PositiveWashington PostSchaitkin is at her sharpest and darkest when depicting the anxieties and self-justifications of new mothers, their fears of being judged as unnatural or inept, particularly by other mothers, the standard of maternal excellence being as impossibly high in this misty place as everywhere else ... Although, frankly, the reader also struggles to understand the lessons of the affliction or why no one questions it. Even when Vera becomes an outsider herself, with a chance to gain some perspective, she doesn’t seem fully awake to the affliction’s weirdness or grow suspicious about its origins. (The local men, for instance, seem a bit too resigned to the possibility of losing their wives.) Like those oppressive clouds, the narrative is at times opaque, and perhaps some occasional humor would have provided a clarifying breeze. Still, at this particular moment, a novel that dramatizes the perils of motherhood, and challenges the idea that it should be all-important, could not be more relevant.
RaveThe Washington PostDesire and ballet are entwined in a smoldering pas de deux throughout this tightly choreographed thriller ... Anyone who has ever attended a performance of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet will enjoy the myriad references to Dewdrops, Snowflakes, mice and toy soldiers as the novel whirls along ... Abbott’s interpretation of Clara/Marie as an adolescent riven by erotic awakenings is cleverly based on Hoffmann’s story ... At times, the plot’s inevitable murder, sexual intrigue and family secrets seem almost incidental to the auditions and rehearsals, the bickering dancers and complaining parents, the punishing toe shoes and pulled muscles. Though it’s soon apparent that The Turnout is as much about female rage, jealousy and sexual desire as it is a suspense novel set in a dance studio.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe plot becomes labyrinthine as we move back and forth between New York and Vietnam, joined by more characters and more unsettling facts about rats ... readers who crave suspense will get it, along with a grim chill ... They will get, as well, a resolution that swiftly unsnarls the many narrative threads, metes out punishments to the evil and (mostly) spares the good ... Bohjalian’s focus on current problems in his novels is admirable, and in this case feels prescient; but the villains in The Red Lotus are such sociopaths, and some of the plot twists so farfetched, that the specter of biological warfare begins to feel improbable instead of truly threatening. Which may seem like a book critic’s quibble, until you consider that opting for diversion and reassurance—rather than paying attention to clear warnings—got us to where we are now.
J. Courtney Sullivan
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAlthough each of the Rafferty children could use a few more contradictory moments, and the narration can become ponderous, Sullivan succeeds in creating a believably complicated, clannish Irish-American family, and the novel’s most engrossing scenes occur when the Raffertys gather in Nora’s kitchen to drink beer, laugh at inside jokes, finger old wounds and puzzle over their dour, conscientious mother. Because it’s Nora, rather than Theresa, who emerges as the novel’s most mysterious character. Its real drama involves her gradual transformation from a shy, unhappy young immigrant to an established matriarch, with a matriarch’s long skein of pride and sorrow — and secrets.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewAt every turn, this story square-dances with cliché, and at every turn it’s thrilling. Jiles, a poet as well as a novelist, has recognized that the best stories are the known ones, as long as they’re told entrancingly and grow ever stranger as they roll on through familiar territory. Mostly she manages this small miracle by keeping her story quietly ironic and exquisitely particular ... this exhilarating novel travels through its marvelous terrain so quickly that one is shocked, almost stricken, to reach the end. So do what I did: Read it again.
Elena Ferrante, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksShe has charted, as precisely as possible, the shifts in one person’s feelings and perceptions about another over time, and in so doing has made a life’s inferno recede even as she captures its roar.