PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewFans of Paulette Jiles’s News of the World will be delighted — and perhaps a little disappointed — by the author’s seventh book. With her previous novel, Jiles delivered a near-perfect historical novel of compressed lyricism and masterly storytelling about the itinerant adventures of the septuagenarian widower Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd ... It’s a breathtaking book ... With Simon the Fiddler, Jiles taps a secondary character, the redheaded Simon Boudlin from News of the World, and opens up the narrative folds of his personal saga, jumping back a few years in time.... As with her other novels, Jiles is in command of this historical milieu, evoking her scenes and characters with precision and detail ... During its finer moments, Jiles’s new book calls to mind one of my favorite books by Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark, about an opera singer who is transformed by her talent, ambition and determination. Like Cather, Jiles deftly animates landscapes — both internal and external — as well as those hard-to-portray moments when making music and performing for others leads to true self-contentment. The reader is treated to a kind of alchemy on the page when character, setting and song converge at all the right notes, generating an authentic humanity that is worth remembering and celebrating.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleOne story after another, this author puts forth idiosyncratic and twisted conceits, but manages to deliver the narrative goods when it comes to depicting the tragic, emotional lives of her characters ... Cook is interested in exploring a subversive breed of narrative, more in the absurdist vernacular of George Saunders, Chris Adrian and Aimee Bender ... With a handful of these stories, Cook takes the subject of sex and all of its physical glory — irrational obsession, unbridled desire and teenage sex. Not all of these stories succeed in their boldness, but one, \'Meteorologist Dave Santana,\' strikes a balance with its dark humor and palpable sorrow ... Many of Cook’s stories could come off as empty technical exercises, but instead read like complete miniature portraits of human failings and losses. Like the best kind of fiction, the reader is left with much to think about within the broad realms of sex, death, love and friendship.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...exsquisite ...In The Maid’s Version, Woodrell orchestrates a captivating, almost operatic narrative of how tragedy and grief can transform places and people ... With an economical brilliance similar to that of Denis Johnson in Train Dreams, Woodrell delivers a stunning story of one small town, and all of its profound complexities and opaque mysteries. It’s a considerable achievement, and a pleasure to read.
Karen Thompson Walker
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"... inventive, well-crafted ... Seamlessly, the author circulates through the town and a specific constellation of characters ... [Walker\'s] choice in perspective — combined with the use of the present tense — produces an immediate and urgent portrait of the mounting public health crisis and how the characters’ lives are shaped by the epidemic. Here and there, the narrative gallops at an accelerated pace, almost tilting toward the melodramatic, but, for the most part, Walker bypasses this pitfall. At the same time, despite the dire circumstances, the omniscient narrator’s voice, buoyant yet sympathetic, propels things along. There are a few minor missteps — convenient plot turns and character developments... but these are easy to overlook ... Taken altogether, [Walker] produces precarious, tender portraits of parents and children — newborns, teenagers and adults — and suggests that these relationships are what save us in the end.\
RaveThe Boston Globe...[a] rollicking, often-riotous debut novel ... As a way of educating the reader, Kwan provides myriad footnotes, which offer translations of Cantonese, Hokkien, and Mandarin words, as well as further explanations of the high-end culture and society. The author’s wit adroitly penetrates the fine print ... One of the few drawbacks of the narrative is the deliberate litany of name-dropping and designer brands, which grows a little wearisome. That said, with each chapter, Kwan skillfully moves the narrative forward with escalating tension ... Crazy Rich Asians is an entertaining, engrossing novel. Kwan certainly knows how to tell a lively, generous story of shallow extravagance and human devotion.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleDespite the hopeless nature of things, a reader often finishes a Trevor story with a modicum of hope, a reminder of both the frailty and resilience of the human spirit ... As he deftly excavates his characters’ inner worlds, Trevor once again produces a sort of subtle alchemy on the page ... Like Alice Munro, Trevor magically compresses these private narratives, advancing through entire lifetimes in the mere space of 10 or so pages ... These 10 stories satisfy on many levels — the masterful craft, the emotional precision, the agile interplay between the past and present.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleMessud is committed to the deep emotional excavation of her characters, revealing and exploring the complex inner impulses that fuel their stories ... Cassie ventures into her own story, looking for her father. When she locates a potential candidate on the Internet, she runs away and attempts to meet him. This section of the novel temporarily falters as most of Cassie’s adventures are filtered through her former boyfriend, Peter. It seems the author’s intention is to create further emotional distance between the two friends with this secondhand storytelling, but the technique dilutes the impact and intensity of the narrative. Messud’s literary powers are fully engaged when she delves into the emotional landscape of her narrator and all that she has experienced during her short life. At turns, the author’s prose and insights are breathtaking. She doesn’t try to dazzle the reader with pyrotechnic language, but instead distills the truths about the baffling passage of adolescence.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFrom the moment the children find themselves caught by a strong current, the narrative takes on a velocity, a palpable swoosh generated by countless plot turns, almost to the point of creating a bit of whiplash for the reader. Told in rotating third-person perspectives, Meloy moves among her ever-expanding cast of characters (20 in all) of different ages, classes and races, rarely missing a narrative beat. With ease and assurance, the author proves to be something of an acrobat in the way she tells this story of missing children and modern-day parenting ... Meloy’s ability to write about children and teenagers shines on the page. Their authentic dialogue and observations produce illuminated pockets of insights and innocence amid the escalating chaos.
At the same time, Meloy never strays far from her exploration of parenting and its inherent fears, the first-world privilege of growing up in the States versus the very different struggles of citizens in developing nations, and all that falls in between. The author excels at bridging the gap between these distinct worlds and never lets the reader forget where her characters come from.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleOne of the joys of this entertaining novel is Tartt's authentic, timeless descriptions of New York City in all of its distinct beauty and loneliness … The reader follows Theo through a 14-year odyssey guided by tremendous loss and grief, all the while the legendary painting providing something of a rudder to his adventures … In the novel's homestretch, Tartt takes the reader on something of a wild international ride, but the melodrama never sends this ambitious narrative off the rails. Instead, under the assured command of the author's sturdy prose, the reader holds on and is taken deep into the downtrodden soul of Theo and the unpleasant truths that he must face.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle...[a] captivating narrative ... Narratively speaking, Chaon goes for the fences, telling this intricate story in a rotating series of voices, perspectives and forms ... At times, the prose on the page takes unusual arrangements — columns, squares, words tumbling into white space. These visual arrangements generate a disoriented yet layered read, particularly when the reader is spending time with Aaron in his drug-addled condition. This intended effect is certainly accomplished, but often these bold choices break the spell of the reading experience. Ultimately, the brilliance of Chaon’s writing comes through in his agile ability to depict the acute states of isolation and alienation of his characters.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle[Leavitt] once again skillfully animates themes of disappearance, abandonment and loss ... As the narrative rushes forward, Leavitt’s prose sometimes lapses into cliche. At other times, repeated beats dilute the impact of the narrative ... the author’s storytelling strengths excel when she telescopes onto the nuanced relationships at the heart of this novel. With the affair between Lucy and William, Leavitt does an excellent job of depicting the shifting love and loyalty that quickly transforms into something twisted and toxic ... Leavitt successfully reminds the reader of the ephemeral and lifelong nature of sisterly love, and how it always leaves behind a certain kind of sadness and beauty.
Alain De Botton
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleInstead of dissecting a romance of the short-term variety, this narrative extends over 15 years, probing the institution of marriage and its many predictable corollaries and how the love of this particular couple endures and matures over time ... Largely told in an omniscient third-person voice, the narration takes on a stereophonic quality, with both husband and wife commenting on the ever-shifting allegiances of their love, commitment and struggles. The author deftly delivers both sides of the marriage, exploring the incompatible interplay of romantic love and practical love ... At times, the philosophical overlay informs the characters and their actions, and during other moments, the italicized interjections read more like interruptions of heated scenes of conflict and ardor ... Part literary novel, part self-help handbook, The Course of Love certainly illuminates the subtle and not-so-subtle fissures of one modern marriage and what it takes for two people to stay together through the years. Despite some of the narrative contrivances, this nontraditional novel is generous in its spirit and message.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleThere are many ways to look at Spiotta’s new novel, like a well-cut diamond turned toward a source of soft illumination, each rotation catching a different set of prismatic refractions of secrets, wants and transformations...At the conclusion, the reader is left with a multitude of questions to consider. Among them: Can an artist live an enriching life without having an audience? It’s a tough question to answer, but it’s certain that Spiotta’s audience will keep growing with this stunning novel.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleWith these seven stories, the author trains her narrative telescope on the decaying human body — whether it’s from illness or age. It’s not the easiest subject matter to animate on the page, but Heyman takes on the brutal intimacy of death and aging and provides new ways of seeing and experiencing these stages of life.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThis memorable collection certainly beckons the reader — both with its beautiful cover and robust prose — to return to its pages, with each story offering up unexpected surprises and secrets with each read.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThis new collection offers up a similar response: Great news! Elizabeth Tallent has a new book. Readers, I’m certain, will love many of the sentences and many of the stories.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleThis expansive, brilliant novel offers up a reading experience unlike others, a sort of labyrinth-like fun house of distorted mirrors and unseen trapdoors. At the beating heart of all of this is Groff’s memorable couple — Lancelot, or 'Lotto,' Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder — who captures the reader’s complete attention until the novel’s final page.