RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewI would in fact recommend this book to any reader for whom a chief pleasure to be found in literature is beautiful sentences. The elegance and incantatory power of Zarin’s prose, along with her virtuosity at observation, are undeniable, but, like many original works, Inverno resists easy description ... The narrator has a riveting, lyrical voice and a deliberately digressive but expertly controlled style ... Love and time. Each is commonly said to have the power to heal, but Inverno is all about that other power they share: to annihilate.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewMillet keeps thwarting the reader’s expectations of drama, and offers instead a subdued portrait of a wounded middle-aged man’s journey toward wholeness ... Millet may have thought that, in a time of widespread hatred, bigotry and violence, this is the kind of fiction we need: a comforting story about decency and simple human goodness. But she doesn’t avoid the well-known problem of how to make goodness compelling. Of course, the mind itself can be a sphere of spectacular drama, but Gil is no thinker, and in place of depth he has the kind of cluelessness that virtuous fictional characters are often given ... Whatever happiness he finds comes easily enough. Perhaps Millet intended a lesson here: It doesn’t take much to do the right thing, to leave the world a better place than you found it ... But every human soul is a battlefield, and I wish I could have seen more wrestling between Gil’s good and bad angels.
Annie Ernaux, trans. by Alison L. Strayer
RaveThe New York Review of BooksThe journal is relentless in its presentation of her pain and abasement, but no less so in its effort to dissect what just happened. Here is the same deep probing for truth, the same fanatical quest for self-awareness to be found in all Ernaux’s work ... Like most diaries—and quite unlike Ernaux’s usual meticulously concise prose—Getting Lost contains its share of banalities, messy thoughts, inconsistencies, and unpolished sentences. It is often repetitious, and accounts of Ernaux’s dreams are no more exciting to hear about than anyone else’s ever are. But, to echo James Wood’s observation about reading Karl Ove Knausgaard—another writer consumed with his own intimate history—even when I was bored I was interested ... What is remarkable—and what, for me, makes her work more engaging than much contemporary autofiction is her ability to appear removed from her first-person narratives, to be writing objectively about her subjectivity, achieving transparency and, at the same time, an almost forensic detachment ... as a matador-writer Ernaux has always faced the bull’s horns. She is a master of close and graceful capework, and, as in any bullfight, it is the show of courage before danger and possible disaster that enthralls the spectator.
María Gainza, tr. Thomas Bunstead
PositiveThe New York Review of Books... a detective story, but not the traditional kind whose mystery demands to be solved ... The novel also contains so many engaging art-related anecdotes and digressions that the reader starts to anticipate them with pleasure ... Like the Lydis auction catalog a clever mix of fiction and fact, this document has the ludic, labyrinthine feel of a Borges tale—appropriately enough, given that the accused, a collector named Federico Manuel Vogelius (whose guilt or innocence is never firmly established), was an actual friend of Borges ... It can be more than a little disorienting at times, not knowing for sure what we are being told is true and what is false and what falls somewhere in between, but that is fitting in a novel so much concerned with misconception and duplicity.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksThis kind of description, thriftily capturing so much in a single piquant phrase, is one of the pleasures of Hoby’s writing. The mix of funny-awful is also a hallmark ... I took such delight in Hoby’s prose. She isn’t afraid to reach for a word like menhir to describe a hunk of cheese ... this dramatic turn lacks force. A deeper problem, though, is the character of Zara herself. Luca and Paula and Jason are skillfully drawn, each possessing a distinctive, nuanced personality and a complicated psyche, and Hoby’s gift for sensual description makes us feel we know them viscerally—down to how their pillows smell in the morning. Zara—beautiful, righteous, \'conspicuously\' smarter than all four of the magazine’s other interns (and seemingly everyone else), a woman of spotless integrity and heroic guts—is less an individual than a collection of merits ... Given our national historical moment, it seems right for Hoby to want to make Zara the novel’s moral center. But why couldn’t she be exemplary without being a paragon? For me, Luca’s hagiographic vision of Zara diminished her reality, and his bitter disillusionment and obsessive self-blame for \'all the ways I’d failed her\' seem to partake of a similar exaggeration ... Luca’s present middling existence seems to me at odds with the person we’ve come to know. We’ve seen that exceptional people as different from one another as Zara and Paula and Jason saw in him someone worthy of friendship, and though he might often strike the reader as unlikable and even at times repugnant, he is never less than interesting company. Hoby has blessed him with psychological acuity and a Nabokovian eye for beauty and passion for detail. Forever tormented by fears of being a fraud, he turns out to be the novel’s most authentic and sympathetic character. For me, he is too intelligent, too curious, too sensitive to be doomed to eternal dullness.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksThe effect is impressionistic, the story, such as it is, unfolding in fragments, a collection of vignettes and condensed meditations ... The dailiness of life is emphasized, and the intimate voice—a diarist’s voice—feels more like that of someone talking to herself than to you. This is not the kind of book that is particularly concerned with making the reader feel welcomed ... a disquieting pattern emerges: in almost every ordinary situation there is something to bring the narrator down ... there is little room for lightness or playfulness in the narrator’s accounts ... None of the novel’s many brief, subjective meditations leads to a more developed or complex exploration of any broader aspect of the human condition. About whatever writing or research she might be doing now, or may have done in the past, or plans to do during her fellowship, we learn nothing ... lingering questions...made the novel’s denouement feel not quite real to me ... I found the unsentimental, even ruthless, and at times excruciating account of chronic depressive disorder in Whereabouts utterly convincing. The book will strike a chord with anyone who has ever struggled with similar emotional pain ... But for all the gloom rising from these pages, there is more than a whiff of the romantic as well ... though we all know how dangerous it is to romanticize depression in real life, in a lyrical novel such as this one it can be very seductive ... The bare-bones style, not to mention the replacement with European characters of the Indians and Indian-Americans whose stories readers found so engaging in Lahiri’s previous fiction, won’t please everyone, of course ... I admire her stubborn insistence on the path she has chosen, which takes courage—a virtue perhaps especially bracing to see at a time when most other writers I know are feeling uncertain and cowed.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThere are many pleasures to be had from reading the stories in To Be a Man, though I suspect the main effect for many Krauss admirers will be impatience to get their hands on her next full-length work ... That potent figure so familiar to us from the novels—a difficult, egotistical father—makes several appearances ... \'Seeing Ershadi\' is a strange and evocative story that, while straining credulity, manages to ring emotionally true. In another, less convincing one, \'Amour,\' we are asked to believe that one of the characters can recall every detail, from dialogue to camera angles, of numerous movies she saw decades ago ... What puzzled me about \'Amour\' was the setting: \'one of the refugee camps\' ... That they are in a place of grievous suffering is made vivid enough, but if there was a good reason to use it as a backdrop for a love story that did not in any way require such a setting, I could not see it ... The use of both the refugee camp and the gas masks seemed to me like examples of the hook that writers are often encouraged to sink into the reader’s mind with their opening sentences. That device can serve a story well, of course, but since Krauss never engages with the difficult reality of either of these extreme situations, the hook ends up dangling like an upside-down question mark ... Female as well as male power is represented in the collection, with deft capturings of that thrilling but perilous moment when a girl sees herself for the first time through adult men’s eyes ... Unlike so often elsewhere in Krauss’s fiction, at no point in the narrative [of \'End Days\'] are we asked to suspend disbelief in order to fully understand or enjoy it. It is the collection’s shining example of just how much enchantment this capable writer can make out of ordinary people, dear ordinary people living their sweet messy everyday lives.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books... moving and wholly convincing depictions of giddy new romance and blissful, near-religious lovemaking ... The middle of \'The Little Saint\' was the only time reading Greenwell that I ever got bored ... If the reader is a woman, she is likely to find confirmation of what makes so many of her gender wary of men and sex...how, when one man wants another man to feel totally humiliated and debased, to feel like the worst thing, like dirt, like less than dirt, like nothing but a hole, he calls that man she. Ah, the sameness of it all ... There is no irony in Greenwell’s writing, and—for me, regrettably—no comic touch. But one of the things I most admire is the quality of intense earnestness that marks every page. Laying himself bare, putting himself so mercilessly on the line, subjects the protagonist to the risk of appearing self-absorbed, shameful, exhibitionistic, and, of course, ridiculous. But that risk is surely part of the point: it is what makes writing like this worth doing ... Some of the most affecting and beautiful scenes in his books have nothing to do with sexual identity or gay desire but involve exquisite observations about others whose vulnerability has touched the narrator’s heart ... Each of these scenes is radiant with kindness, and, for me, reading them was like a balm. Compassion, that supreme quality in a fiction writer, is a main source of Greenwell’s power ... I was happy reading Greenwell. The carefully constructed sentences, the authenticity of the voice, the clarity and deep humaneness of the gaze—all this had a soothing and uplifting effect on me, the usual effect of good literature. Coming to the end of Cleanness, I was already thinking about Greenwell’s next book, knowing that I would read anything he wrote.
PositiveThe Threepenny ReviewThe Accidental...is a simple story—a fable, even—complicatedly told. It begins, literally and disarmingly, with a bang … Smith is a daring acrobat of a writer, and, the better to perform her breathtaking tricks, she has given her book a sturdy structure in the form of three parts...All together these narratives show Smith to be, among other wonders, a master of the use of free indirect style. Hers is the kind of prose in which, as in poetry, every word counts. Line by line, all is taut; there is no slackness anywhere. And no hot air. The effect is enthralling. The prose is full of riffs—real ones … Rich as The Accidental is, I finished it still hungry.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewGoing back over the painful, at times gruesome, details of Rosie’s decline, Myles is unflinching but also irrepressibly humorous. Her grief at losing Rosie is profound; it is also a revelation ... A mind as searching and honest as Myles’s would not be content to explore the commonplace joys and rewards of dog ownership without also looking at the dark side ... Myles possesses, in abundance, two qualities of the highest value for a writer, irreverence and relentless curiosity, and here both are on full display. As a prose writer she is naturally, even obsessively, digressive, and the book’s loose, nonlinear form allows her to riff or ruminate on what can seem at times like a maniacal range of subjects ... Given how deeply concerned it is with loss, Afterglow is inescapably a sad book, but, because it is a love story, and because, like any serious book about death, it is full of life, it has a celebratory feel to it. 'It seems you should obviously always be pleasing somebody with your writing but who,” writes Myles. 'That in part is the problem of the writer.' The writing here, by turns playful, heartfelt, wise, compassionate, fantastical and audaciously confessional, should please many.
Emily St. John Mandel
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewMandel is an able and exuberant storyteller, and many readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters’ lives and fates … Where the book falters, I think, is in its imagination of disaster. Having accepted the science that says a flu pandemic is highly probable in our future, Mandel chooses a worst possible situation, a plague that results in the immediate and total collapse of civilization. But the survivors do not think, act or speak like people struck by such a cataclysm. For the most part, they do not behave very differently from people living in ordinary, civilized times.