PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksStories like Khalid’s are gathered for Satya’s book, and they are a thrill to read. Kumar’s prose is magnetic. Using a sparse but intimate telling, Kumar’s writing enraptures the reader with each turn of Satya’s investigations. The approach is interesting because we are in these moments long enough to feel the weight and the risk, we come to bond with the character in the same way as Satya, and then we are quickly whisked away. The vignettes behave like the memories that they are, in and out of the mind ... Perhaps most fascinating is Satya’s relationship with his wife. Vanni is a very left-brained psychologist and she has a study for everything. Their conversations are often substantiated by her mental library of human behavioral studies. These anecdotes are a treat for the reader, but for Satya, they are bloodless ... What feels a little strange about this book is its proximity to the pandemic. It wasn’t very long ago that I, too, was cleaning off groceries, and with the Delta variant on the rise, I am still living in the time that Kumar documents. Which is to say, how soon is too soon to write about the pandemic, if ever? In some ways, it seems like this book will be a better read in five, ten, twenty years as its function is to document the time. We are in the novel’s time, however, and we have no perspective ... Between both Trump and the pandemic, we don’t know the results from the time Kumar is concerned with and that is what makes it hard to quite know how to consider the book, even if I enjoyed reading. How will this slice of trauma play out in the future? Only time will tell.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksLahiri’s writing is at once musical and practical, and I mean that as high praise. As a stylist, Lahiri writes with grace, and has a talent for finding profundity in the ordinary ... a sublime narrative derived from this skill at finding importance in life’s minutiae. Here, Lahiri breaks her own mold and delivers a slim, poignant novel ... Lahiri has previously discussed a strong connection to the Italian language, and while Whereabouts exhibits all the talent Lahiri possesses, it reads like an entirely different author wrote the book. The style shift is authentic, though, offering a new level of work from Lahiri ... The effect is a rare, engrossing connection to our narrator ... Perhaps more than anything this novel is a feat of poetry. Observations stun ... Lahiri lets her pen go wild, even if the prose is careful and compact. It’s this style that allows her to pull the reader into the narrator’s world. ... If we psychoanalyze the narrator, we can perhaps deduce that her loneliness is unconsciously self-constructed. The concept feels a little manufactured. Rather than living life as a victim of circumstance, one would like to see the narrator exhibit some agency, and we do, eventually, but it comes late. At times, I wished for something more to gently pull the book along, and perhaps that would deflect from the narrator’s melancholy ... While the book could use just a little heat, it still remains a lovely, stirring read. As she makes a small but important decision, it’s surprisingly sad to part with the narrator at the end of the book. This unassuming woman worms her way into your heart, and though the ending is satisfying, it’s still hard to close the cover.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveChicago Review of BooksAs with The Sympathizer , Vo’s motivation to protect his best friend, Bon, from discovering his communist identity serves as the primary tension that heightens throughout the novel. The plot is elusive. And, yet still, a lot happens. We finally get to meet Vo’s aunt (who is really Man’s aunt), a sophisticated literary editor who takes a shine to Vo’s confessional manuscript ... Mostly, we are in Vo’s head amid a lot of violence that surrounds such a profession. It’s important to note that Vo is not well. Torture and murder have made Vo crazy. A mental puddle, Vo is prone to cry over minor troubles, sometimes for no apparent reason at all. We are deep in Vo’s perspective and, as the novel progresses, his analytical mind dissects Marxist theory, communism, philosophy, and his failure as a revolutionary. For the philosophically minded, this is a treat ... It is to Nguyen’s credit that Vo is both incredibly likeable, funny, wise to a certain unstable degree, while remaining entirely unhinged. It’s fun. Vo explains his feelings with acute awareness, which avoids feeling like we’re trapped in a narrative of asylum ... Loose and unsteady, Vo no longer has a plan or agenda, and the shift on his mental state is seen in the prose. Somehow, the novel feels softer. The writing is confident, but less tense. It’s a pleasure. Compared with The Sympathizer , a book that had me on the edge of my seat, The Committed feels more like storytelling, a gripping story at that too.
RaveChicago Review of Books... it is as brilliant in execution as it is a pleasure to get lost in the stream of consciousness that creates the story itself. This kind of depth and structural experimentation is what makes To Be a Man such a beautiful, unique book ... Written with spare yet graceful prose, Krauss’s stories are intimate. They read like a secret between friends. There’s something otherworldly about Krauss’s work ... there’s a ruminating quality that reminds me of Patrick Modiano’s prose ... The stories are international, spanning New York, to Switzerland, to Latin America, to Tel Aviv, the grounding city in the collection. The push and pull between home and afar is an anxiety that adds necessary tension to Krauss’s subtle style ... While the unknown haunts these stories, perhaps the most significant consideration for Krauss is the concept of love as a union. Divorce appears in almost every story, and often protagonists discuss the desire to never marry again ... Krauss’s characters dig and rake at the debris of their lives, searching for something, looking into daily activities for meaning.
RaveChicago Review of Books... the title story...is as brilliant in execution as it is a pleasure to get lost in the stream of consciousness that creates the story itself. This kind of depth and structural experimentation is what makes To Be a Man such a beautiful, unique book. Written with spare yet graceful prose, Krauss’s stories are intimate. They read like a secret between friends. There’s something otherworldly about Krauss’s work. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a sense of dreaming. The stories are realist in approach, certainly, but there’s a ruminating quality that reminds me of Patrick Modiano’s prose ... Several themes sew the book together, but the one that strikes me most is distance and its barriers. The stories are international, spanning New York, to Switzerland, to Latin America, to Tel Aviv, the grounding city in the collection. The push and pull between home and afar is an anxiety that adds necessary tension to Krauss’s subtle style.
RaveChicago Review of BooksStories divide between closer narratives that feel like moments, while others work within stretches of time and offer a wide scope. The result of the latter is pointed, matter of fact sentences that can give stories the sense of a fable. Still, Swamy shifts time in unflinching confidence that keeps the narrative’s momentum strong ... Swamy isn’t afraid of experimentation ... Swamy’s collection is nervy and engaging while she displays a talent for sparse emotional language that’s a joy to read.
MixedThe Chicago Review of BooksThe book begins by laying the groundwork for each of the women, some getting much more story (Sexton and Kumin) than others (Swan and Pineda). But once creative careers are introduced and the artists accepted into Radcliffe, oddly, very little time is devoted to the Equivalents’ work at the institute itself. Readers are left to wonder what exactly happened to create such a beautiful bond between these women ... Sexton’s shaky mental health is told in a distant manner, such that understanding what was so hard for Sexton was difficult to grasp. To sympathetically portray a woman with suicidal tendencies who \'has it all,\' as was the case for Sexton, is a challenge, but essential. One gets used to Sexton’s suicide attempts that frequently dot the pages. The episodes lose their weight ... extensively researched. By delving into America’s changes from the 1950s to the millennium, Doherty shines a light on the evolution of women in society, both in the work that’s been done, and the work that remains ... All of Doherty’s research is fascinating, and it’s clear her passion is really about feminism and the potential future of women, not so much The Equivalents themselves. You can feel it in the way the text always meanders to the politics of the time. But this isn’t the promise of the book—the premise is about The Equivalents and how their creative works at Radcliffe motivated one another to change the artistic landscape for women ... The effect of this bouncing around and ambitious undertaking is that there isn’t enough depth with The Equivalents, the era, or the evolution of feminism. Doherty has tried to write two or three books (all worthy of attention) into one.
RaveChicago Review of BooksIn The Last Taxi Driver, one would not, at first glance, assume an Elizabethan dramatic structure ... However, much of what makes Lee Durkee’s novel so delightful and surprising is his ability to dig beneath the surface of this funny, well-told odyssey, which channels a Shakespearean tragedy ... The Last Taxi Driver is more of a transcendental journey than a story-driven novel. There isn’t an absolute plotline, rather, most of the book details Lou’s experiences, observations, his past life, and how he’s arrived at this day that triggers a subtle transformation. As we cut into the marrow of his character, in an oddly effective move, we get closest to Lou by losing trust in him as he becomes unhinged. By removing his defenses, his humor and candor, we see who Lou really is, and what drives him. The result is Durkee’s cathartic achievement ... Durkee’s prose hits the right pitch. Told from Lou’s perspective, it’s a casual, voice-driven read with smart intimate humor.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... a hypnotic page-turning hook with lyrical prose ...Thomas doesn’t seem worried. Access to his deep emotions aren’t available; it’s more that we experience Thomas’ re-emersion like a fly on the wall, rather than in his brain. This approach leaves the reader feeling detached from Thomas’ inner logic. The reason he has targeted this woman, Rachel, and what he’s looking for are not entirely understood ... Without the high-concept of death, Bonnaffons relaxes in her storytelling and gives us a deeper character ... a creative, high-concept narrative about relationships that never fully connect. In the end, however, everyone must move on.
RaveChicago Review of Books...while this poem maintains the tone and concludes ongoing themes, it’s the most mature of the poems. Like Teebs, Pico as a writer seems to have grown up. It comes through in the prose. The language has confidence and the loose structure is at once risky and brilliant. It’s nothing new for poets to go rogue when it comes to stanzas and meter—that’s the norm, if anything. But Pico is so intentional and precise; the lines break and enjamb in a way that feels urgent. You just can’t stop reading ... It should be stated that for all the heavy content and ideas found in this book, Pico is hilarious. Plays on words...make the work not only digestible, but relatable ... In his loneliness, Teebs is able to locate his inner-most, true self—he’s found his voice.