MixedThe New York Review of BooksSpiotta is unsurprisingly great on the brute facts of middle age ... Much of Wayward has the glow, if not the urgency or sex appeal, of Spiotta’s previous work ... Even a writer with Spiotta’s prodigious gifts can’t quite engender rapturous admiration for the crossroads of New York State ... But Syracuse winds up being an ideal receptacle for Sam’s ultimate passion, her love of landmark preservation. She gets high off a respectful gut renovation, and her new house is described with radiant precision ... a hugely entertaining tear on the subject of feminist activism ... Even here, Spiotta avoids easy opportunities for ridicule. This is a testament both to her skill and to her fluent knowledge of a character who would like to remove herself from all the histrionics but knows she’s not immune to their source ... Unlike Spiotta’s other work, which feels so smooth in its satire, Wayward starts to read like a checklist of modern plagues ... It’s not just the proper nouns that come flying at the reader, it’s the incidents. The coincidences ... Meanwhile, she happens to be the sole witness to a police shooting, a plot thread that feels thin and a bit hasty ... Strung together, the many \'contemporary issues\' that Spiotta describes give the sensation that Wayward is a novel about aging that would prefer to be a novel about an age. They can seem a contortion, an attempt to counterbalance the less-than-cool premise of \'suburban woman having a breakdown\' ... It’s credible enough for her to throw various motives at the wall and see what sticks, but this starts to feel as if Spiotta weren’t sure of the answers herself ... It’s a guessing game that threatens to undercut one of the most valuable tenets of this otherwise affecting novel, which is that being a woman in America is enough to make you run for the hills.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWe find ourselves in the first wave of pre-pandemic fiction. Here come the narratives full of indoor scenes, maskless interactions and group coughing fits. Kate Russo’s breezy debut, Super Host, is one such novel, written long before the words \'super\' and \'host\' had everyday epidemiological associations ... At its best, it’s reminiscent of the early-aughts romps done to great commercial effect by Nick Hornby and Plum Sykes, and even of the tidy plotting executed by the author’s father, Richard Russo ... The downside of populating a story this way is that Super Host does not get everything it wants. It does not get to be a laugh-out-loud book or a real exploration of loneliness. But it is brimming with Russo’s pure affection for her creation ... Despite the cracks in the walls, Super Host is a pleasant stay, a reminder that you never know what goes on behind closed doors, even when they’re your own.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... composed almost entirely of previously published pieces, an occupational hazard that can make the reader feel as if she’s wandered into a party to which she wasn’t invited ... Jamison’s journalistic battle between sentiment and detachment rages on, sometimes resulting in texture, sometimes in tedium ... Without question, Jamison has impeccable taste in her own ideas, selecting fringe subjects and following them to the end of the road ... If the first section is the most fully realized, the second is the most thematically rickety ... Let no one accuse Jamison of living an unexamined life, but inertia can dull her points ... It’s just strange that someone who has focused so much of her writing on the body — hers, other people’s — can come off as a bit bloodless, neither screaming nor burning, her descriptions vying to out-flat one another ... Reviews of essay collections invariably note the \'strongest\' pieces, but Make It Scream, Make It Burn is a reminder that strength is not a catchall. If we decide strength is about structure and elucidation, then most of these essays are heavyweight boxers. If, however, strength is about persuasion, transformation or the evocation of emotion, it’s in short supply here. We are all Percival Lowell, our lives subject to the imprint of our own gaze. Stare too long at the gaze itself and it becomes hard to see what you’re looking at.
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... marvelously weird and fablelike ... Tokarczuk is a vocal feminist writer and it’s no accident that the more Duszejko’s sanity is called into question, the more relatable her plight becomes ... Authors with Tokarczuk’s vending machine of phrasing and gimlet eye for human behavior (her tone is reminiscent of Rachel Cusk, with an added penchant for comedy) are rarely also masters of pacing and suspense. But even as Tokarczuk sticks landing after landing, her asides are never desultory or a liability. They are more like little cuts — quick, exacting and purposefully belated in their bleeding. If Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, was built for ambience, Lloyd-Jones’s translation of Drive Your Plow was built for speed ... Only the extended passages on astrology threaten to derail the reader. Lyrical as they are, they could be airlifted out of the novel without causing any structural damage. Tokarczuk successfully aligns these pages with the book’s broader themes, but one can feel that argument being made. Like an insurance policy against skimming ... This book is not a mere whodunit: It’s a philosophical fairy tale about life and death that’s been trying to spill its secrets. Secrets that, if you’ve kept your ear to the ground, you knew in your bones all along.
RaveVanity Fair'Is an ax-man at large in New Orleans?' So asks a 1918 Times-Picayune article in Nathaniel Rich’s sprawling but speedy third novel, King Zeno. Set against the backdrop of the birth of jazz and the Spanish flu, King Zeno tells the story of an army veteran, a jazz cornetist, and a Mafia widow, whose trajectories are twisted by a musically motivated ax murderer. It’s a rich, contemporary canonization of the Crescent City at the turn of the century.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewYou’ll Grow Out of It comes along to remind us just what an artful confessional essay can do ... These pieces often have a let-me-level-with-you directness reminiscent of [Nora] Ephron without being too imitative ... The jokiness, digressions, confessions and punctuation in lieu of words (!!!) are counterbalanced by thoughtful insights and genuine emotion ... This is a book about accepting one’s flaws, and it’s not without a few of them. The deeper the topic — heartbreak, marriage, career struggles — the more monotonous the telling...The other issue is that too many essays end on a note of pat summary.