RaveToronto Star (CAN)It happens to all of us: every reader—and by extension, every reviewer—will, at some point, find themselves completely gobsmacked by a book, wanting to press it into the hands of anyone who will listen. Oddly, though, they find themselves utterly unable to articulate why the book is so great. Sometimes, even a bare description of the book is vexing. Such is the case with Dead Astronauts, the new novel by Florida writer Jeff VanderMeer ... It’s a relentlessly experimental novel, shifting viewpoints and styles, skipping through time frames and across cosmic distances, changing formats; it even includes version numbers in the margins ... Despite this complex approach, however, it is utterly accessible: one need only surrender to VanderMeer, to trust in the work. And if you do give yourself over—which I would strongly urge you to do—you will find the novel is less a puzzle than it is a profoundly moving exploration of connection, isolation, sacrifice and the relationship of man with nature (though the novel would suggest that there is no such division). Ultimately, Dead Astronauts is sui generis, a book you simply must read. If you were here, I would press it into your hands and not let you put it down.
RaveToronto Star (CAN)While readers might be expecting a survival story—two children fighting for their lives against the elements—The Innocents is more complex, and much subtler, than that ... this willingness to resist the easy narrative path is one of The Innocents’ great strengths. It is also one of Crummey’s great strengths as a writer. Another is his facility—his gift—with language. Crummey is able to create sentences of considerable beauty and force without ever seeming to overstep himself, a complexity rooted in the emotional weight of the language and his comfort with the vernacular. The novel never reads as excessive; its beauty is restrained, weighted and often heartbreaking ... Crummey makes a virtue of the self-imposed limitations of the story—essentially two characters in a single setting—to explore the nature of what makes us who we are, what makes a family, and the sacrifices that are made in the name of love.
RaveThe StarIt is, not to put too fine a point on it, wonderful ... The Starless Sea is the most joyous reading experience I have had in recent memory. Morgenstern’s prose is sure, but gentle, baroque in its structure but utterly human in its scale. The organization of the book — threading fairy tales, scenes from other stories, fables and other narratives through Zachary’s story — is itself a master-class in plotting and prestidigitation (the two are often the same thing), and will result in frequent gasps of surprise and admiration as elements come surprisingly, inevitably, together. The Starless Sea is an unabashedly romantic novel about the love of stories, the joy they bring to our lives, the sorrows they carry, and the essential quality of the narratives which surround us. To read it is to be plunged into a warm, honeyed bath of words and ideas, the familiar embrace not just of a good story, but of all good stories.
PositiveThe Toronto StarThe events are rendered in Moody’s signature style: long, complex sentences, rooted in ideas and philosophy, wending their way across the page. The style, however, creates a distance that readers might initially find off-putting: Moody feels detached from the events of his own life, analytical, rather than emotional. It becomes clear, soon enough, that this approach is the book’s great strength: the analytic distance is necessary to keep the events of that year from overwhelming the reader. The final pages are very nearly overwhelming, even with that distance; without it, the book would be unbearable ... At the core of The Long Accomplishment is an exploration of an impressive relationship, neither idealized nor idyllic, but a mature, mutually-supportive partnership.
RaveThe Toronto Star... brilliant and thrilling ... a lean, mean, story machine, the sort of novel one devours in a single, large bite. Weighing in at about 800 pages, the pacing rarely flags, propelled not just by the events but by Wendig’s skilled shifting between a gallery of well-drawn, integral characters ... While Wendig populates the novel’s core richly, it is equally delightful around the margins, with an at-times vicious wit and sense of satire ... a book resolutely, powerfully of its time, and it is this sense of urgency and verisimilitude that places it firmly on the shelf of epidemic classics including Stephen King’s The Stand, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
RaveThe StarWe’re in the realm of autofiction here, with fictional imagination allowing the writer a distance from the strictly autobiographical material, the freedom to create around the literal past.In this blending of fact and fiction, Vuong is not only putting together a piece of literature, but a version of himself. Vuong approaches the material of his life in a series of feints and curves, elliptical insights and recurring motifs. There is no straightforward narrative line here, but a constantly shifting psychological, emotional and physical landscape ... Nothing is easy for Little Dog — or, one posits, for Vuong — and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous reflects that as it swirls and diverges, confronts hard truths and vicious moments alongside fleeting joys and glimpses of hope. It’s an inspiring, powerful reflection of a singular mind.
RaveThe Star...[a] stunning new novel ... Lanny is something altogether different, something inexplicable, something marvelous and strange. As he did with his prize-winning debut Grief Is the Thing With Feathers...Porter blurs every conceivable boundary, creating something singular, something sui generis ... Lanny is both fiction and poem, it is experimental but as accessible as a fairytale. The language is parsed and spare while somehow managing to be lush and rich at the same time. It’s a short, focused book, but one which contains worlds and epochs. It is heartbreaking, and joyous, utterly modern, but with the air and familiarity of a myth that has slipped just out of our conscious awareness. Lanny is the sort of book which encourages hyperbole: I could easily write \'This is one of the best books you will read this year\' or \'This is a truly unforgettable reading experience.\' Both of those statements would be true, but instead I will simply say that when I finished reading Lanny for the first time, I began to re-read it almost immediately. I suspect I will read it again before the week is out.
RaveThe Toronto StarDeceptively simple, and almost overpoweringly rich ... Alexis handles the material with a skill and adroitness readers have come to expect from him, along with a subtextual complexity that belies the straightforwardness of the surface narrative. The novel can be read whichever way the reader is most comfortable: the narrative has all the twists and turns, surprises and character development that make for a fulfilling read, while a deeper reading, engaging with the philosophical and social questions raised by the text, provides a much more powerful level of engagement ... the days I spent reading the novels of the Quincunx were among the most pleasurable days of reading in my memory.
PositiveToronto StarWith Turbulence, Szalay creates an emotional relay that spans the globe over the course of twelve chapters and twelve individuals. The prose is tight and efficient ... This creates a powerful, contradictory effect. Introducing the reader to moments of startling intimacy serves as a reminder of our shared humanity, while the shifting away reminds each of us of the fleetingness not only of contact, but of life itself ... It is at once uplifting and humbling, the bittersweet essence of life itself.
RaveToronto Star\"Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first volume of the Dark Star trilogy, is, as promised, a fantasy novel, but it’s far more daring and audacious than George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus, far more complex and rich. It’s a profound reading experience ... In James’ hands, the conventions of fantasy are twisted, reworked, and, at times, discarded ... Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a fervent fever dream of a book, weaving together fantasy elements, mythology and history in a heady blend of voice, richly developed characters, layered and interwoven stories and shifting levels of reliability and reality ... If one allows themselves to be immersed in James’ world and words, they will emerge profoundly stirred, their understanding of the world, of the power of a novel, of the nature of reading itself, fundamentally changed.\
Andrew Michael Hurley
PositiveThe Toronto StarDevil’s Day is a slow-burn of a novel, horrors—both spectral and human—gradually emerging from mists of memory and myth. Characters are built slowly and convincingly as readers come to understand the life of the land and its relationship with the people who work it, time slipping and shifting from past to future, the present little more than a nebulous, amorphous way-station in the passage of ages. Devil’s Day is a novel that requires—and rewards—close reading as Hurley builds an entire world, familiar and mysterious, warm and dank, human and something distinctly, distressingly, other.
RaveThe Toronto StarWith We All Love the Beautiful Girls, Proulx...moves firmly into John Cheever territory, exploring with a keen eye and incisive prose the suburbs of quiet desperation, peeling back facades to reveal the desperation and violence that lurk just below the surface. When that violence comes to a head, the results are as devastating as they are unexpected. Building out of the family drama, the novel serves as a powerful examination of race and class, effective because it’s so personal. Proulx isn’t working with sweeping indictments or societal commentary, but weaving the commentary through unexamined privilege and world-view. It’s striking because it’s not a conversation we’re used to having ... As one reads We All Love the Beautiful Girls, impressions of the characters will shift and change, a verisimilitude that is the result of careful attention and unflinching honesty.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Don Bartlett & Martin Aitken
MixedThe Toronto StarIf one is looking for clarity...prepare for frustration. The more one considers My Struggle, the more contradictions and paradoxes begin to emerge. For example, it’s not always good ... While they’re not always good, there are passages in the books which are utterly transcendent, which create a shock of recognition and understanding one is more accustomed to experiencing in the presence of great visual art than in fiction. Think of the frisson one experiences on looking at, say, Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night (the original, not a reproduction), the immediate connection and almost electrical charge: My Struggle has dozens, nay hundreds, of moments like that ... But is that enough? ... Partway through The End, I found myself almost literally begging for it to be over ... the inside of Knausgaard’s head isn’t a particularly pleasant place to be ... My Struggle is a flawed masterpiece, a broad canvas on which strengths and weaknesses are equally visible, and which somehow combine to create a reading experience unlike any other.
PositiveThe Toronto Star...powerful ... Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, grew up as the son of a white mother and Cheyenne father in Oakland, Calif., and There There rises from questions about his own identity, faith, race and the social uncertainty facing what he refers to in the novel as \'Urban Indians\'... It’s a varied, multifaceted cast, from a documentarian to an aging woman denying her heritage, from mothers of lost daughters to sons of missing fathers, from those seeking community at the powwow to a small group of thugs planning to rob it. Each character is introduced and developed with a clear-eyed fidelity, empathic without sentimentality, our understanding increasing as connections are revealed, histories explored, gaps filled in. At its core, There There is a novel about those gaps.
RaveToronto Star\"It might seem strange, initially, but sometimes the greatest clarity comes not from the news, but from fiction ... The Boat People succeeds not because it has answers, but because of how it foregrounds the questions: who are we as individuals? Who are we as a culture, as a society? How do our beliefs, our empathy, survive in the face of confusion and the threat of deception and violence? It may not be a perfect book, but The Boat People is a book perfect for our times, essential reading to bring context to questions which we are, perhaps, more inclined to ignore.\
RaveThe Toronto StarKennard, an award-winning poet, handles the material of The Transition with a wry humour and a gradually mounting horror, rooted in realistically-depicted characters who find themselves suddenly immersed in a surreal world. Blending early-seventies-vintage success cults with early-oughts start-up culture (think EST meets Facebook), with a healthy dollop of conspiracy paranoia and Stepford-spouses, The Transition is a winning romp that somehow also manages to be a keenly insightful examination of how we live now and how much we are willing to sacrifice in the name of success and comfort.
RaveThe Toronto StarWhile the collection is slim — five stories, just over 200 pages — it is a thrilling addition to the Johnson canon, and a stunning reminder of what we have lost ... The stories in The Largesse of The Sea Maiden are characteristic of Johnson’s approach, seemingly chaotic (sometimes to the point of absurdity) but tightly controlled. The language of each story is a deceptively precise rendering of the vernacular appropriate to each character — whether an aging ad man or a young man in jail — lending a rough realism and immediacy while simultaneously revealing greater depths. The events of the stories veer between hilarity and significance, suffused with life and abandon, but laced with loss and disillusion, delusion on the road to meaning.
PositiveThe Toronto StarWith Heather, The Totality, his first foray into traditional fiction, Weiner explores — and presses at the boundaries of — a new form, while simultaneously burrowing deeply into his recurring concerns ...Weiner doesn’t build on this approach, or embrace the novel form’s inherent potential for expansiveness. Instead, Heather, The Totality is a powerful, minimalist work...prose is razor-fine, largely eschewing ornamentation in favour of propulsive forward motion ...largely expository, rather than rooted in fully-developed scenes. The result is a novel almost defiantly told, rather than shown ...the narrative approach results in a sense of detachment, almost flatness, which Weiner plays to devastating impact late in the novel, free of sentimentality, almost vicious in its clear-eyed sensibility.
RaveThe Toronto StarThat sense of human connection and dignity is one of the key threads in Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders’ stunning and surprising first novel ... While the fragmented narrative with its lack of a standard expository framework is initially unsettling, the story quickly comes into focus, bawdy and hilarious, thrilling and heartbreaking by turns, building to a climax which is both emotionally devastating and surprisingly thought-provoking. By composing the story through a polyglot of voices, each retaining their individuality without ever becoming a mere chorus (while also drawing attention to issues of race, gender, sexuality and power), Saunders has created a stirring, intimate panorama, an American Book of the Dead, which, despite its historical distance, feels not only topical, but seethes with contemporary significance. Lincoln in the Bardo is a potent reminder of our connectedness, of the value of empathy — of kindness — in even the most divisive of times.
MixedThe Toronto Star...wickedly funny, shockingly wise, touching and thought-provoking ... a rich buffet of a novel. A little too rich, unfortunately. By the time the novel wraps up, after 600 pages, it has shifted direction so many times, it seems to lose its way.
RaveThe Toronto StarBy shifting back and forth through time and between its main characters, Murphy (a prize-winning journalist who has been reporting on AIDS/HIV for more than two decades) is able to transcend rote narrative in favour of something more powerful. Readerly expectations are confounded at every turn ... It is a powerful and rewarding reading experience. Stylistically challenging, emotionally devastating (both positive and negative), realistic (even when it shifts into an imagined future) and impassioned, it is one of the finest novels we are likely to encounter this year.
RaveThe Toronto StarThe novel unfolds largely through dialogue and internal monologue; descriptions of the external world are minimal and fragmentary. As a result, the book takes on a dreamlike quality, firmly rooted in the narrator’s voice ... Reid builds tension with a Hitchcockian intensity, through their visit with Jake’s parents, the mysteries of his childhood home, and the final scenes set in a dark high school. When the pieces fall into place, the novel comes together with a rush. It has the sort of ending that will inspire readers to re-read the novel immediately, to try to figure out just how it was done.