective account of a real experience, Ruefle will pivot into the wilderness of imagination ... The absolute best thing in My Private Property is an eight-page essay about menopause called 'Pause'...Ruefle prefaces the poem with a facsimile of a 'cryalog,' a record of the times she cried on a given day in April of 1998 when she was going through menopause ... Ruefle splits up her lyrical essays and essayistic lyrics with brief but cascading prose poems that assign certain colors to certain kinds of sadness, working a kind of synesthetic magic ... The best writing hangs the world with 'fresh paint' signs. Ruefle's color prayers do this, and so does the rest of My Private Property.
PositiveThe Stranger...consistently funny ... The book's flaw is that it fails where it seems to want most to succeed. The intense suspicion of her husband's infidelity is really, Eleanor tells us, just a cover for the deep feelings of loss she has for Ivy. That loss is supposedly the true source of Eleanor's crisis, but it's the least convincing of her character motivations in the book ... The heart of this book, the parts Semple wraps the best language around, is Eleanor's fear of her chosen family's rejection ... Semple's humor is tight and self-aware. Her scene-setting abilities amaze.
RaveThe Portland Mercury...allow me to be the 1,000th person to tell you: It’s even better than the hype ... The book hums along like a potboiler, but it hits with the power of a classic ... an ingeniously plotted story that is also rich in language ... Over the course of the novel, the characters grow into complex human beings with deep histories. That’s an old, tried, and still true power of the form, Whitehead seems to be arguing here. And one we clearly still need.
PositiveThe StrangerThough the book doesn't feel very 'propulsive,' Proulx's piss-and-shit realism and gorgeous sentences draw you deep into a world of woods...The overwhelming historical authority her language projects—the sense that she's put so much work into this book—is powerful enough to make you keep reading ... It's also worth noting that queer people, women, and indigenous people aren't written out of this history, and toward the end of the book, you get a chance to geek out on contemporary forestry theory.
RaveThe Portland MercuryI know this book already sounds fussy and overly literary! But it's not! It reads like a breeze. A somber breeze, sure, but you get right through it without really questioning the seemingly wild form. The book's short page count (114) helps out in this regard, but so do the tenderness and humor of the characters, and also the fact that the form just makes sense. Both grief and lyric poetry perform similar operations ... I want to stress that this book about bummer stuff is not a total bummer. There's a ton of dry, grim British humor that pops up right when you need it to. We're just emerging from the specter of June gloom. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is ideal for the odd early summer cloudy day. There's enough dolor to match your doldrums, and enough levity to lift you up and out of them.
Pablo Neruda, Trans. Forrest Gander
PositiveThe StrangerLuckily for us all, cynicism and skepticism prove to have been the wrong models for considering Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda. The majority of the apparently complete works included in the book are as good as Neruda poems can be, and exactly five are true shining gifts to the world. That's saying something. Having five of 21 poems be good is about the same as liking three songs on an album: a rare accomplishment. Additionally, and to the cultural materialist's delight, many of these poems were scribbled out (in green pen, which I find affecting for some strange reason) on scrap paper, napkins, playbills, and other ephemera. Ogling the full-color scans of the original material reproduced in the book feels as if you're discovering the poems along with the archivists.