RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere’s a whiff of madness in the fiction of Clarice Lispector. The Complete Stories of the great Brazilian writer, edited by Benjamin Moser and sensitively translated by Katrina Dodson, is a dangerous book to read quickly or casually because it’s so consistently delirious. Sentence by sentence, page by page, Lispector is exhilaratingly, arrestingly strange, but her perceptions come so fast, veer so wildly between the mundane and the metaphysical, that after a while you don’t know where you are, either in the book or in the world ... But it’s best to approach her with some caution. For the ordinary reader — that is to say, for most of us — immersion in the teeming mind of Clarice Lispector can be an exhausting, even a deranging, experience, not to be undertaken lightly ... Lispector’s madness is that of an artist who won’t allow herself to settle for what’s known, who has to see and feel everything for herself, even what can’t be seen ... Her Complete Stories is a remarkable book, proof that she was — in the company of Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo and her 19th-century countryman Machado de Assis — one of the true originals of Latin American literature ... Her stories are full of strange words, in strange combinations and, every now and then, the harmony of a new-minted morning.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe District, as its residents call it, is a good place for Chabon because it’s a fictional nowhere he can populate as he pleases ... [Chabon] seems happy here, almost giddy, high on the imaginative freedom that has always been the most cherished value in his fiction ... It’s fortunate that the novel’s prose is so untrammeled, because murder-mystery plotting can be a confinement too, a dark locked room whose doors open only when the solution, Messiah-like, arrives at the end ... There’s a tremendous amount of plotting in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, both on the writer’s part and (naturally) on the part of his characters, and the most forlorn people are those who haven’t realized they’ve become entangled in the plots they’ve spun, or who realize too late that they’re stuck in somebody else’s plot ... A simple message about the power of everyday love might seem a dismayingly small payoff for this whirling, intricate story, but the book is also about how the grandest fictions raise expectations unreasonably high, paralyze us with anticipation, doom us to the perpetual check of chronic dissatisfaction, unshakable as an Alaska chill.
RaveThe AtlanticIn Girl [O\'Brien]...makes the daring choice to tell this terrible tale in the protagonist’s own words—an 88-year-old Irish woman speaking in the voice of a barely pubescent Nigerian girl ... That choice feels natural because, despite the obvious contrasts in circumstances, this girl isn’t so different from O’Brien’s young Irish heroines. She lives in a world that’s testing her, daring her to survive ... Maryam\'s voice...[is] the deadened, illusionless voice of innocence abruptly lost, quickened here and there by little verbal sparks like morass and hurtled, signal flares of the soul ... Girl isn’t the book to read for the history of Boko Haram and its long assault on the peaceful citizens of Nigeria, or for a nuanced analysis of the country’s volatile politics ... Girl is the book to read for the sights and sounds and, yes, smells of some Nigerians’ harrowing experiences, and for a general sense of what it’s like to live in a world of radical, deadly unpredictability ...The novel hurtles, as its heroine is hurtled, from one thing to another and another and another, with deranging, near-hallucinatory speed. The random-seeming quality of the storytelling is something new for O’Brien, whose usual pace is more measured and contemplative. The effect is disorienting, and it’s meant to be ... The rhythm of Girl is intermittent and fearsomely strong; reading this novel is like riding the rapids ... O’Brien’s understanding of, and sympathy for, girls in trouble transcends culture—the place she’s made for them in her fiction is practically a country of its own.
RaveSlateGary Shteyngart might be too funny for his own good. His new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is a spectacularly clever near-future dystopian satire, but it may actually disappoint admirers of his first two, more consistently hilarious, novels ... For the first half of Super Sad True Love Story, quick, bitter little jokes pop on every page, one after the other, like rifle fire on opening day of hunting season. Like every good satirist, he’s observant and annoyed, nursing innumerable beefs, both major and minor, with the state of the world ... What gives this novel its unusual richness is that undercurrent of sorrow: Lenny’s, and Shteyngart’s, irreducibly human, marrow-deep sense that nothing and nobody lasts forever ... It’s no small thing for a writer as funny as Shteyngart to refrain from making jokes, as he largely does in the near-apocalyptic final third ... for Shteyngart, being serious has to be considered an act of some bravery ... The beauty of this novel is that its hero and its heroine, in their hugely different ways, really do attempt to negotiate this trashed and trashy world with some tiny measure of dignity ... Shteyngart tries to cram in as much as he knows about the world. But in the end all he knows is his own—very sharp, fully human—mind.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review‘Pop Art,’ ‘You Will Hear the Locust Sing’ and ‘Voluntary Committal’ are all terrific, and the rest are, at a minimum, solid, swift and craftsmanlike. But ‘Best New Horror’ seems to me the most thrillingly original of Hill’s weird tales, a daredevil performance that keeps some complex ideas suspended in the air along with, of course, our usual disbelief. It’s brave and astute of Hill to acknowledge that some part of the appeal of horror fiction — of any genre fiction, really — is its very predictability: the comfort of knowing, at least, what kind of story we’re reading … Joe Hill has clearly given a fair amount of hard thought to the problematics of horror. It’s his destiny, I suppose.
PanThe New York Times Sunday Book Review\"This book needs all the reducing it can get, but in the interest of fairness I should say that The Terror could also be described as a large, ambitious historical novel about one of the most famous disasters of the 19th century … Of the many possible approaches to making artistic sense of the Franklin fiasco, just about the least promising, I’d say, would be to turn it into an epic-length ripping yarn. That’s the course Simmons sets out on, though, and stays on, for hundreds and hundreds of pages and hundreds of thousands of words, in the apparent conviction that everything impeding him will ultimately, inevitably yield to his craftsmanship and his steely will.\
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis novel, his fourth, gathers life greedily, hungrily, but with a certain stealth: Lee doesn’t bolt it all down at once, as the refugee children in his story do. The Surrendered, his largest, most ambitious book, is about the horrors of war and the sorrows of survival, yet its manner is quiet, watchful, expectant, as if everyone, including Lee himself, were waiting to see what might accrue ... He moves back and forth in time, circling his characters, sizing them up... He shifts point of view frequently to give us some relief from his heroine’s blurred, in-and-out consciousness ...Lee invents an extraordinary number of vivid characters, many of whom prove to be just passing through on their way to violent, senseless ends ... Sentence by mournful sentence he keeps on, struggling a bit at times but constantly pushing forward, taking his characters however he can to a place where they can rest.
PositiveThe New York TimesThe stories in Full Dark, No Stars, whose lengths range from 30-some pages to well over 100, are for the most part only lightly supernatural and deal, instead, with the unlovelier aspects of merely human behavior ... It’s grim stuff, but that’s what readers expect of Stephen King. After all, he’s been in our faces for 40 years ... He’s essentially the same grab-you-by-the-lapels literary showman he was in the pulpy, punchy horror stories he used to peddle to men’s magazines and, a bit later, in his early novels Carrie and Salem’s Lot ...that’s the case with Full Dark, No Stars, which starts with a good story called '1922,' loses its way for a while — in 'Big Driver' and 'Fair Extension' — and then winds up with another pretty strong one, 'A Good Marriage.'
PositiveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThe idea is to suspend us in a lyrical trance while we wait – and wait and wait – for the penny to drop. Banville can do this trick, and in the first half of The Sea he lays on the atmosphere as thickly as a smoke-and-mirrors illusionist. His descriptive passages are dense and almost numbingly gorgeous … What's strangest about The Sea is that the novel somehow becomes simpler and clearer as it gets more self-conscious: a consequence, I suppose, of its author dropping the pretense of being one kind of writer and giving in to his authentic and much more complicated creative nature. This misshapen but affecting novel turns out to be about something even more familiar than the loss of innocence: it's about grief, the misery and confusion the narrator feels on losing his wife.
PanThe New York Times...the presiding spirit of Specimen Days — Cunningham's first novel since The Hours, seven years ago, which was much honored and widely read — is that of our original and greatest native yawper, Walt Whitman ... Whitman isn't a major character in Specimen Days, as Woolf was in the earlier novel, but Cunningham clearly means him to be present in every word, every line of the book, in the sense the poet intended when he wrote...Walt Whitman isn't there in Specimen Days, not in the organic, dirt-and-grass way he believed in. Cunningham, try as he might, can't keep his attention on what's beneath his feet for long enough; he's a stargazer by nature ...a very bad book and a very brave one ...Cunningham gamely tries his hand at lowly genres, he can't hide his fundamental lack of sympathy (or familiarity) with them.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe book’s title hints at the nature of the catastrophe, but doesn’t fully convey the sheer force of it, the gut-punch shock LaValle delivers to his trusting readers. As his Lovecraftian novella The Ballad of Black Tom showed just a year ago, he’s not timid either about conjuring horrors or about describing the emotions they evoke in their unfortunate victims. His horrors hurt, and keep hurting for a good while after the worst seems to be over ... W. B. Yeats in his youth wrote a changeling poem called 'The Stolen Child,' whose refrain is 'For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.' In New York terms, that sentiment, which underlies everything LaValle writes, translates roughly as 'The rent is too damn high.' The people of The Changeling pay and pay for their fleeting stretches of happiness, weep in the meantime, then pay again, and tell themselves the stories they need to go on. In New York there are monsters (and heroes) on every corner, not outside over there but right here. It’s a hell of a town.
J. Robert Lennon
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewJ. Robert Lennon is a connoisseur of calamity, qualms and paradox, all of which are on profuse display in his crafty, seductive eighth novel ... you begin to suspect that the Observer is a sort of self-satiric version of the author, a device to provide a running commentary on Lennon’s own ambivalent relationship to plot: his glee in creating it, his misgivings about the ordeals he has to put his characters through ... Broken River is a remarkable performance, a magic trick that makes you laugh at its audacity. Lennon has written a realistic novel, with vivid characters and flashes of humor and an evocative mood, that is also a playful, sophisticated meditation on storytelling itself: down-home metafiction.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewBecause this is a detective novel, the hero does, of course, detect, but until the final pages there’s not much of the customary game’s-afoot, thrill-of-the-chase sort of suspense in Six Four...although the novel is written in the third person and has an enormous cast of characters, the only perspective Yokoyama gives us is Mikami’s. There’s no breathless crosscutting in this narrative, no relief from the protagonist’s constant, anguished self-interrogation ... To Mikami’s flatfoot heart, such doubts and uncertainties seem momentous, and amazingly, Six Four makes them seem momentous to us too ... What Yokoyama does in Six Four evokes — improbably — the fastidious ethical parsings of a novel by Henry James, all qualms and calibrations, and while that might not sound like a good idea, he makes it work. He writes, fortunately, in plain, declarative prose, and because Mikami is such an ordinary man the mental gymnastics he puts himself through are moving and sometimes deeply funny ... this novel is a real, out-of-the-blue original. I’ve never read anything like it.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewX’s brain turns out to be a wonderful setting for a haunted-house story, because all sorts of diverse spirits are slithering around in there and playing tricks on him ... His struggle to find his way in this mental labyrinth is all the plot Evenson needs to spin a suspenseful, darkly comic tale ... The Warren is chilling because X’s situation is not only impossible but truly, inherently irresolvable. It ends as all horror stories should, with a question mark.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHiaasen’s openings hit you like the first blast of hot, sticky air on a Florida morning. They knock you sideways, and it can take a while to get your bearings. Pretty soon, though, you start to realize that the heat, and the craziness it induces, just aren’t going to let up, so you might as well go with it ... The farce machinery of Hiaasen’s fiction is, as always, fearsomely elaborate, and a good part of the pleasure of Razor Girl is in the casual, no-sweat way he sets it all up ... The secret is Hiaasen’s premium, high-grade comic prose, which keeps everything at the right temperature.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review Horror RoundupA sense of helplessness is the essence of horror, and Oates conveys that feeling as well as any writer around ... Oates’s brand of horror has never required the invocation of other worlds: This world is terrible enough for her. Everything she writes, in whatever genre, has an air of dread, because she deals in vulnerabilities and inevitabilities, in the desperate needs that drive people like Connie and poor young Violet of 'Big Momma' to their fates. A sense of helplessness is the essence of horror, and Oates conveys that feeling as well as any writer around.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe novel is never, at any point, exactly what you expect it to be, and even when it’s over you might not feel you know what really happened to 13-year-old Tommy Sanderson, vanished in a warm New England night. Are there ghosts involved, or merely “felt presences”? In the end, what kind of horror this is, what kind of novel this is, doesn’t seem to matter. Like the other writers I’ve been reading, Tremblay is most interested in the in-between places, in feelings that are indeterminate and perhaps unknowable, like Tommy’s teenage sense of neither-here-nor-thereness...
Andrew Michael Hurley
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe weather of The Loney is English — overcast, thick with ambiguity — and when the heavens open nothing can protect you. It’s an atmosphere for ghosts, for slaughtered animals, for pagan rituals, but Hurley, unexpectedly, uses this lowering horror-movie place as the setting for a serious drama about the nature of faith. The terrors of this novel feel timeless, almost biblical: There are abominations here, and miracles.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewEvenson’s fiction is stark and often jaw-droppingly funny ... Some of the stories here evoke Kafka, some Poe, some Beckett, some Roald Dahl, and one, a demonic teddy-bear chiller called 'BearHeart™,' even Stephen King, but Evenson’s deadpan style always estranges them a bit from their models: He tells his odd tales oddly, as if his mouth were dry and the words won’t come out right.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewThe more realistic stories here don’t carry much conviction, and all but a handful of the fantastic ones feel a bit desperate, as if he were trying too hard to 'entertain.' The better stories seem like oddities, one-offs...Stephen King, still learning, seems ambivalent about his own creative powers...