MixedThe A.V. Club\"Who would’ve guessed that King would have new notes to strike nearly 45 years after emerging onto the scene, but he strikes them here, in a piece that’s thoughtful and even moving at times, without ever being particularly satisfying ... Elevation wants for conventional drama, even if there’s something touching in the idea of a malevolent force being greeted with gratitude rather than fear ... it’s easy to imagine King exploring [certain plot points] in a more complex or challenging way. If nothing else, you want a story to go along with the idea, or at least more ideas for your money. This one is for completists only, and devoted ones at that.\
MixedThe A.V. ClubThe first biography of Fred Rogers is touching, but treats its subject with kid gloves ... it’s almost certain to be the most exhaustive of the projects when it comes to telling the story of its subject’s life and exploring what made him tick. But at the same time, the book’s extra details don’t shed a ton of new light on things. If you’ve seen the movie, the things you’ll learn from the book are essentially trivia ... the book can’t help but feel a bit flat and perfunctory ... King presents a great number of facts in the book, but does little to finesse them into real storytelling ... One of the real strengths of The Good Neighbor is that it doubles as not just a history of early TV production, but also a primer on early-childhood education theory ... Ultimately The Good Neighbor gets the job done, but it’s hard to forget that others have done this same job better.
Bill Clinton & James Patterson
PositiveThe A.V. Club...a trashy, trashy-fun airport potboiler ... fans of this kind of book will probably be satisfied with this one. The plot clips along on short chapters and frequent cliffhangers, and there aren’t huge, embarrassing whiffs in the prose. (Though references to an assassin’s breasts—at various times described as her \'boobs\' and her \'girls\'—are particularly icky given Clinton’s inability to own up to his history.) ... Patterson is hardly an exemplary stylist, but he knows how to structure and pace these things to get the job done. Pretty much every development is preposterous...but enjoyably so. That this is what Clinton, a well-read man in both history and literature, wanted to spend time on is kind of endearing, as though he were sheepishly showing off his train set. On the other hand, you can’t remove the context of the former president writing this book. What to make of the fact that the terrorist antagonist gropes women as a sign of his evil? Should we read anything into how, in The President Is Missing, the first lady is dead? ... Reading between these lines is more fun than reading the lines themselves, as the details of the plot come standard issue from the genre.
PositiveThe AV Club\"The Outsider is in many ways a throwback novel, a creature feature that seems ripped from his ’80s heyday, his pulpiest book since perhaps Cell, but a work undeniably founded in today’s fears ... What’s remarkable and deeply pleasurable about the book is the way King slowly builds this world out. He may be tilling genre ground that’s similar to early blockbusters like Pet Sematary and It, but he’s doing so with the patience and maturity that’s marked the elder statesman stage of his career ... At the same time, here is the creepy King we grew up with, his grindhouse instincts firmly intact. Old-school fans who prefer his down-and-dirty-pillows work to his more literary output will greet this as one of his strongest in years ... All of these strengths are enough to offset some of the book’s weaker qualities. King’s premise is so engaging that there’s a bit of a downshift in enjoyment when the mystery section turns into suspense, and then again when suspense turns to action.\
PanThe AV ClubTurns out there’s a whisper-thin line between topping another author and just plain toppling over, and Sara Shepard’s The Elizas stumbles so dramatically that from page two on it’s closer to gut busting than hair raising ... In order to accommodate Shepard’s big narrative hooks—the brain-tumor subplot especially seems destined for bad-book cult immortality—the story is forced to go ludicrous, with outlandish coincidences, characters being told obvious lies that they believe just ’cause, and other narrative pieces that have to be pounded together ... The plotting is the literary equivalent of a comb-over for plot holes: just as thin, and just as effective as hiding what it’s supposed to cover.
MixedThe AV ClubHe has a gift for metaphor, a way of expressing complex emotions and relationships with a pithy comparison that’s easy to understand but genuinely illuminating, and at the same time isn’t a cliché and never feels cutesy ... Notebooks is Dolnick’s most thematically ambitious work, and while it maintains the clarity and broad sympathy that marks all his writing, it falters a bit as his narrative swings for the cosmos. It’s as though his premise and the ultimate point he wants to make are incompatible ... it’s implied that love can essentially transcend death, a nice idea that’s unconvincing under the circumstances ... Dolnick aims for a tearjerker finale he doesn’t earn ... This is the kind of issue you only really notice after you’ve finished the book, as you reach the 'Oh, that’s it?' final page, but it does make the book’s foundation feel retroactively weaker.
MixedThe AV ClubMunich, his latest work, for a time seems to be premised in an alternative history of its own, one in which the war is stopped before it even gets started ... The book — grounded in real history, with real-life figures as major characters, but otherwise fiction — is set in the days leading up to the September 1938 Munich Agreement ...in large part, is Harris’ attempt to empathize with Chamberlain; the author depicts him as an honorable man and a canny statesman, though his options are limited by the cards he has to play ... The book alternates its point of view from chapter to chapter, flipping between (fictional) lower-level figures on both sides of the negotiations ... The characters are perpetually exhausted, hungry, hungover, or annoyed by the weather, and these details carry an unusual amount of credibility and interest.
PanThe AV ClubThe stylistic and thematic forebears seem to be Richard Yates and John Cheever, —and also Weiner’s touchstones for the story of Don Draper—although neither of them were ever this awkwardly pulpy, and Weiner’s Raymond Carver-on-crack style (which is to say, Raymond Carver on sedatives) reads like minimalistic realism stretched to the point of parody ... Were one to write out a list of attributes that defined Mad Men—nuance, subtlety, complexity of character, an ability to convey its people and its setting through small gestures and details—Heather is the antithesis of that list. This is so completely true that it has to have been a deliberate decision, even if it wasn’t a successful one ... Heather reads like the outline to another story, one that would probably be effective, if it had the Mad Men attention to detail.
MixedThe AV Club\"The book goes from \'this is great\' to \'is that it?\' in record time as an abrupt third act leaves too many strands unresolved or forgotten. The book moves from point of view to point of view with each chapter, a style Perrotta has used before, but which here fragments rather than complements the narrative ... One gets the sense that Perrotta has been out-Perrotta-ed by the world. The subjects he tackles here—social justice causes and the feeling of alienation that comes from social media, smartphones, and internet porn—seem so completely up his alley that if he hadn’t written a book about them, society should’ve commissioned one. However, real life has surpassed his imagination and sympathetic cynicism. By now there’s no way to exaggerate these things, which means he’s unable to satirize them ... Perrotta still writes with an undeniable snap, and character details will frequently hit the bull’s-eye ... Perrotta admirers will admire much of Mrs. Fletcher, though they may mourn the better version that’s visible in the margins.\
MixedThe AV ClubAlda’s own presentation is engaging enough. He’s always been a performer who radiates sincerity and empathy, and his genuine interest in his subject is inviting in and of itself ... There’s not a ton of suspense in the stories, and none of the people he meets pop as characters with personalities, but there’s a sense of action and movement that carries things along. The book’s biggest problem is that, while some of the specifics of the research and points Alda brings up may be new to certain readers, none of it is particularly surprising ... the nobility of Alda’s goal can’t help but underline what’s missing from the book. We’re in an age with a desperate need for greater understanding and empathy, but If I Understood You doesn’t have anything to say about how a strong connection can be used in dark ways.
PanThe AV ClubEliot is right that no life can be fairly reduced to a single moment. But Icon fails to deliver the kind of complex portrait that intro promises. The book’s subject is a hugely important figure, but Eliot mostly avoids the things that make Heston historically notable. And what he does cover, he offers a surface-level look, brushing past contradictions and offering irrelevant tidbits instead of meaningful insights ... This lack of conflict would be tricky for any writer, but Eliot too obviously stretches for drama, trying to make points land in the moment at the expense of a more cohesive take ... Eliot shows little editorial judgment, giving something revealing, like Heston’s civil rights activism, the same attention and space as his obscure movies.
PanThe AV ClubBaldwin’s Trump-ian qualities of self-regard and remembering slights are on full display in this remarkably petty and oblivious book ... It’s understandable that Baldwin would want to use his memoir to reassert his point of view on various controversies, but the random snark, so to speak, about the media, Hollywood types, politicians, and so forth is beyond tedious, especially since there’s no real structure or finesse to the prose itself. Baldwin writes with no eye toward pacing, building an argument, or even consistency ... Ultimately, no Baldwin fan will find anything of interest in these pages, while those who hate him will find nothing but new ammunition. Trump will be thrilled: Nevertheless is Art Of The Deal-level disposable.
PanThe AV Club...a work that’s basically all analysis—unconvincing, aimless analysis ... movie buffs will find her scholarship wanting, if not mystifying. Not only are there few new insights (Spielberg declined to be interviewed, which left Haskell “stung, a little red-faced, like a girl angling for a date and being rejected”), but the points she makes range from dubious to flat-out false ... Haskell’s viewing of Spielberg’s work through a political lens is where the book is most compelling (because there are provocative theories being thrown out) and least convincing (because the theories are easily dismissed) ... Her look at Schindler’s List suggests there’s still room for critics to analyze what his art does, can, and should mean, but elsewhere, it feels like she’s just making it up as she goes along.
Brian Jay Jones
MixedThe AV ClubThis is the first biography of the director to encompass the Star WarsStar Wars
PositiveThe AV ClubA Gentleman In Moscow is an epic writ small, a story of Tolstoyan scope on a minute scale ... the most persuasively affectionate depiction of the aristocracy since The Leopard ... There’s something thrilling in the Count’s sense of honor, which necessitates choices he would not otherwise make. Many will want to climb into the book and live in the luxurious world that’s been recalled.
Jonathan Safran Foer
MixedThe AV ClubIt feels like his Kavalier & Clay—a conscious upgrading of scope. But while it’s a work of real vision and feeling, it only occasionally realizes its ambitions ... Where the book is messy and scattershot elsewhere, there’s no denying the power of this [Israel] section ... What would be the book’s most compelling section is given over to the show-offy literary device of a show 'bible,' Jacob’s in-book explanation of his TV show, which allows for Foer’s various themes and ideas to be spelled out explicitly. If that sounds masturbatory, know there is a multi-page section describing how one character pleasures himself ... At the same time, his willingness to swing for the fences and embrace sincerity are among his strongest qualities.
MixedThe AV ClubBright, Precious Days reads like a spiritual sequel to his Bright Lights, Big City, with that novel’s zeitgeist-defining narrator having found a measure of success and stability, but still viewing himself as young and on the cutting edge ... Bright doesn’t exactly mine uncharted territory, and the historical backdrop that comments on the action—the collapse of the old world, as seen by the 2008 financial crisis, the promise of what comes next, played by the 2008 election—feels more like grafted-on symbolism than organic or enlightening ... McInerney’s wit remains sharp, his powers of character observation astute, and he has more self-awareness than comes standard with the genre.
PositiveThe AV ClubThe Girls avoids the pitfalls of most period pieces, sidestepping the obvious totems of its era for smaller and more revealing details. That Cline, all of 27, so convincingly captures a time that occurred more than 20 years before she was even born is remarkable ... The idea of men judging women—especially men judging girls—runs throughout the book with piercing insight. This is what gives the book its tragic heft. The little steps the girls take off the path lead them to carnage, and they took the steps for reasons they didn’t understand.
MixedThe A.V. ClubEverybody’s Fool is bizarrely lurid and broad, featuring outlandish events like an escaped venomous snake and brutal acts of violence (more or less taken in stride by the old-timers). If this still qualifies as a slice of life, it’s from a pie made by Guy Fieri. Do these elements make for a bad book? Certainly Russo’s skills as a writer have not diminished; the book is filled with lovely passages and smart dialogue that provides thoughtful shading to both major and minor characters. The problem is that it can’t be viewed in a vacuum, and suffers in comparison to both the original and Russo’s overall body of work.
Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg
RaveThe AV Club...[a] hugely entertaining and remarkably insightful new book ... The most surprising thing about Modern Romance is that, while never less than compulsively readable, it works more successfully as a work of anthropology than a work of comedy. While it will inevitably be stocked in the humor aisle, it will be the sole title there that begins with an explanation of methods and ends with a list of citations.
MixedThe AV ClubKill ’Em features some of [McBride's] best and most beautiful passages. Still, it is also marked by a tone of frustration that fluctuates in how righteous it feels ... It’s easy to read this as crankiness more than insight, and McBride doesn’t exactly dissuade detractors by admitting he took on the book because he needed money after a divorce. But the tone is a deliberate choice, used for a serious purpose.
PositiveThe A.V. ClubGone With The Mind at times feels like the urtext of Leyner’s career, the culmination of what he’s capable of stylistically and tonally. It’s not as completely enjoyable as past works like Why Do Men Have Nipples?, a funny work of medical nonfiction, or The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, a novel about ancient gods chilling in Dubai, but that feels partially by design
PositiveThe AV Club\"In Lovecraft Country the genre and themes are completely in sync, the horror and racial feeding into the other ... This kind of marriage is hardly new, but the perspective here remains fairly radical against the much larger history of white artists presenting non-white groups as a malicious \'other.\'\
MixedThe AV ClubThe Secret Life Of The American Musical is a book about musicals in the bluntest possible sense, so much so that the title is misleading. Those who pick it up looking for salacious stories of 'shomances' and scandal will be disappointed, as will those looking for a history of the form or an Act One-style memoir of author Jack Viertel’s long career in the theater...
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveThe AV ClubBy this stage of her career, Oates understands character and structure in her very bones, and here she builds her prose around the qualities of memory loss ... [she] is canny and devastating in how she unveils a universal experience from the unique dynamic of her leads.