PositiveThe Washington PostReaders who crave that warm feeling of being taken into someone’s confidence will...find a lot to like ... The commentary about various interpersonal dynamics never quite resolves into a particular thesis. Reading these chapters—juicy and repetitive, absorbing and exhausting—feels like looking too long at a hyperrealist painting. Objects are rendered in eye-popping detail, but our gaze has nowhere to rest ... The absence of a unifying narrative may be the point. Kipnis believes that we overvalue tidiness ... Its circling obsessiveness and sometimes-distorted sense of scale feel like outgrowths of this moment: a period when many of us have retreated, discouraged from making unexpected new connections, our mental habits grooved by feeds that algorithmically deliver whatever triggers us. You detect that crampedness in the book’s small, comprehensively interrogated cast of characters. You see it, too, in the skippable second chapter ... So it’s a relief to reach the book’s coda, which collects short dispatches ... These gleanings feel like the book’s freshest offering—a rich supply of something very like gossip.
Emily St. John Mandel
MixedThe NationIt yields its moral readily ... The plot unfolds with a sedate inevitability ... Mandel ties up every loose end. There is no pure coincidence, only design waiting to be disclosed ... If Sea of Tranquility gives off the slightly chilly air of a controlled lab experiment, Station Eleven teemed with enough life that you could forget its underlying artifice ... Sea of Tranquility’s temporal hijinks feel noncommittal. The novel’s dominating aesthetic is supremely orderly, its chapters arranged with appealing symmetry ... Mandel doesn’t risk the kludge of ornate world-building; she sketches out the setting and her characters with minimal lines. But as a result, their choices seem to emerge from the requirements of the plot, not from the murk of psychology. The spareness of the prose, then, works against its animating principle: Even as Sea of Tranquility argues for the weight of experience, it leaves you with the nagging suspicion that the interior life of a hologram might be hollow.
MixedThe Washington Post... early pages skillfully evoke their moment’s spiky, overstimulated atmosphere—especially the new, frightening friction of such everyday routines as grocery shopping or picking up a prescription. From there, the book unfolds chronologically, its concerns cheerfully quotidian, following Finch’s personal sense of what seemed noteworthy that day ... At the same time, the entries feel scrupulously impersonal ... As a result, the book feels weirdly, if strategically, depopulated. It’s strewn with cozy little episodes...but with the mess of actual domestic life vacuumed away. Some readers will nevertheless take to Finch’s style, because for the most part he comes across as good company. At its worst, his book feels like a series of auditions for a gig as a newspaper columnist ... But his voice is warmly conversational, and he has a knack for piquant, bite-size insights, especially about art ... This is prose like a farmshare box: generously overstuffed, but mostly with things that don’t quite make up a meal. It sent me back to the early 2000s and the debuts of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer—puppyish, well-scrubbed, twee ... Perhaps it was [a] sense of estrangement—either from the fight for justice or the pain of injustice—that motivated the most shocking move in the book: reprinting Floyd’s last words in their entirety. Finch probably intended to pay tribute to Floyd’s irreducible humanity. But it comes off as an insulated White writer’s attempt to inject some rawness into his narrative, one that flattens Floyd’s suffering into an aesthetic gesture ... Finch’s book expresses a...doomed hopefulness; it wants to put a bow not just on the pandemic but on our other political crises. The problem is that \'what just happened\' is still happening—and Finch’s present-tense reflections, coming to us at this awkward remove from the events they describe, feel too weightless to help orient us to our future.
PanThe NationThe sex scenes are both startling and pedestrian, frank and prim. They’re titillating, like celebrity gossip, and excruciating, like walking in on your parents. They’re entertaining, obviously, and even intentionally comic ... The narration is so stilted, so dorky, it inspires fondness ... [a] subplot, pitting white feminism against racial justice, feels dutiful, an acknowledgment that no political career could be stainless ... characterization feels undermotivated, bloodless—as if anyone would believe that such aspirations are something a person can fall into accidentally, or by some providence, rather than by her own design. This idea of political striving, parked at the intersection of Tracy Flick and Leslie Knope, is possibly endearing and conspicuously small-bore. It refuses to admit anything that might be termed ideology. But perhaps that’s to be expected. More peculiarly, Rodham lacks drama. In the age of the #Girlboss, when appetite and excess are lauded as feminist ends in themselves, is it possible to make women’s ambition seem not just benign but even inert? ... With deft economy, Sittenfeld demonstrates how easy it is to get stuck in even the dumbest traps ... But blown up to the scale of professional politics, her fine-grained observations lose resolution. In Rodham, the characters walk around radiating divine simplicity ... Bland, faultless equanimity constitutes the book’s dominant tone ... The...revisionism just ends up insulting everybody’s intelligence.
MixedThe Washington PostJoanne McNeil’s Lurking: How a Person Became a User defamiliarize[s] us with the Internet as we now know it, reminding us of the human desires and ambitions that have shaped its evolution ... McNeil has a knack for metaphor ... Despite these finely sketched moments, the book loses coherence as you take more of it in. McNeil’s argument isn’t wrong, necessarily, but her narrative logic can seem random. Even as the overarching tale of how cyberspace \'lost out to order, advertising, surveillance, and cutthroat corporatism\' seems plausible, some episodes draw a baffling amount of emphasis ... Lurking is...like infinite scroll. Having picked your platform, you float on the current of content, thick with froth and detritus and the occasional treasure, until something makes you ask: Wait, what? How did I get here? In rewinding our recent Internet history...[McNeil] remind[s] us of just how deeply living online has overloaded our thought patterns, installing in our hindbrains a thrumming and constant urge to refresh.
PositiveThe Washington Post... almost the opposite of a tell-all. It withholds a lot — mostly the names of people and companies — and replaces them with generic formulations: \'an app for coupon-clipping,\' \'a search-engine giant down in Mountain View.\' It’s as if the book is trying to switch our brains back to factory settings ... Reading Uncanny Valley felt like getting put on airplane mode, blocked from making relevant connections...Around these gaps, Wiener’s book is studded with sharp assessments ... Wiener has a gift for channeling Silicon Valley’s unsettling idea of perfection and for reminding us of its allure ... a bildungsroman that doubles as a comedy of remarriage: Years after leaving it, Wiener gets back together with the literary world, publishing an essay about this West Coast misadventure in n+1, landing a gig with the New Yorker and producing this very book
Cathy Park Hong
MixedThe Washington Post... could serve as a Cliff Notes to Asian American existence for anyone new to the subject (white or otherwise). Hong briskly brings everyone up to speed ... [Hong\'s] tone is astringent, stripping the memories of any ennobling tragedy or nostalgic fuzz. The anger can’t be prettily plated ... Despite its subtitle, An Asian American Reckoning, the book takes up much of its word count discussing others...Eventually, though, this tactic seems avoidant ... After these discussions of white power and anti-blackness, her analysis stalls out. While Hong does add her own youth to the mix, she doesn’t extrapolate from that personal experience to theorize more generally, or ambitiously, about the Asian experience ... The book’s strongest entries have a driving energy, fueled by fierce personal inquiry ... makes Asian Americans more useful and a little more relevant to some global struggle. There are worse things than thinking of yourself instrumentally, as part of a bigger cause — but if there’s something richer, more capacious, or simply more, this book doesn’t point the way.
PositiveThe Washington PostTolentino[\'s]...heedlessness, chased by total clarity, is what gives her voice such authority, like the coolest Big in your sorority ... At times in these essays, the thesis gets swamped in examples ... But Tolentino is winningly aware of her own excesses ... Tolentino actually seems comfortable leaving a negative last impression. For all the energy and intellect she devotes to understanding her bad habits, she knows she’s unlikely to reform ... The collection seems driven by that central paradox: Tolentino has thrived under the conditions she criticizes ... The freshest writing in Trick Mirror comes out of physical experiences (a Peace Corps stint in Kyrgyzstan, doing drugs in the desert) that take Tolentino outside herself. Acid aside, though, she doesn’t offer much hope of breaking free of the systems she describes. Solipsism wins ... It’s reassuring to have Tolentino as a guide—even if, in her telling, there may not be any exits.
PanSlateYou want to see the corners that such a provocation might illuminate. Then the collection veers off into an array of profiles and, after that, some musings on modern courtship ... in his more recent writings, much of it ’splaining the campus and online culture wars, he keeps himself above the fray, and sometimes you sense that he’s gone stiff trying to hold that position. His prose becomes calcified ... By the end of the book’s final quarter, which dissects leftist vocab concerning \'whiteness,\' we’ve been shanghaied into duller and more familiar territory than was promised ... The collection’s center of gravity isn’t yellowness, and it isn’t folk, a word conveying more easy, warm regard for humans in the plural than he can really muster. The female folk are conspicuously missing, to start with, a gap that goes unminded and unmentioned. Asian men are best understood in relation to white men, and never to the Asian women who might be their friends, comrades, and competitors ... With his title, Yang leaves an open contradiction almost trollishly unaddressed: If to be yellow is to be dismissed as inscrutable because no one’s bothered to look at you, why does his gaze also flick away?
PositiveThe Village Voice\"Faced with this framework, it seems small to evaluate, much less criticize, the artistic merits of The Recovering. Yet it’s clear that Jamison aims beyond such a narrow claim of utility: she wants totality ... All this effort might feel more trustworthy had she not drawn one especially dubious parallel and forced it into convergence. Four hundred pages in, Jamison notes that when she first quit drinking, news broke of a meth addict who died of exposure in an outdoor holding cell in Arizona while serving time for prostitution ... Jamison lacks control over her material. I think she would view that as a compliment.\