MixedBookforumThe book, which has many moments of sharp and vivid writing, suffers from being packaged as a manifesto ... In positing a defense of something normal that has been taken away from us by a variety of rapacious factors...it is not saying anything that is untrue, just articulating something that many of us already know ... Although the book is arguing for something nearly universal, the author shapes the narrative through stories of her own highly specific experiences ... Liming isn’t claiming to be comprehensive, but the first-person focus does leave some major holes ... But I forgive Liming for these lapses, in part because her chapter on parties is so richly drawn. It’s a layered exploration of social dynamics and contains some textured literary criticism.
PositiveNew RepublicIn Either/Or, Selin is now a sophomore, still reading constantly, still overidentifying. And yet suddenly more is happening to her. In writing Selin, Batuman seems to be puzzling out what differentiates a novel from a description of a consciousness reading and thinking and accumulating knowledge ... This novel feels like an experiment with eventfulness ... Either/Or picks up more or less where The Idiot left off ... The novel has the same wry tone—with Selin as a conduit for Batuman’s brilliant, funny observations—but it is characterized by a shift: Selin is ready to stop thinking about living and start doing it ... For all the activity in Either/Or, however, there still doesn’t seem to be much shape to these events. There’s a plotlessness to Selin’s sophomore year ... Either/Or might seem less strange [than The Idiotat first glance...but it is arguably a more unusual work in its attempt to hold onto both this conventional plot and its literary critical bent ... Maybe the novel can be as plotless as life and still hang together; maybe it can be both a reading notebook and a quest. The dramatic close of Either/Or, after all, is not a big event but a shift in Selin’s mind that would be imperceptible, except that it has been rendered to us as seismic, something big happening in someone’s head.
PositiveAir MailMany of the characters are in difficult, ethically murky lines of tech-adjacent work ... It is Egan’s great gift that these stories nevertheless feel deeply human.The absurdist science-fiction elements act as a kind of backdrop for poignant affairs of the heart ... Ennui, lost love, a sense of too-lateness, bitterness, jealousy—these make up The Candy House. Technology infuses the themes with new and distinct angles, but they remain fundamental to how Egan sketches her fictional world ... At the heart of the novel are questions about collectivity ... Some of these same questions animated A Visit from the Goon Squad too ... But they become more explicit and fraught in The Candy House, which features a smattering of the same characters and those loosely connected to them ... At times, The Candy House suffers from a kind of sequel problem. In some ways it feels written for those in on the joke, and pieces of the plot feel dutifully rehashed, a kind of reunion tour of sorts. One wonders if a version of this novel written without the constraint of trying to replay the greatest hits of its predecessor might have more fully delivered on its potential ... Still, Egan remains a master of the form, that of the interlinked but not always connected stories, which provide glimpses of lives that are both brief and deep. She weaves them together in ways that are not obvious.
PositiveBookforumThroughout the collection, Plunkett dramatizes how a single moment can unsettle the furniture of a character’s interior life, such that everything is rearranged, temporarily or perhaps for good ... Plunkett alternates between presence and absence; sudden details are visible through the window, but there is a sense of something inaccessible and opaque beyond them ... Plunkett has a way with objects. Hers is a highly contained and often bleak fictional world, full of accumulated, worn things that mostly stay where they are. It feels antiquated; perhaps because these stories are all set in rural New England, which is no longer new at all, but one of the parts of this country most obsessed with its own past. Perhaps, too, because the material landscape of these stories seems to be aging, tinged with loss. These stories could be set in 1980 as easily as 2017 ... Death and sudden violence are at once commonplace and surprising in Plunkett’s hands ... Some of the strangest and most disorienting stories in Prepare Her feature the perspectives of young children ... The final story in the collection, \'Prepare Her,\' ...magnifies the claustrophobia felt throughout the collection and concentrates it the child’s body.
Marco D'Eramo, Trans. by Bethan Bowett-Jones and David Broder
PositiveThe New RepublicD’Eramo...brings into clearer focus the many confounding aspects of tourism: why we hate tourists and yet continue to travel, and why we divvy our leisure time into a structured regimen of sightseeing that resembles something like work ... This is where D’Eramo is at his best, dissecting the consequences of seemingly simple activities, and the impact of travel on the world at large. The World in a Selfie is digressive, the chapters like a series of meditations that touch on various aspects of travel and tourism ... His work is at times densely philosophical...but also whimsical ... The World in a Selfie is occasionally disjointed, but this alternation between objects of inquiry is also part of its charm and provides us with a sense of tourism’s broad reach.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThough there are many houses in contemporary fiction, Hot Stew is a rare specimen of the property novel — a drama centered on the mechanisms of home rental and ownership. It explores not just the connections within a particular house but the ways in which the very concept of home has become precarious. Though the novel is set in London, many of the conditions it dramatizes exist in Los Angeles and any number of American cities where rents keep rising, neighborhoods continue to change and tenants who have made homes are priced out or forced out ... What emerges is simultaneously a portrait of inextricable connection and total alienation. All these lives overlap, both physically and in their relation to payment and profit, networks of exploitation, systems that Mozley makes plain ... In this neo-Dickensian milieu, Mozley leans into the caricatures rather than away from them. The rich, especially, have a cartoonish villainy...This heavy-handedness at times gives the novel a certain flatness; despite their entanglements, the good guys and the bad guys are easy to tell apart. At its best, though, Mozley’s social satire is a refreshing turn away from interiority and toward a kind of analytical, social realist plotting of economic relationships ... Yet some of the best passages of Hot Stew are about place, not people.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"All the Lives We Ever Lived is a quiet book and, like [To the Lighthouse], an intensely interior one ... Smyth... expertly dissects the finest gradations of emotion in any given scene ... [Smyth\'s] reticence coupled with her candor are refreshing. It’s a model of writing about oneself that emphasizes focus and control over unbridled openness ... In the case of All the Lives We Ever Lived, this approach [of combining the personal with literary criticism] sometimes works ... But like many books that trade in both memoir and criticism, Smyth’s is somewhat lopsided ... Still, All the Lives We Ever Lived is a powerful book, driven by the engine of Smyth’s controlled, rich description. It’s an astonishingly clear-eyed portrait of a person through myriad lenses, a kind of prismatic attempt to capture a life.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleResearch suggests that widespread use of digital technology is eroding our deep reading abilities, our attention, our memory and our general cognitive capabilities. Wolf’s book is one of the most comprehensive looks to date at exactly how and why this is happening, what we can do to stop it, and how she envisions reversing these effects in the next generation ... Wolf is a lovely prose writer who draws not only on research but also on a broad range of literary references, historical examples and personal anecdotes. The strongest parts of Reader, Come Home are her moving accounts of why reading matters, and her deeply detailed exploration of how the reading brain is being changed by screens ... On an individual level, Wolf’s solutions, like 20-minute reading workouts, can be heartening ... Her templates do implicitly rely on parents having a certain amount of time, education and income that will allow them to be deeply involved in curating their child’s diet of digital devices and books. Still, they feel like a start. She does address digital access gaps and issues of global literacy, too, but it is here that the narrative begins to feel a bit muddled. Wolf’s society-level solutions seem like wishful thinking, considering our political system and landscape ... As well as anyone, Wolf makes a strong case for what we lose when we lose reading.
R O Kwon
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe intertwined currents of violence and beauty run through the novel, a striking debut by R.O. Kwon that deals with faith, extremism, love, and loss ... Kwon’s prose sizzles. Her sentences are deft, short, crackling. Her portrait of undergraduate life at Edwards is masterful. She captures the constant haze of alcohol, the courtyards and costume parties and clubs with drinking rules, the push and pull of attraction. She writes the erotic well ... At times, though, the writing can be overwrought. There are moments of exposition where omission might have worked better ... The book is propulsive, especially in later chapters, and I read with dread and hunger ... This novel is overrun with collisions of all kinds: of faith and doubt, of loss and love, of Will’s yearning and Phoebe’s resistance. In Kwon’s luminous prose, these collisions are not quiet. They are explosive.
MixedThe San Fransisco ChronicleThe Removes, a new novel by Tatjana Soli, promises so much ... The resulting novel is sadly stilted. Soli, who has written three novels, employs an awkward prose style in “The Removes,” a stark departure from the voices in her earlier work. Her sentences borrow constructions from the time period she’s writing about, but they work oddly, as though she’s trying on shoes that are a bit too small ... the novel doesn’t quite stand on its own ... It seems fair to ask: On the heels of centuries of overwrought racist captivity narratives, why center a large part of a novel on a white woman taken captive and raped repeatedly? ... in the end, it was the prose more than the politics that felt like a disappointment.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleShe’s not wedded to getting to the point, or even having one. Two of my favorite essays in the collection — \'Wheels Up\' and \'The Grape Man\' — are abbreviated, strange, poignant missives that tell us something nebulous about what it is to live in New York. They don’t overexplain themselves; they just are. It’s refreshing ... But by and large, the essays aren’t that funny. Reading Look Alive Out There often felt a bit like watching a not-very-funny sitcom with a laugh track. Crosley tells us where it’s supposed to be funny, so it might be a little funny, because we have the right cue. But only because she pointed it out ... She leans heavily on hyperbole and the slapstick humor of the situations that she finds herself in ... She’s a smart, talented writer who repeatedly puts herself into situations that make for interesting essays. A lot of — maybe most? — nonfiction writing is contrived this way. But hers feels strained because she plays the ingenue ... There is one essay, toward the end of the book, that I loved. It’s a powerful exploration of illness, and what it’s like to express it to others ... She still injects the essay with humor ... I found myself thinking that I wished the rest of the book had been more like this.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleI found myself drawn in by her obsession. She analyzes her own drive, sometimes harshly, in the rich autobiographical portions of the book. She writes about late nights in her young daughter’s playroom, scribbling penal codes in crayon. She recalls the unsolved murder of someone she knew in childhood, and returns to the scene. She forgets to buy her husband even an anniversary card. These fresh and sometimes jolting moments drive the book, and I found myself propelled forward less by the killer than by her quest ... I\'ll Be Gone in the Dark is incomplete, and there are places where this shows: There are repetitions that might have been ironed out and places where tighter editing could have streamlined the narrative. There are certainly holes that she meant to fill, noted by Jensen and Haynes. It is sad that we won’t ever read it exactly as she would have written it. Yet so much is there, which feels like a gift.