MixedThe New York Review of Books... carefully researched, spiritedly written, and protractedly subtitled ... Okrent argues that it was only when eugenics met xenophobia that all hell broke loose, but eugenics, as practiced by Galton and his epigones, was never distinct from racial and ethnic stratification ... Okrent painstakingly shows the asininity of eugenicists’ pseudoscientific, hopelessly subjective, and frankly bigoted theories ... Okrent’s research into the convergence of nativism and eugenicism in America during these years is deep and comprehensive, but he pushes to the peripheries aspects some might think are central ... It’s also surprising that Okrent, the author of an equally fine history of Prohibition, ignores altogether the role of anti-immigration sentiment in passing the Volstead Act, which was partly a way to criminalize the customs of Europeans who came from drinking cultures ... a book about fake science, but fake history played a crucial part in the story too ... [Okrent] also leaves unspoken the obvious connections between the history he’s relating and the American political situation today, doubtless because they are so flagrant, but this leaves open the possibility of reading his account as an earlier echo, rather than origin story ... sharply reminds us that nativism has never been limited to its most savage enforcers, like the Klan or neo-Nazis.
PanThe GuardianIt is not that novelists should shy away from historical trauma, far from it: but their job is to find something interesting to say about evil, rather than simply announcing its existence, being outraged, and going home ... if Morrison had finished writing the novel she so carefully began, it might have been one of her best in years. But at well under 200 pages with wide margins, Home barely begins before it ends ... Frank\'s post-traumatic stress disorder disappears...easily, effecting one of the least satisfying \'redemptions\' I can remember ... Home should be relentless, unsparing, but Morrison relents halfway through, and spares everyone—most of all herself.
MixedThe New Statesman AmericaWilletts has meticulously researched this book, and is rigorous about not making claims without evidence ... Willetts has reconstructed Laplante’s escapades, supplemented by chronicles from those who knew him, including Burtha. While Willetts’s refusal to speculate is admirable, it also constrains his narration, which is littered with qualifiers ... Too often, the story takes refuge in auxiliary trivia ... In the end, Willetts’s dilemma is transferred to the reader: this is a story about unscrupulous deception told with a scrupulosity that is admirable, but leaves the reader wishing that it were just a bit, well, jazzier.
MixedThe GuardianCross-cutting between the three protagonists' perspectives at different points in their lives, Lee effectively builds suspense around a series of mysteries ... The problem with The Surrendered, despite Lee's characteristically elegant prose (his first two novels entirely deserved the plaudits and praise they received), is that few of these questions are adequately answered ... During the war, carnage can multiply: June, Hector and Sylvie each survives atrocities that Lee narrates with immense power and skill; the death of Sylvie's parents is especially haunting, and alone makes the novel worth reading ...a novel almost cut off in mid-bloom by an author who hasn't kept quite vigilant enough, and surrendered a bit too easily.
Sylvia Plath, ed. by Peter K. Steinberg & Karen V. Kukil
MixedThe Guardian\"This whole complicated history is why it matters that scholarly versions of Plath’s autobiographical writing – her surviving letters and journals – are being published in their unabridged entirety by editors who are free from direct conflicts of interest. There is no question that The Letters of Sylvia Plath was worth publishing. The question of whether it is worth reading, however, is trickier … Though this volume is a valuable scholarly resource, most general readers are likely to prefer the second one, which will cover the years when the most dramatic events of her life (other than her suicide attempt at 20, which inspired The Bell Jar) took place. More important, it is when she came into her own as a writer and as an adult. Indeed volume two will have a better claim to represent the ‘true’ voice of the poet.\
MixedThe Guardian[The narrator’s] problems are certainly bourgeois: lack of private-school tuition won't strike many as a tragedy, and it apparently never occurs to anyone that the well-educated Claire might seek gainful employment. When he refuses a job offer from his mentor, readers may lose all sympathy for his plight: to lose a job may be regarded as a misfortune, to throw several away looks like carelessness. But the narrator is fighting his way toward a post-racial identity that doesn't erase – or, indeed, ‘whitewash’ – his past, without trapping him in it either. The story is about what it feels like to be black in a supposedly post-racial America … But the book is unquestionably redeemed by its intelligence, its ambition – and most of all by the lovely, bluesy riffs it ceaselessly plays on old American standards.
MixedThe GuardianTampa arrives flanked by quotations that liken it to Lolita, an inevitable comparison that doesn't do it any favours. Tampa resembles Lolita superficially at best: both are about compulsive paedophiles, but the similarity ends there … Nutting's writing is clean and controlled, its banality surely deliberate – an echo of the psychopath's lack of affect that Bret Easton Ellis used so cleverly in American Psycho. But Nutting offers nothing to supplement the arid vacuum of obsessive lust in which Celeste is trapped … Celeste's infinite superficiality and terror of ageing certainly embody some key anxieties of millennial America, but the parallels stop there, and the reader is left entrapped in this barren psychic landscape, with little to watch but a teacher who masturbates on her classroom desk.
PositiveThe GuardianThe Gilead novels can be read as an act of national and cultural recovery, resurrecting powerful ghosts to remind America of a forgotten moral lineage … Lila and Ames are such reserved, introverted characters that there is less social complexity in Lila than in Robinson’s other novels – but there is more exploration of the intractability of individuality. Two people who feel forsaken find a sanctuary in each other they can neither express nor trust; their hesitant, fearful romance is intensely affecting .. Perhaps Gilead emerges as the most intellectual of the three books, Home the most political, Lila the most emotional. Together they are masterclasses in the use of perspective, overlapping, often narrating the same events, but from sharply divergent standpoints.
PositiveThe GuardianFranklin’s ambition in this sympathetic and fair-minded biography is to elevate Jackson to the status of a major 20th-century writer, rather than the minor author of 'The Lottery' and a handful of enjoyably eerie novels ... Franklin tends to flatly blame Geraldine for her daughter’s anxieties in ways that can be too simplistic; the book’s clear feminist sympathies do not seem to expand beyond Jackson to her mother, who was presumably a product of her own upbringing.
RaveThe GuardianAll of this will make Commonwealth sound like a domestic novel, and it is – one of the finest in recent memory, which is reason enough to admire it ... In particular, Commonwealth is one of the most discerning novels about siblings I can recall ... The novel is alive with provocative insights that sum up entire relationships ... one of the ways we come together is through sharing our treasures – including jewels like Commonwealth.
PanThe Guardian...although he is ceaselessly ironic about money, McInerney’s novel still seems to inhabit an antiseptic space sterilised by its own laws. He has ensured that readers unfamiliar with the plots of the first two books will not be left adrift here, but too often McInerney’s outlines of previous stories read like the résumés they are ... McInerney describes the topography of wealthy New York with a familiarity that feels smug rather than welcoming: it’s social history as humblebrag ... McInerney still knows how to write when he chooses...But there is far too much clumsy exposition ... this is a novel that signals higher virtues, without evincing them.
PanThe GuardianThere is no appreciable evidence in the book of any effort to interview Donna, or Foos’s second wife, Anita, which seems an astonishing oversight ... In Talese’s book, the confidence man gives way to the voyeur, a perfect metaphor for the reporter’s compromised role, and Talese knows it ... Talese is too intelligent not to raise questions about his own complicity. But he asks the question lightly, without answering it, and then trots off to share the next sordid anecdote, which he is generally content to let Foos narrate. Talese is capable of brilliant prose; Gerald Foos is not. Unfortunately, at least a third of this book is written by Foos ... The Voyeur’s Motel is a work of great moral queasiness, and intellectual inertia. In the end, Talese refuses to take any view at all. But without a viewpoint we are left with only voyeurism itself: watching, and learning nothing.
MixedThe Guardian\"His friends are all very concerned with Jude, to the exclusion of being concerned about anyone else, including themselves. There is something unsettlingly infantile and narcissistic about this pre-Copernican conception of Jude’s world, a fantasy construction in which the people who love him are as endlessly occupied by his psychodrama as he is ... The problem with telling rather than showing is not that it flouts an authorial precept set down by Henry James; writers are free to break all rules, including that one, if it improves their books. But such narration is distancing: it leaves us watching what Jude feels, rather than actively sharing in his confusion, pain, suffering. Meanwhile, eking out Jude’s memories of elaborate tortures has the unfortunate effect of turning sadistic tales of child abuse into narrative payoff ... Somehow, against all the odds, just like its protagonist, this book survives everything its author throws at it – and if it doesn’t quite triumph, it has far outplayed the odds.\