PositiveNew York Journal of Books...whether or not you enjoy Our Country Friends depends upon your love of Shteyngart’s always-clever sometimes-exhausting narrative voice. More importantly it depends on whether you’re ready for your first Pandemic Novel ... Shteyngart makes the most of the differences in race, origin, and class among the main characters and the outside world, and this tension provides the dramatic backbone of the story. In the hands of a lesser (and less funny) writer, reliving the uncertainty of the early days of the pandemic could be tedious, if not PTSD-inducing. In general, Shteyngart makes it work by letting his character’s preparations for and reactions to this changed world flirt with going over the top while never quite going there ... Sometimes the comedy is a little too broad so that some characters remain unsympathetic. And the ending isn’t entirely satisfying because, well, the pandemic did not neatly end when the book does ... a very funny, eminently readable book.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksErdrich is the rare writer who can straddle the line between the real world and the spiritual seemingly effortlessly ... a love letter to the written word, to books, and to those who sell them. It’s also a chronicle of a tumultuous year. It’s a ghost story. It’s the story of how racism haunts America. It is all these things wrapped in a novel that is cluttered in the way a great bookstore is cluttered with treasures and little gems hidden behind every page.
T. C. Boyle
RaveNew York Journal of BooksMake no mistake, Sam is a fully developed character with a pronounced point of view. There’s always a gamble in shifting point of view to a non-human character, but Boyle does so convincingly. Sam’s sections feel natural, believable. And it’s the strength of that writing that gives the novel its punch ... Boyle is generally successful in avoiding telling the reader how to feel by using the most basic tools available to the novelist: creating sympathetic characters and placing them in situations that touch the reader’s emotions. That some of these characters aren’t human is irrelevant. Talk to Me is an engrossing, thought-provoking read.
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"The novel is told through revolving points of view, including that of the Patterns, the not quite corporeal definitely sentient beings that already inhabit Mars ... there’s the Patterns. As a plotline, it seems tacked on, as though perhaps Jenny’s pregnancy wasn’t enough and an editor or beta reader suggested throwing in some sort of pre-existing life on Mars. The Patterns are a compelling concept, but the storyline comes off as more of an afterthought than a revelation How to Mars has a lot going for it. It’s aggressively charming—the kind of book one thinks one ought to like, even a book one truly wants to like. Ultimately the novel doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts. Once key plot lines begin to be resolved, the book feels a bit rushed, making the ending less than satisfying. Ebenbach has some worthwhile musings on the idea of what makes us human, but these musings don’t stick. It’s a relatively enjoyable summer read, not the kind of book that lingers.
Laura Maylene Walter
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksThe best dystopian and speculative fiction highlights a societal weakness and forces the reader to see it in a new way. Debut novelist Laura Maylene Walter cleverly does this in Body of Stars, which focuses on a world much like our own except for one thing: the markings on women’s bodies can foretell the future. It’s the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the paradoxical place of women in society—is she revered, protected, or policed? And how do you know where the lines are drawn? ... The success of Body of Stars rests on [its] truly clever conceit and Walter’s ability to use it to tell a compelling story while also illuminating the challenges that entrenched rape culture (and its handmaidens, victim blaming and slut shaming) still pose to genuine gender equity. If one gender requires protection from the other, which gender is truly the problem? It isn’t a perfect novel. There are a few too many \'little did I know\' moments early on, but those are small flaws in what is an incredibly strong debut that hits a number of sweet spots—feminist literature, dystopian/speculative fiction, and young adult literature. It’s well worth your time.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksIn Grushin’s modernist fairy tale land, your local witch can function as both apothecary and hit man. That contemporary sensibility seeps through everything—the characters, the jokes (there are some), the plot twists, the language. It would be very easy for a lesser writer to make this solely a feminist retelling of a familiar tale or a Hallmark-ish How Cinderella Got Her Groove Back story of empowerment. While The Charmed Wife encompasses those tropes, it is not defined by being only one type of story. Timelines and chronologies and people and places seamlessly shift and morph and nothing is as it seems. That all of this works and ties together is due to Grushin’s facility with language, which is, in many ways, a marvel. It’s the kind of prose that demands you submerge yourself ... gorgeous writing ... However, as with many writers, Grushin’s greatest strength may also be her greatest weakness. The lushness and occasional density of Grushin’s prose is like a super-rich triple-chocolate cake—you can only digest so much of it at once. Sometimes those lush descriptions are too much ... A reader can get lost in such prose. Conversely, such prose can also lose a reader. The best fiction takes us out of our lives and into someone else’s. There are moments when Grushin’s dense walls of swirling text are an impediment to connecting with her protagonist, making the book’s denouement a little less emotionally satisfying than it could have been ... not the kind of book to read in the laundromat or while waiting at the dentist’s office. It’s best read late at night or maybe before bed, when the real and the imagined naturally (or unnaturally) meld together, where you can sink, undisturbed, into the language.