RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... captivating ... a new classic ... If you know nothing about 20th century Chinese history going into Forbidden City, worry not ... so much more than an historically minded #MeToo narrative ... Historical fiction, at its best, is a visceral, not academic, enterprise. It provides dual pleasures to the reader: the pleasure of time travel and the pleasure of time’s echo. It’s one thing to know intellectually that history repeats itself and another to see history enacted through a well-crafted, defamiliarizing narrative. The echoes I heard in Forbidden City — narcissistic leadership, a revenge-thirsty body politic, women and girls treated as things — both unsettled and compelled me to consider the present anew. I can think of no higher praise for this ambitious and impressive novel.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIf all this sounds too depressing for your second pandemic winter: I promise it is not! Like most novels of this type, these characters’ story lines intersect in unexpected and moving ways. Haigh deftly walks across the fault line of one of the most divisive issues of our age, peeling back ideology and revealing what all ideology refuses to recognize: an individual’s humanity. This in itself is an act of mercy ... argues, both in form and content, that compassion is a powerful counterpoint to the conflict-driven stories that dominate our news cycles, our news feeds and our Netflix queues. In Haigh’s world, in other words, mercy may no longer be fashionable, but it sure is necessary.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle... [the characters] continue to grope for connection through the fog as well, even as intimacy eludes them. A familiar feeling to many of us, perhaps, after this past year, when our collective suffering either turned us inward or had us typing furiously and shouting at screens. It’s a pleasure, then, to see these characters flicker with flinty humor or gestures of resilience — savoring a perfect strawberry, or learning to fly an airplane, or refusing to carry an entire nation’s shame about remaining child-free ... admirable.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleLockwood, who catapulted to fame with the viral 2013 poem \'Rape Joke,\' has indeed published two volumes of poetry, plus a lauded memoir, Priestdaddy, which made a friend of mine laugh so hard she peed. No One Is Talking About This begins in a similarly high key ... Part one of the novel, which first appeared in a talk Lockwood gave at the British Museum, reads like this new \'stream-of-a-consciousness,\' but on steroids. It is — and I mean this as a compliment — completely demented ... The heroine emerges quite changed at the end of this one. I did, too.
Shilpi Somaya Gowda
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... engrossing ... Gowda renders even the worst decisions made by the Olanders with compassion and insight, so much so that rooting for them — despite and because of their fragility — becomes a pleasure. I know these characters, and I love them, and for some unnameable hours in this uneasy spring, their journey from life, to death, to life was also mine. What a gift, to be that transported, and, eventually — blessedly — transformed ... How good to be reminded that though we fail each other so frequently, we are also each other’s only hope.
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle... part horror, part case study and — I mean this as a compliment — part feminist polemic ... Reading The Illness Lesson is like watching someone with superior intelligence work out a proof. If I felt a tinge of sorrow that its characters did not necessarily surprise me, the satisfaction in seeing a problem so flawlessly worked out was a worthy substitute ... The fog literally gets under their skin, and by the end of the novel, it also got under mine.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle... elegant ... Years blink by in a paragraph, Danny’s children survive infancy in a few pages. What this allows Patchett to do is illustrate how often our preoccupation with the past blinkers our ability to (as the mindfulness gurus insist) stay present ... maybe that’s what fairy tales are for: to remind us that bravery’s there for the taking.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleTo say that Téa Obreht’s long-anticipated follow-up to The Tiger’s Wife is worth the wait is like saying the Grand Canyon is worth the visit. It’s not wrong—it’s just insufficient ... This conjuring of trouble from thin air is an old-fashioned but spellbinding narrative sleight-of-hand, one a number of contemporary writers might benefit from studying ... Novels sung in a duet, like Nora and Lurie’s, hinge upon the expectation that its heroes meet eventually, despite and because of this unlikelihood at the outset. Nora’s story spans a day, Lurie’s decades; these different rhythms harmonize like a bass line and melody. By the time Obreht sings her aria—you’ll know it when you see it—I was so overwhelmed by this opus of a novel that I suddenly began to weep ... \'The sublime lives here,\' one of her characters says of the West. The same could be said of Inland. In a moment where the book world fetishizes self-examination and minute, sentence-level showiness, it is not only a relief but a privilege to see Obreht shoot the moon with this sprawlingly ambitious and fully imagined tale. Great literature is to the spirit what water is to the body. Read Inland, and drink deeply.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle... [the protagonists] often seem more broken up about Brynn than they do over their dad. This may have something to do with the structure of the novel: Half of it is told in flashback, a choice which at times swamps the plot like a construction project in the Everglades. It may also have something to do with the first-person narration. Jessa is a ruminator, a loner, a hard drinker, and she prefers to nurse some wounds over others, the way a drunk repeats the same stories night after night. ... suggests, above all else, that love is not something to be conquered, killed, skinned and mounted. It is living, and a verb. What we do for love — be it build erotic buffalo sculptures in grief-stricken homage, steal peacocks, raise someone else’s children, collect roadkill — is so much more powerful than what we think about it.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... marvelous ... startlingly inventive stories, eight in total, which confirm Russell’s status as master of the slipstream ... Not all the stories in this collection are driven by the implications of the stories we tell ourselves, but the ones that do address this deeply human impulse to protect, deceive and make sense of ourselves through story seem particularly resonant with our current historical moment.