MixedLos Angeles TimesThis, and I say this as a reader grateful for this beautiful (yes, raw and gorgeous) book, is the voice of a child (or an adolescent). Genre has failed us; narrative has failed us; literature fell to pieces when it was wrested (and it had to be) from the clutches of elites. We live in a loud, phony, unsubtle culture in venal times. We have been failed. We will write a manifesto that says we will do something different. Good. But writing is not all autobiography. Not everything can be seen in a convex mirror. There is an important striving for something beyond the self that is the task of a mature organism ... Form is a way to get there, beyond the self, that’s all. It’s a tool, not an end in itself.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesTen Thousand Saints is a whirling dervish of a first novel — a planet, a universe, a trip. As wild as that may sound, wonder of wonders, the book is also carefully and lovingly created, taking the reader far into the lives and souls of its characters and bringing them back out again, blinking in the bright light ... [Henderson\'s] little band of four wounded kids forms the heart of the novel and Henderson bonds her readers to her characters by exposing their vulnerabilities right up front ... Henderson knows a lot about various music scenes in the late 1980s and the 1990s. She knows a lot about rural poverty, about the need to escape. She writes with great compassion but does not flinch — some scenes are amped up so loud a reader looks away. Sometimes the aimless frenzy of these kids’ lives is hard to bear ... It’s a natural law: The better you know a character, the more deeply you see their vulnerability and the odds stacked against them, the more you want them to succeed. What makes Ten Thousand Saints so deeply satisfying is that possibility and the slow, painful steps to get there.
C. E. Morgan
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...the writing is simply astonishing: The way small movements betray a character, the effects of hard labor, the damaging power of communication withheld. It is the writing of a much older (at times, even world-weary) author. Descriptions of the landscape of the rural South remind a reader of Willa Cather. The characters’ utter lack of a sense of entitlement calls to mind Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre ... How is it possible for a young writer to know so much about self-sacrifice?
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesBender is the master of quiet hysteria. At times, it seems almost cruel, like she uses her talent to create anxiety willfully. She builds pressure sentence by sentence ... Bender has inherited at least three profound strains, three genetic codes or lines of inquiry from her forebears in American literature. There’s the Faulknerian loneliness, the isolation that comes from our utter inability, as human beings, to truly communicate with each other; the crippling power of empathy (how to move forward when everyone around you is in pain) that is so common in our literature it’s hard to attach a name to it, and the distance created by humor, a willfully devil-may-care attitude that allowed, for example, Mark Twain to skip with seeming abandon around serious issues like racism and poverty ... Void of sentiment and high drama, bleached clean of mystery and even metaphor, it’s about daily life that is increasingly impossible to navigate yet moving always forward.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIt is easy to forget, reading this memoir, that Judt is reconstructing his past even as he lies immobilized in a hospital bed. All the pieces move: glittering, tingling chapters are rich in smells and sights and sounds and movement ... And then, in Parts Two and Three, Judt grows up. He goes to private school (\'BBE,\' Before the Beatles Era), where he encounters the expected anti-Semitism, then on to Cambridge, embraces Zionism, and spends large chunks of time on a kibbutz in Israel until the Six-Day War shatters his illusions ... It’s a vote for the savored life but also for the life of the mind — a well-stocked pantry should the unthinkable befall us.
Per Petterson, Trans. by Anne Born
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesIt is a novel with a distinctly Scandinavian tone: Trond, a 67-year-old widower, has moved into a remote house on a lake. He wants nothing more than to be left alone to look back on his life ... There is scant talk and much mystery, giving the 67-year-old narrator a lot to ponder.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe Surrendered is powered by injustice, even rage ... All of Lee's characters are hungry –– for food, for love, for some peace and safety. Many are orphans; all are refugees –– that capacious metaphor for life ... The often graphic violence in the novel gives it a strange, uneven heat ... What makes this a big novel is not just its range, its historic scope or the number of lives gathered in its pages, but that their memories do not entirely explain the course of their lives ... Sometimes Lee's characters walk right through that slender opening in the fabric of fate. He could not hold them down, even if he wanted to.
Gerbrand Bakker, Trans. by David Colmer
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe story is eerily familiar, whether you are rural or urban, male or female, happy or unhappy. Twin brothers grow up on the family farm with their domineering, harsh father and their quiet, subservient mother … In the course of the novel, the still subconscious of the twin left behind is revealed to us, memory by memory. As these memories slash the surface of his life, they cannot help but erode his calloused exterior. Gerbrand Bakker's writing is fabulously clear, so clear that each sentence leaves a rippling wake.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesHe has written the novel in that wonderful form of the first person that includes the you — Olivier and Parrot both address their readers directly as they explain their histories … Carey braids his story carefully, lovingly. It has all his telltale favorite elements — lawlessness, revolution, hope for the future, men driven by passion. At its heart, Parrot & Olivier in America is a western; the simplest story in history, sculpted down to a twinkle in a philosopher's eye: Man's search for freedom.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesOn the day [Major Pettigrew’s] brother dies, the owner of the shop, the elegant, soft-spoken Mrs. Ali, appears at his door to collect money for the newspaper delivery. It is pretty much love at first sight, though it takes the major a while to realize it, and the length of a novel to act on it … There's more than a bit of Romeo and Juliet here – Mrs. Ali is Pakistani, and while some villagers pretend to have jettisoned class and ethnic snobbery, it is hopelessly woven into the fabric of their lives … A reader really does grow to love Maj. Pettigrew – moral fiber and all. He's the best of the past in spite of (and because of) the thick layer of proper behavior that keeps him from following his stellar instincts now and then.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIn this astonishing novel, Paul Harding creates a New England childhood, beginning with the landscape. And he does this, miracle of miracles, through the mind of another human being – not himself, someone else … Photographs and memories and old fears move through him. Clocks and pots and old heirlooms, all bearing stories, flesh out his history and that of his ancestors. In his imagination the whole structure, the life that took generations to build, comes tumbling down.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesVoid and menace are the operating principles in Lord of Misrule. First, it's hard to sort the men from the horses, so similar are their slaveries, their striving for nothing, their tendency to be ruled by lesser animals … This rich, soupy (as in primal soup, many ingredients) milieu that Gordon creates — all the names and hints of back story glimmering in the dust — serve to make a character shine, really shine, when he or she rises up and out. You hear chains popping all through this novel, little acts of will and big acts of self-determination. It's astonishing how quickly, with all this description, Gordon can get to a philosophical point or make a character unforgettable.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesSwamplandia! the novel is magical realism, American style; lush language, larger-than-life surrealism, a vertiginous line on every page between hopes, dreams and reality, a disorienting mirage of a book. What holds it all together is the voice. Russell's writing is clear, rhythmic and dependable, even as her imagination runs wild … Russell knows about girlhood — how precious, how fragile, how tough a girl can be. She knows about human sacrifice too — how the world eats up teenage girls, all their colorful hopes, their bravado soon boiled down to a taciturn obeisance … Swamplandia! becomes Neverland, a place Ava, Ossie and Kiwi can never really return to. Ava is damaged, the way girls almost always are.