PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksHeiny’s writing is amusing; she uses droll asides and odd thoughts to good effect...However, in the early chapters, the little jokes are relentless and begin to seem forced...Luckily, in the later chapters, the prose settles ... The constant cataloguing of such details makes the characters vivid but also keeps them on the surface. Only Jane has an inner life; the others, even Duncan, merely accompany her. She’s in charge of the story and she wants to keep it upbeat ... Occasionally, the mass of detail causes the novel to stall ... On the whole, Early Morning Riser is an entertaining, fun read, with more than a soupçon of heart. If the last year has worn you down, if you miss sitting and catching up with close friends over coffee or wine, this book is for you. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink, relax, and meet Jane.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksThese first 15 pages set up a mystery to be unraveled ... But an opening should also draw the reader into the story, and this deluge of oblique hints, long descriptions, and out-of-context names is interesting but flat. However, in subsequent chapters, Bianca takes on dimension. And when the engine of the story finally kicks in, it’s propulsive ... While the POV shifts are well handled, the time jumps can be frustrating. The reader becomes involved in a storyline, only to be whipped backward or forward. Once or twice, I longed to skip a chapter in order to continue on in one timeframe, most often when Joshua is working to understand Bianca and solve the problems in their relationship ... The Mexican American culture surrounding Bianca is palpable: Descriptions of large family gatherings, mouthwatering food, celebrations, and tales from folklore stream across every page, as do portrayals of chauvinistic men ... Givhan is an award-winning poet, and it shows in the novel’s language. Most poems demand space on the page, and Givhan uses this to her advantage in the free-standing letters Bianca writes to Jubilee. But in other places, the author misjudges, and lyrical but dense paragraphs break the narrative flow. That said, there are some glorious passages ... a rich novel that rewards patience at the beginning, gains speed as traumas are uncovered, and leaves the reader rooting for Bianca and Joshua as they struggle to create a life together.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksAlthough the opening is misleading, with its traditional narrative, once the form is understood and the underlying story begins to take shape, reading Home Making becomes a pleasure, full of weird jumps, interesting encounters, and beautiful images ... The structure of the novel allows myriad ideas to bloom and fade. Important themes surface — loneliness, being a woman of color in a white world, love, motherhood, the guilt of adultery — but often are underdeveloped and therefore don’t always resonate. The mother, Cybil, doesn’t register strongly, and Beau isn’t fully realized beyond his connection to Chloe, despite an attempt to flesh him out in a later chapter ... There’s a surprising twist toward the end, after which the story morphs again as the last chapters rush toward a traditional conclusion, not in the sense of what happens, but in how it’s told. With this change, some of the magic is lost ... isn’t for everyone. It requires a patient reader to accept the unusual structure, to find interest in Chloe’s various passions as she tries to make sense of her life, and to suspend disbelief at some characters’ motivations ... Yet, for a first novel, it’s wide-ranging and ambitious. It will be interesting to see how author Lee Matalone develops as a writer and, more crucially, as a storyteller.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... teems with dark humor and amusing observations about life ... What one person finds funny may bore or offend another, which explains the vast range of comic styles — from satire to slapstick to deadpan — author Richard Roper employs effectively throughout...Except for an over-the-top first chapter that strains for laughs, the novel succeeds with an easy rhythm and sudden strokes of fun ... a book to take to bed, to relax with. After a well-earned twist, the novel’s end leans toward upbeat but without a fairytale solution. It’s simply a lovely tale of two people in the midst of change who are making the best of things.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksUsing short chapters, some only half a page, she tells her family’s story; sorrows, vacations, struggles, and losses emerge in a series of short strokes that read like a fever dream ... The language is taut, rhythmic, and the details are lovely, sometimes funny ... Although Bock works hard to depict the period, the characters are in generic situations with generic thoughts [in the book\'s second section] ... unlike the first section, which soars, the second never quite gets off the ground ... Fortunately, the third section returns with a lovely complex story ... Two remaining sections contain a clutch of flash fiction related to the main story not in content, but in mood. These stories are entertaining, occasionally illuminating, but lack the cohesion and velocity of the opening. Still, Bock has taken a risk with her unusual structure and, in many ways, succeeded. Her family, especially her relationship with Pop, will stay with the reader.
Jean Hanff Korelitz
PanThe Washington Independent Review of BooksA satire succeeds best when it exaggerates a system or idea into absurdity, and as Korelitz skewers all things academic, her ultra-long sentences can be quite funny ... However, writing a successful satirical novel is more difficult than creating a satirical TV show or comic strip. Those short forms get in, make a point, and get out. A novel is extended and requires interesting characters that the reader can root for...Unfortunately, here, The Devil and Webster is lacking. Many of the characters are simply talking heads, on the phone or at meetings ... the novel is long in getting to the point. As the crisis grows in the background, characters, some who never appear again, are introduced. The entire history of the college is told in endless paragraphs ... Our modern universities surely offer fodder for great satire, for a story of fascinating characters engaged in ridiculous but well-meaning actions (think Jane Austen). Unfortunately, this is not the one.