Tobias Carroll is the author of the books Reel and Transitory. He is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn, and writes the monthly Watchlist column for Words Without Borders.
PositiveTor.comSensation Machines might be set in the near future, but the concerns that fuel its plot—systemic racism, economic anxiety, and corporatist entities looking to sink laws that could lead to real change—feel decidedly relevant in 2020. Wilson’s earlier fiction shares with this novel a penchant for wry dialogue, comic setpieces, and a sense of his characters being morally tested. The speculative elements in this novel help elevate those moral concerns to a much higher level; there’s a sense throughout that the UBI vote represents a nation’s last and best hope for positive change. The characters in Sensation Machines are grappling for a better life; they’re also trying hard to keep their souls intact. And in the not-so-distant future, pulling that last one off is even harder than it is today.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewFrancophone readers may note the similarity between the rogarou and the loup-garou, but Dimaline’s narrative treads far from werewolf clichés ... old tropes take on a philosophical dimension ... in maintaining its focus primarily on Joan’s very grounded love for her husband and family, Dimaline’s novel is able to take the plot to some unexpectedly phantasmagorical places without losing sight of its emotional core ... Dimaline here turns an old story into something newly haunting and resonant.
MixedTor.comDevolution differs from World War Z in a few substantial ways as well, which ultimately make it a more intimate book than its predecessor—and a far stranger one ... gives the narrative the sort of doomed intensity of the best disaster movies ... The reader knows what’s coming, which means that the plot has more than a little horror movie in its DNA. We’re introduced to a disparate group with their own rivalries and shifting dynamics; as anyone who’s seen a horror movie knows, we’re about to see most of these people meet terrible fates ... Brooks offers a bleak view of the world. It’s telling that neither side—human or sasquatch—suggests cooperating to save both communities ... But Brooks’s ambitious take on human (and primate) nature sometimes balances unsteadily with the smaller details of life in Greenloop, including a few odd pop culture references. When Devolution shows a wider canvas—even a secret history of the world—it works brilliantly, and the scenes of two species each fighting for their life abound with harrowing moments. But there are times where the intimate scale of this novel feels at odds with some of Brooks’s larger thematic points. As compelling as it is, you might find yourself wishing he’d opted to tell this story using a larger canvas.
PositiveTor.comThe novel’s plot unfolds elliptically ... O’Neill presents the different sides of her characters to the reader in dramatic ways ... In blending meditations on technology with a profound sense of alienation, O’Neill also recalls Don DeLillo’s short story \'Human Moments in World War III\' ... What makes this novel click is the way O’Neill uses language to make familiar events turn into something strange and mysterious ... What O’Neill has done with Quotients involves finding a new way to write about modern technology, and how its changed people’s ability to perceive the world. It might not sound like science fiction at first, but once you’ve spent some time immersed in the novel’s particular metier, it’s hard to think of it as anything else.
Hao Jingfang, trans. by Ken Liu
MixedTor.com... while Vagabonds has certain frustrating elements, Hao’s measured consideration of what film and dance might look like in the near future make for some of this novel’s most fascinating elements ... Vagabonds is a novel of ideas more than one of action, though—readers seeking pyrotechnics and epic societal collapses might be disappointed ... Where Vagabonds impresses is in its handling of art and inspiration, and in its exploration of what privilege might look like in a radically different context. Some of the details of the setting occur in passing: The question of how humans are living on Mars is answered, as are the biological effects of Martian life—but both come up in passing, rather than directly. That’s a welcome and natural choice, but there were also moments in Vagabonds where its low-key, lived-in qualities kept it frustratingly subdued ... That’s the paradox of taking such an immersive approach: For all that it leaves the reader with a sense of the quotidian elements of a futuristic society, it also showcases some of the less-thrilling elements of that same society. But the big ideas at the heart of this novel are enough to make it a worthwhile read—and a thought-provoking speculative work in general.
RaveThe Star TribuneLeichter has a great sense for prose ... this novel’s tone can rapidly turn absurd ... The narrator’s movement from assignment to assignment takes on the feeling of dream logic, but there’s a sense of morality and ethics below it all ... This blend of incisive satire and bizarre imagery would have been enough on its own to make this book memorable. But there are other elements to the novel that give it an even greater resonance: the narrator’s occasional flashbacks to her youth, in which she spent time with her mother, for instance ... It’s like little else you’ll read, but its emotional resonance is all too familiar.
PositiveTor.comZapata’s evocation of New Orleans at this point in history is deeply lived-in, offering a vision of the city with strongly felt connections to the Caribbean ... compelling ... It’s a thought-provoking examination of stories and worlds, and one which rarely goes in the direction you’d expect. It is, curiously, a very male novel—for all that Adana is a looming presence over the entire work, she’s also the most significant female character by a long shot. And while this seems by design, the idea of creating a female writer who anticipates several decades of science fiction and then leaving her legacy in entirely male hands creates a slight cognitive dissonance. But overall, The Lost Book of Adana Moreauis a thought-provoking literary mystery, and its title character a welcome addition to the canon of fictional science fiction writers.
Rodrigo Márquez Tizano, Trans. by Thomas Bunstead
PositiveThe Star TribuneThere are elements of science fiction within the narrative, along with a smidgen of body horror. But this is the kind of novel where reality itself seems to be breaking down along with the narrative; readers of Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris novels or Samuel R. Delany’s phantasmagorical epic Dhalgren will find plenty to delight in here ... not always an easy book to read: It takes place in the shifting head space of a character living in a world whose geography — and whose very epistemology — seems to be in a state of constant flux. One could also make a comparison here to the fiction of Ben Marcus, which has a similar fixation on the ways in which language can be altered for bleak narrative effect. But the rewards that come from reading Jakarta are manifold, and relate to the new territory its author carves out. This is Tizano’s first novel, ably translated by Thomas Bunstead, but he has the boldness of someone who’s been at it for decades. It’s the beginning of a promising literary career.
PositiveOn the SeawallGreenwell writes with a meticulous attention to detail ... An understated but nonetheless unnerving aspect of Cleanness is the presence in the background of various reactionary elements. At one point, the narrator hears of an activist group that had announced an LGBT film festival, which was ultimately disrupted by homophobic violence ... Greenwell’s approach is particularly distinctive in this respect: he’s fond of sentences that enumerate details and offer a sense of an ever-flowing narrative. But this isn’t a three-volume novel; instead, it weighs in at just over two hundred pages in length. This baroque prose style and the concise manner in which the narrative unfolds are seemingly at odds—but also beg the question of what else has been left out? This is, after all, a novel in which every character carries with them a sense of mystery and is fundamentally unknowable ... As earned endings go, it’s thoroughly unexpected, yet also perfectly resonant. Given all that’s come before, that seems entirely appropriate.
Sylvia Townsend Warner
RaveBOMBThe Corner That Held Them is far more politically radical than one might expect a historical novel about nuns published at that time to be. Mind you, it’s also a story...that begins with an adulterous, post-coital scene that quickly turns bloody ... Warner writes about a society of women undergirded by a patriarchal society; you can see where the potential exists for things to go very, very wrong ... Rather than following a single character, the priory is the central personality, and its shifting circumstances form the spine of the novel. Where Warner excels here is in blending the quotidian and irreverent in a novel about a nominally sacred space ... \'Yet the events of history carry a certain exhilaration with them,\' Warner writes early in the story. At its best, this novel lives up to that pronouncement—both in its stylish prose and attention to detail. Warner’s writing is itself an exhilarating event, a radical work of fiction from seventy years ago which resonates sharply today.
PositiveTime OutIn marrying the nostalgia of Ray Bradbury with the surreal archetypes of Manuela Draeger and The Hearing Trumpet author Leonora Carrington, Duplex strikes a chord even as the narrative bends into the mysterious. Duplex is a novel as effective in its descriptions of aging, loss and compromise as it is with its manifestations of the uncanny. To Davis’s credit, this juxtaposition never feels arbitrary; rather, it results in a novel that gets under your skin from many different angles.
Johannes Anyuru, Trans by. Saskia Vogel
PositiveTor.com... Anyuru juxtaposes science fictional elements with an unflinching willingness to deal with extremism and sensitive topics ... some of the specific risks Anyuru takes in the telling of this story pay off dramatically. It can be frustrating to write about a novel where the central characters are largely unnamed, but with the novel’s focus on identity, it makes perfect sense ... Anyuru doesn’t shy away from asking big questions in this novel, and the result is a searing meditation on some of today’s most unnerving subjects.
RaveTor.comBy setting this novel in a society where DIY can literally be against the law, Pinsker ups the suspense considerably. To call this novel completely dystopian wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though: there’s a passing reference to states having established a basic income, for instance. It’s a fascinating paradox: elements of this world are utterly terrifying, but Pinsker balances that neatly with elements to show its appeal ... There’s something very zeitgeist-y about what Pinsker does here ... Pinsker’s novel feels very relevant in 2019, she’s also grappling with some classically science fictional themes ... There aren’t many books that can accurately convey the dynamics of a local DIY music scene and tap into a decades-long tradition of speculative fiction. Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day makes it seem effortless—but in focusing on the taxing nature of the creative process under duress, she also reminds the reader of how difficult \'effortless\' can be. Relevant, haunting, and inspiring, this is one of the best books of 2019.
PositiveTor.com... doesn’t always click, but when it does it’s bone-chillingly effective ... At times, it also feels like Spjut returning to the territory of a fairly self-contained novel and giving himself space to explore this fictional world further; while this novel also reaches a satisfying conclusion, it wouldn’t be shocking to see its author return to this setting again ... It’s in the moments of dissonance, where the narrative pitches headlong into the uncanny, that Spjut makes the gulf between the crime-fiction and the supernatural elements of his novel click ... When Spjut embraces the irrational menace summoned up by this narrative, he creates a powerfully surreal sensation that’s hard to shake. Trolls abounds with visceral moments ... While the narrative can sometimes feel overly complex, there are numerous moments of raw power to be found here, and some wry humor as well.
PositiveTor.com...a collection abounding with bizarre moments ... several stories within the collection...operate under a kind of dream logic laced with gritty horror ... a...blend of folktales and realism ... Not all of the stories click ... Percy has a penchant for pulpy thrills and kinetic plots ... Suicide Woods has its own ebbs and flows, and its own high and low points. But when this book hums along, it does so to powerful effect. And it’s a fine reminder of what happens when a writer taps into their penchant for the outright fantastical, and the unsettling stories that can arise as a result.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWhat makes Panic in a Suitcase so memorable, then, is the way that it avoids the clichéd routes any of these elements could have prompted. Instead, this is a novel of family that remains true to its sometimes stubborn, sometimes endearing, and sometimes unknowable characters ... Akhtiorskaya accomplishes this transition out of the novel’s first half and into the second via two seemingly disparate scenes; as the connection between the two is made, a sense of what has transpired is gradually revealed: exposition through inference ... For all of the glorious eccentricities of her characters, the enduring message of this book is both deeply universal and faithful to the idiosyncrasies on display.
RaveTime OutAntopol dissects idealism and cynicism in equal measure, and shows the effects of each on the lives of those around her protagonists. History and culture loom, but never for the same person in the same way, and loneliness and confusion result ... Whether its familial or economic, Antopol does a good job of channeling her characters’ anxieties, and she shows the aftereffects of seismic political decisions on daily striving worldwide.
RaveVol. 1 BrooklynPunk rock is played and blood is consumed, but the horrors here are far more internal in nature, and the sometimes pastoral landscapes this novel’s narrator wanders provide no respite ... Krilanovich is borrowing elements here from pulp horror, but it’s key that an unseen killer is far more sinister than either the gang of vampires or an ominous street that resurfaces throughout the book ... That actions are horrific isn’t the only thing at work here — there’s also the way in which actions begin to blur and lose cohesion, which is in its own way even more horrific. And in the end, the most resonant pit-of-your-stomach dread doesn’t come from a roadside killer or fangs poised above a neck. Instead, it’s a much simpler scene, something rooted in mundane indifference that brings this novel to its unexpectedly domestic and achingly painful conclusion.
PositiveTor.com... has a decidedly cinematic quality ... Koepp establishes a complex grid of relationships among his characters. He also eludes easy expectations: he does a variation on a familiar scene, in which someone is unwittingly infected by a sinister organism—but in his telling, the person infected immediately figures out what’s gone wrong, and acts accordingly ... Koepp does take advantage of the structure of the novel...But aside from the novel’s blockbuster tendencies, there’s also a gleefully bleak sense of humor running below the surface of the novel, which makes for some of its most memorable scenes ... It’s a familiar scenario: the unlikely ensemble who are the world’s last hope, even if they don’t realize it. But Koepp’s storytelling chops keep this narrative from ever falling too far into cliche—and when he starts to, there’s also bizarre body horror aplenty to offset it. And thankfully, Koepp also understands that having a ragtag group of heroes trying to save the world only resonates if you actually care about the characters. In the end, he does; in the end, he makes the stakes feel real.
Kimberly King Parsons
RaveTexas ObserverLike many of the characters within them, these stories are constantly in flux, revealing new facets while refusing to conform to any preset template ... \'Guts\' treads the border of the fantastical, while later stories like \'The Animal Part\' and \'Foxes\' blend horror imagery with an unnerving ambiguity. Parsons’ forays into the uncanny are more hallucinatory than anything else, a heightening of the characters’ reality rather than a revelation that that reality is beyond what they’d imagined ... A sense of yearning and loss connects the stories, though their tones and subjects vary wildly ... What characterizes many of these stories and helps them stand out is Parsons’ unpredictable yet effective way of parceling out information ... Parsons also deftly navigates questions of class, establishing the economic disparity between several sets of characters in passing without ever feeling heavy-handed or dogmatic. This ultimately leaves Black Light as a collection that, at various moments, recalls the work of Katherine Dunn, Alice Munro, and Denis Johnson. But Parsons also charts her own territory with stories that offer the promise of transcendence and desire while simultaneously threatening the pain of regret and loss. Most hauntingly, Black Light reminds readers that these sets are not mutually exclusive, nor are they anything close to predictable.
PositiveThe Star TribuneLow frequently moves around in time and space in the narrative, and it’s a testament to her skill as a writer that this feels organic rather than jarring. She invokes a disparate array of artists, family members and relationships past and present, and the cumulative effect is powerful. In her personal experience and in the art she describes, Low embraces the specifics of her own experiences and aesthetics but renders them into something thought-provoking for numerous readers. The result is one of the most evocative books you’re likely to encounter this year.
Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Trans. by Eduardo Aparicio
RaveBookforumHad Rey Rosa written a nonfiction account of what he learned from the missing-persons files, it likely would have been gripping in its own right. Instead, Rey Rosa wrapped his real-life search in a fictionalized container, and the results are haunting and revelatory in ways that nonfiction couldn’t accomplish ... For many American readers, Human Matter may resonate in a number of potentially contradictory ways. The involvement of the American government, and of American corporations, in Guatemalan affairs in the twentieth century is deeply felt here ... Contemporary events have also caused Human Matter to take on newfound relevance ... The timing of the publication of this translation of Rey Rosa’s novel acquires an ominous dimension with this information ... But like the ways in which the author weaves together fact and fiction, it never feels like a demonstration of literary cleverness as much as the gradually suffocating sensation of moral rot, a terrifying post-script to a novel already terrifying in its implications.
PositiveTor.comSarah Davis-Goff’s Last Ones Left Alive sits uneasily between science fiction and horror, which places it in an ideal place to offer readers a harrowing vision of the near future ... Last Ones Left Alive can at times feel like a distinctly feminist, Irish spin on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Both books explore the psychology of a lone protagonist who has to deal with the fractured remains of humanity; both books explore the effect of hunting monsters on their protagonist’s soul. Davis-Goff tells a taut and harrowing story here, but it’s also one that allows for moments of hope. In an era of fiction that embraces bleakness, this novel’s suggestion that all may not be lost comes as a hard-fought and resonant statement of humanism, even when humanity can seem lost.
PositiveTor.comIn its range and assortment of techniques, it’s Tremblay’s most ambitious book; it’s also a work that abounds with references to his other novels, although prior knowledge of them is not required to make sense of these ... exists in a strange liminal state: in certain places, it links up with Tremblay’s larger bibliography, and gives a fine sense of his recurring themes and images. But it’s also a showcase for his range as an author, and a place for him to experiment with things that might not click on the scale of a longer work. There’s plenty to applaud here, but even more to send readers shivering—a fine blend of technique and terror.
PositivePortland Press HeraldCoffin’s descriptions of these fights offer a frenetic account of what it’s like to be inside the ring, attempting to figure your opponent’s style and weaknesses out before things rapidly go wrong ... a precise way of rendering chaos onto the page: Coffin demonstrates how even a fight as hectic as this has its ebbs and flows, and how his own confidence shifts over the course of the bout ... Roughhouse Friday abounds with contradictions: It’s a memoir about empathy that includes extensive descriptions of fighters beating one another up. But those unlikely juxtapositions make for a rewarding read. Coffin’s conclusions about masculinity and archetypes don’t come to him easily, and their repercussions on his personal relationships have seismic effects. Elements of this story—a young man ventures to a small town far from all he’s known to discover who he really is—can feel familiar at times. But Coffin finds the specificity in his own experiences, both through his familial dynamic and through the people he encounters in Alaska, to make this memoir an intense and haunting read.
RaveTor.comSong for the Unraveling of the World is Evenson’s latest collection, and it’s a perfect introduction to Evenson’s work for those who are looking to experience it for the first time. For longtime Evenson readers, there are also plenty of delights here, ranging in tone from the philosophical to the visceral ... All told, Song for the Unraveling of the World is a succinct exploration of Brian Evenson’s strengths as a writer: some of the concepts and images here aren’t likely to leave my head any time soon, and the evenness of his tone and precision of his language only accentuates these stories’ moods. There’s also a sense of Evenson pushing out and trying new things, keeping things interesting for those who have been reading Evenson for a while now. Evenson knows how to meticulously construct a story, but he also knows the primal terror that can come from a darkened space or something just out of view. In these stories, he demonstrates just how effective those traits can be combined.
MixedTor.comMachines Like Me is a curious work ... At times it reads like two shorter novels woven together, linked up by the couple at its center ... While it’s very much an alternate history of Britain in the 1980s—both Margaret Thatcher and her ideological rival Tony Benn have significant roles to play in the narrative—there are more than a few moments in the book where McEwan is less than subtle about the resonances of Machines Like Me’s plot to the present day ... As the novel points out, mathematics and technology have their mysteries just as philosophies and faiths do. If humanity does boil down to the most advanced form of machine, it’s a cynical take on the species—but it’s not far removed from this novel’s narrator, who seeks to know himself but ends the book distanced from his own capacity for empathy and violence.
Alia Trabucco Zerán, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneFelipe’s chapters have a hallucinatory quality: As he walks the streets of Santiago, the deaths of decades past merge with signs of present-day violence to create a haunting tapestry of death. Iquela’s narration is more restrained, but it also has impossibilities of its own ... In a novel where the past is constantly breaking the surface of the present, and where memory and language fail to do justice to the events before one’s face, there exists a high potential for the whole enterprise to collapse into chaos — especially with the reminder of their own mortality awaiting at the end of the road. The Remainder is a haunted novel, awash with sinister and elegiac moods. It stands as a testament to the way the past can unsettle us, and the way distant or vanished lives can be as present as the person next door.
Joao Gilberto Noll Trans. by Edgar Garbelotto
RaveTor.com\" ... absolutely unsettling...both in the ways that it depicts alienated psyches and in the ways that it disorients the reader ... summons tension due to its sheer indescribability—as the reader is forced to question whether this ambiguity is in the service of some larger plot revelation, or if the ambiguity itself is the point ... To say that this novel operates under dream logic would be to sell it short: It has a distinctly surreal logic, but \'dreamlike\' isn’t the first word that comes to mind when thinking of it. Still, the blend of precision and abandon with which Noll spins this tale is never less than disconcerting. The result is a novel that creates new rules and surveys new fictional terrain as it goes.\
PositiveVol. 1 Brooklyn\"Throughout much of the novel, I found myself wishing for more glimpses of Hel and Vikram’s home timeline. And then I realized that these yearnings were the point: that Chess had figured out a way to trigger them in such a way that it might echo the yearnings for home that her characters so profoundly feel. Rather than full immersion, all that’s left are a few memories, stray associations and unexpected reminiscences. The frustration that we’re not given more glimpses of this other world isn’t a flaw – instead, it’s the point ... Chess’s novel foregoes overt metaphor for something deeper, and it’s all the more moving for it.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Kathryn Davis’ works blend the familiar with the disquieting, the archetypal with the experimental. The Silk Road takes this tendency to its apex ... No two readers may interpret this book the same way, or even close to it — but these unexpected and unruly juxtapositions carry plenty of emotional power and philosophical provocation.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"But for all the skewed touches Doten uses here — Trump’s zeppelin, a sort of aerial Mar-a-Lago, chief among them — he also channels the brusqueness of the president’s Twitter feed into a vivid literary depiction. And this is indeed a novel where Twitter personas don’t just matter: They are, in fact, at the heart of this heady work’s thematic concerns ... Fundamentally, this is a long and thrilling meditation on information and disinformation, on personas and the elusiveness of truth. In Trump Sky Alpha, this is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with a meme.\
Rita Indiana, Trans. by Achy Obejas
PositiveTor.com\"To say that there are certain tropes that surround time travel would be a massive understatement, and yet: I’m not sure there’s ever been a story of moving through time quite like Rita Indiana’s heady and surreal novel Tentacle ... Within the pages of Tentacle, Indiana covers a lot of ground–and seeing how all of its seemingly disparate threads fit together can require some backtracking. When it all comes together, though, the result of Indiana’s novel is a dizzying, almost ecstatic experience ... But what might be most welcome about this book is its sheer unpredictability, which Indiana carries out with gusto.\
Anne Serre, Trans. by Mark Hutchinson
Positivetor.com\"At times, [The Governesses] recalls Karen Russell’s blends of the everyday and the fantastical; at others, the juxtaposition of the pastoral and the sinister echoes Gene Wolfe’s Peace ... this is a work that’s propelled more by its tone and telling than it is for the events that comprise its story ... The conclusion of the novel ties in a distinctly bizarre series of events, even by the standards of this book, to the presence of this most male of male gazes. The utterly disquieting effects of this gaze’s absence suggest a range of metaphorical interpretations of the narrative that has just concluded. Whether this a tale of witchcraft in an opulent landscape, an uncanny story of a collective mind, or a surreal account of desire and obsession, Serre’s imagery and tone create a world that’s hard to forget.\
PositiveTor.comThis is the sort of novel in which characters’ fixation on a fictional narrative proves all too real: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs are two relevant examples, and Bailey’s novel falls somewhere in between the two, tonally speaking. He also neatly balances the quotidian and the uncanny; for that, among other reasons, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man would serve as two other worthy reference points ... Bailey’s novel is both a resonant tale of literary obsession and a story of old myths rising violently to the surface of an otherwise rational world. And it largely succeeds at both: its central characters are well-drawn, and its more uncanny aspects never overwhelm the emotional connections Bailey has established throughout the book. This isn’t to say that this book is without some frustrations, however. The handling of Erin’s depression is a particularly tricky aspect of In the Night Wood. It had the paradoxical effect of feeling emotionally correct but dramatically frustrating, leaving one of the novel’s most interesting characters on its margins rather than keeping her more central ... Overall, however, Bailey has created an immersive setting, a fantastic sense of building tension, and a group of memorably flawed characters. In the Night Wood’s blend of literary history and sinister secrets was largely gripping throughout; it also left me in the position of many of Bailey’s characters: eager to be enchanted by the mysteries of both versions of In the Night Wood all over again.
PositivePortland Press Herald\"Elevation shares with much of King’s other fiction a sense of a lived-in world ... For all that Elevation is a compact book, it’s also a complex one. It’s a moving story about a man grappling with his own mortality sooner than he expected to. It’s also about solitude and unlikely bonds. To King’s credit, he doesn’t simplify or smooth the edges of the story he’s telling ... Some King books come complete with sprawling cosmologies and extended mythologies. Not this one. It’s a quiet, precise story about grappling with the uncanny and leaving behind the best possible legacy.\
David R. Bunch
PositiveTor.comThis new world is one of constant war and environmental devastation ... All of this makes Moderan an intense read: between the violent alienation of the setting and the hyper-stylized prose on display, it can be a lot to take in in one dose. Narrator Stronghold 10 has a distinct syntax, and Bunch immerses the reader in this new world, and in his narrator’s way of perceiving it ... Bunch’s background in poetry comes to the forefront: even as he describes the most horrific of events, there’s still an undeniable rhythm present, an adept wordplay balancing out the ugliness of the images ... perhaps the most harrowing aspect of Moderan is its immersiveness: there is no detached observer to state a rational case for de-escalation, and no higher society to calm things down. There are only the basest of desires and the most sophisticated of weapons. Regardless of the era in which we live, that’s a story that’s all too familiar.
RaveTor.comIt’s a novel that sneaks up on you from all sides: it’s an affecting portrayal of loss, a precise fictional evocation of group dynamics, and a sharp character study of its protagonist, Candace Chen. It also features one of the most hauntingly plausible end-of-the-world scenarios I’ve encountered in recent fiction, one which folds in enough hints of the real to be particularly unsettling ... much of Severance’s power arrives through this: the sense that something terrible and seismic might happen, and no one would even notice ... While Shen Fever seems as plausible as any devastating epidemic in fiction, it also hits with a greater metaphorical resonance ... Severance allows for some slightly altered versions of recent events to take place ... on a larger level, these evocations of the recent past serve another narrative function: they make the reader complicit in the very act that this novel warns against. In cursing memory, it inevitably conjures memory. In both the level of detail and its thematic weight, this is a monumentally unnerving novel, one that leaves no easy answers or comfortable nooks in which to take refuge. But then again, the end of everything rarely plays nice.
RaveTor.com\"Nicole Kornher-Stace’s novel Archivist Wasp brought together a host of seemingly disparate elements that would normally clash and turned them into a bizarre and compelling coming of age story abounding with surreal adventures in a postapocalyptic landscape ... In both this book and its predecessor, Kornher-Stace has created and developed a singular fictional setting—but Latchkey is at its best when it embraces that originality, rather than returning to more familiar narrative beats.\
PositiveThe New RepublicIt’s an ambitious task: a comic novel that also meditates on recent national events, with a measured dissection of ignorance and inspiration thrown in. Finding the right balance for such a narrative is no easy task; the same is true for creating a protagonist who’s both compelling and ridiculous. Shteyngart asks his readers to empathize with a frequently boorish conservative financier—the sort of person whose politics and position have created untold sadness for many ... There’s more than a little of The Bonfire of the Vanities in Lake Success’s literary DNA—both its bleak view of the wealthy and its sprawling social criticism ... In the hands of some authors, Barry’s road trip would be the stuff of mockery. His many attempts to make cultural inroads with the rest of America are poorly-timed and miscalculated, leaving him even more hopelessly out of touch ... But Shteyngart humanizes Barry by showing his love for his son, and by endowing him with quirks, such as his penchant for rare watches ... In a flashback to a college writing workshop, Barry recalls his professor telling the class that \'the best fiction is the fiction of self-delusion.\' This may be true, but in the slapstick Shteyngart has written, he illustrates the darker side of self-delusion as well—and the unsettling places that it can lead.
PositiveTor.comWhat happens when you take someone familiar and place them in an utterly alien setting? Taty Went West is, in its own way, a series of variations on that theme of contrasts: the known world meeting the impossible world; the transcendental colliding with the sordid; the speculative meeting the delirious. In Taty Went West, a robot can evoke the divine, and a monstrous presence can be the agent of liberation. This is a novel that abounds with contradictions, taking them to absurd ends ... Singh has endeavored to combine theoretically incompatible strands of literature: the picaresque blended with New Wave science fiction blended with absurdist comedy blended with realistic looks at trauma and its aftereffects. Does it all neatly flow together? No, but the risks that Singh takes here succeed more often than not, and the result is a deeply singular and highly compelling literary debut.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldCoviello’s book will strike a particular chord (no pun intended) with aging indie rock listeners of a certain age ... Readers of the alt-country periodical No Depression will find much to enjoy in Coviello’s periodic forays into lyrical analysis; as befits someone with a background in literature, he’s equally capable of evoking the visceral moods that a favorite song can summon up and taking a measured look at what the words being sung in that song could mean, how they got there and what they signify ... Coviello writes rapturously about the art of listening to and engaging with music ... In the midst of these tales of heartbreak and self-discovery, a subtle road narrative is buried just below the surface ... This isn’t a memoir in which grand epiphanies are had; instead, it’s more true to life, when you recognize that something’s been the case in your life for a while, but you can’t quite pin a start date on it. Through heartbreak and joy, this is a precise map of its author’s love, loss and dedication and all of the unpredictability that accompanied them.
Betwixt and Between
RaveStar TribuneBoully is an author who often takes bold formal steps: Her first book, The Body: An Essay is made up entirely of footnotes to an absent text. In her preface to this collection, Boully explains that the essays contained within span her career to date — that they, in her words, \'began to appear when I began to write truly as a writer.\' ... What emerges from the cumulative experience of reading them, then, is a glimpse inside a singular authorial voice, and the way that life experiences and a literary aesthetic are intertwined. The overall effect is hypnotic. Throughout Betwixt and Between, she uses unexpected juxtapositions to achieve a powerful effect. Several of the essays within feature self-consciously sprawling titles: The Art of Fiction and How to Write on Grand Themes are two examples. Both essays eschew rote advice on craft and instead delve into the idiosyncrasies of Boully’s own life experiences — and, in doing so, neatly leap over the oft debated argument over the personal vs. the universal ... For all that Boully can write in a heady register, she also incorporates familiar questions in these essays: Family, identity and desire all occupy plenty of space within the text ... Betwixt-and-Between is living proof of that: It’s not only a powerful demonstration of writing as life, but of the ways that lived experiences can illuminate and transform writing.
Bethany C. Morrow
RaveTor.comThis is, ultimately, a powerful spin on a classic science fictional concept: to what extent do our memories make us who we are? Where does the line between identity and memories fall? ... Using precise and evocative language, Morrow turns a powerful concept into a sharp exploration of where memory, identity, and the body meet—and what the implications of that might be.
Curzio Malaparte, Trans. by Jenny McPhee
PositiveThe Quarterly ConversationAlternately, this is work that blends fiction and nonfiction, and its observations about life place fiction and nonfiction on an equal footing. In the span of one paragraph late in the book, describing a dead body, Malaparte evokes archetypes found in the fiction of Nikolai Gogol and Leo Tolstoy—and then, a dozen or so pages later, he contradicts himself, debunking \'[t]hose who imagine Russians as the characters depicted by Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Gogol.\' There’s a fine line between the implicit self-criticism here and an almost comedic level of lack of self-awareness—though I’m tempted to believe that Malaparte is subtly implicating himself in this tendency to any readers careful enough to notice the dissonance ... There is little room for idealism in this view of the world. Literally every saint and miracle (holy or secular) encountered in the book is debunked in some way ... Malaparte’s persona can be most difficult to take: the smartest man in the room, detached from everything, quipping endlessly ... That the realms of absurdism and exaggeration can, under the right conditions, become realism in the face of totalitarian regimes is but one of the reasons why Malaparte’s work endures even as it unnerves.
Edouard Louis, Trans. Lorin Stein
PositiveWords Without BordersLouis’s nonfiction novel is precisely arranged and quietly devastating as it narratively circles the horrific act of violence at its center... a deeply unsettling work that painstakingly reconstructs a terrible event and its aftereffects.
RavePortland Press HeraldRachel Slade’s Into the Raging Sea is both a gripping account of the final voyage of El Faro, a cargo ship that sank in Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, and a moving portrait of many of the lives lost in the disaster, including those of four Mainers. If Slade’s book had done nothing other than tell the tale of this horrific event, it would have been gripping enough. But there’s another aspect to Into the Raging Sea, which places the disaster in an entirely different context and infuses a weighty subject with righteous anger ... Slade meticulously explores the cut corners and cost-saving measures that, had they not been implemented, could have meant a different outcome for El Faro ... Slade has followed these events for some time...that familiarity shows: She deftly conveys a number of complex interpersonal and inter-agency relationships ... It’s a staunchly humanistic work, adroitly told, with a wide emotional range that incorporates both a sense of loss and a call for change.
RaveTorBullwinkel covers a lot of stylistic territory here—some of these stories deal with the uncanny, while others fall in a more realistic vein—but the emotional consistency that carries through the book helps it to achieve a welcome unity. Alternately, consider these variations on a theme regarding mortality and isolation: timeless themes, rendered in an unpredictable manner ... in the end, Belly Up is a haunting carnival, a celebration in defiance of extinction, and an embrace of the weirdness of life, and what might come after.
RaveBarnes and NobleCaptive Audience is at once less and more personal than its predecessor. Its first sentence suggests several of the layers on which its title works ... Mann’s structure throughout is deliberate ... The final chapter of Captive Audience was written after the election of Donald Trump, and it ends by posing more questions, both about the dangers of passivity when encountering media and about the ways in which writing about something gradually becomes an all-encompassing task. National politics may have raised the stakes for this particular work: an investigation of the permutations of nonfiction storytelling transformed into an indictment of the state of culture in the early twenty-first century. 'All I really know is how it feels — that’s the truth and that’s also the problem,' Mann writes. It’s a disquieting and contradictory note on which to end this book. But then, given the art form at its center, that seems like the truest choice he could have made.
PositiveTor.comIn its first half, it’s a bleakly funny story of its protagonist, Lucy, house- and dog-sitting for her sister in Los Angeles as she grapples with the aftereffects of a terrible breakup in Phoenix ... Alternately: for all that adding a human/merman tryst into this novel comes as a departure from what’s come before, the fact that this novel doesn’t double down on its paranormal elements is significant ... In the end, The Pisces is a novel that eludes any form of easy classification, and it’s all the stronger for it.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe meticulously arranged prose...undergoes a kind of transmutation, with long passages that veer into ecstatic modernism. There’s a sense that this novel is echoing Pearl’s alienation—from everyone around her, from her own body, from reality. But again, this isn’t a strictly realist work—and the way in which Williams references the unreal throughout is one of the things that gives it so much power ... Characters in The Changeling are trapped in myriad ways: in bodies they hate, in families they despise, in isolation that pushes them towards madness or illness. Much of the novel’s dizzying power comes from the juxtaposition of the familiar—a young woman who finds her own life caught up in that of the wealthy and powerful—with that which seems at odds with it: transformations, myths, and creation stories.
Julián Herbert, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Tomb Song leaves space for the high-minded, the sociopolitical and the pop culture-obsessed ... Tomb Song is an inherently contradictory book: The experimental aspects of its structure have a playfulness to them, which in turn contrasts with the (literally) life-or-death stakes at its core ... This novel sprawls, but never loses sight of the human connection at its core — and it’s all the more moving as a result.\
MixedTor.comIn telling this complex story, has Beauman found an equally deft way of bringing pulp tropes to the present day without stumbling, or are we dealing with a complex structure around a potentially retrograde plot? The short answer: yes, mostly ... the sense of excess here can occasionally feel overwhelming, and several of the characters’ arcs come to an abrupt or mysterious end ... For all that it doesn’t always click, this novel’s blend of narrative deftness and classical riffs makes for a remarkably spry read ... And while the complexity of the plot ends up becoming part of the plot, it at times feels like this version of Madness Is Better Than Defeat is a truncated version of another version of it that’s closer to 600 pages in length.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...if Kevin Young’s Bunk had simply been a chronicle of hoaxes over the years, it would have been gripping reading in its own right. But Young goes much deeper, examining the reasons why large groups of people are drawn to certain varieties of bunk, and what that says about our society ... His work encompasses a comprehensive amount of information, and he’s equally comfortable focusing on particular figures or creative works as he is examining much broader trends ... equal parts enlightening and unnerving.
RaveThe Portland Press HeraldMyles’ matter-of-fact prose doesn’t make the book any less wrenching to read, nor does telling the story of Rosie’s death early in the book reduce the pain of a primally moving narrative ... Despite the book’s unorthodox structure, the overarching theme in Afterglow, namely how Rosie fundamentally altered Myles’ life for the better, is a familiar one in narratives of humans and animals. And for all of the ways in which Myles remembers Rosie, the book also reveals a tremendous sense of absence and loss ... With great candor, Myles uses the emotional intimacy of a human’s relationship with a dog to discuss larger questions of emotional intimacy. Early in the book, Myles recollects a reading where, 'I read a long one about dogs I wrote before I ever even had one. It was about attachment. How I wanted it. Needed it.' That could well be an epigraph for the narrative that follows: Through its idiosyncrasy and specificity, Afterglow illustrates the lasting bond between humans and dogs in a new way.
RaveThe Portland Press HeraldThe universal theme of attachment shines through in Eileen Myles’ unconventional Afterglow ...is the story of Rosie, Myles’ canine companion from 1990 to 2006. It ventures into some of the places one might expect from an account of owning a dog from puppyhood until its death, including a number of moving descriptions of Rosie’s physical decline at the end of her life ... Myles’ matter-of-fact prose doesn’t make the book any less wrenching to read, nor does telling the story of Rosie’s death early in the book reduce the pain of a primally moving narrative ... Myles makes forays into the philosophical, the experimental and the absurd... Through its idiosyncrasy and specificity, Afterglow illustrates the lasting bond between humans and dogs in a new way.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMuch of the power of Beast emerges from Kingsnorth’s juxtaposition of stylized language — sometimes rapturous, sometimes fragmented — with descriptions of a harsh landscape. This is a stark book in many senses of the word — just as Buckmaster’s narration has begun to give a sense of his inner self and his life before solitude, he enters into a primal struggle for survival. On its own, this is a taut, thrilling and mystifying narrative. Taken in tandem with The Wake, it forms a powerful meditation on violence, society and the nature of exile. Kingsnorth’s novel is relentless and philosophical, and this uneasy pairing gives it an abundance of raw power.
RaveBookforumFamilies fracturing, suburban sprawl, the ways that the sublime can be brought to earth and used to sell the most mundane of things: All of these are familiar notes for many an American writer to hit. What makes The Dark Dark so refreshing is Hunt’s willingness to work in the unapologetically weird. For some writers, the presence of the surreal might be exceedingly metaphorical or heavy-handed. Hunt celebrates unpredictability itself. At times, the dramatic shifts from realism into the bizarre recalls the likes of filmmakers like Richard Ayoade and David Lynch. As much as The Dark Dark compliments Hunt’s trio of novels, it also showcases other sides of her work, from playful metafiction to borderline body horror. It’s a welcome statement of purpose, and a reminder that certain familiar places and themes are ripe for their own fictional revival.
Ramon Saizarbitoria, Trans. by Aritz Branton
RaveElectric LiteratureOn paper, this book’s plot seems easy to describe, albeit fairly static: it follows the lives of two middle-aged couples ?— ?Martin and Julia, Abaitua and Pilar ?—? as they go about their daily lives and begin to question the bonds between them. This is somewhat accelerated by the arrival of Lynn, an American, whose life intersects with both couples in interesting ways ...the struggle for Basque independence looms in many of these characters’ histories contorts the narrative in unexpected ways ...alternates between the two couples from chapter to chapter, and doesn’t provide a lot of exposition up front, instead revealing information gradually... Action and contemplation frequently take center stage, but actions read about, imagined, or remembered also play a significant part in moving the novel’s plot forward ...Action and contemplation frequently take center stage, but actions read about, imagined, or remembered also play a significant part in moving the novel’s plot forward.
J. Robert Lennon
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneLennon raises questions of surveillance and the possibility of anonymity — questions that the spectral being lurking on the fringes of things helps to drive home. Lennon evokes the passage of time with precision: A long passage about the house's many years of emptiness turns detachment into something moving. He's equally good with the messier emotional materials: Eleanor's creative frustrations with her writing become quite tangible, as do Karl's failings as an artist, a partner and a parent. There are moments here of chilling violence, and of nuanced comedies of manners; the result is a heady novel that distills a host of anxieties into something offbeat and hard to shake.
RavePasteOllmann’s artwork is stylized, and, taken over the course of the book, demonstrates the ravages of time and heavy alcohol consumption on its subject ...Ollmann also makes fine use of nine-panel grids, sometimes zeroing in on the minute body language and interactions of Seabrook in a domestic context, and juxtaposes moments from his life through similarly constructed panels at a temporal distance from one another ... The graphic biography goes beyond a straightforward narrative, investigating the larger artistic and social context in which he wrote and lived, and gives a fuller sense of the literary and artistic scene in and out of which Seabrook drifted ... Before reading Ollmann’s clear-headed and empathic account, the name William Seabrook may have been foreign; by the end of it, readers will likely want to order one of his books—the mark of a comprehensive and compelling literary biography.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneFinding the right balance between the author’s unquiet past and their more restrained condition nowadays can be difficult, but Mohr deftly juxtaposes multiple timelines while keeping things moving forward. And while Mohr’s experience with addiction informs the novel, there’s a lot more going on, from his complex family history to his formative experiences as a writer ... One of the standout aspects of Sirens is the way in which Mohr writes about physical damage, charting out the effects of various narcotics and blackouts on his system with the same haunting rigor that he does when discussing his health problems after becoming sober. It’s visceral in the most literal way, and it serves as a reminder for how effective this style can be when done well ... Sirens is a searing read, an illuminating trip (both metaphorical and literal) into its author’s mind and heart.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveElectric Literature\"Fever Dream is a short, terse novel; it’s also as expansive as the mind itself, and terrifying in the ways in which it evokes a panicked psyche spilling out its most horrific memories, fixations, and secrets ... The title of Fever Dream serves as a constant reminder of the terrain we’re in as readers. At times, the give-and-take between Amanda and David can seem stilted, like an interrogation pushed into some realm far beyond stylization; on the other hand, that seems entirely appropriate for a fever dream. So, too, is the case with the strange twists the plot takes, which can defy logic–but, perhaps, not the logic of a fever dream ... To say that this novel perfectly evokes the experience of its title, then, is meant as the highest compliment: the delirium of the unconscious, and all the terrors it can dredge up.\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe fiction in this collection occupies a vast stylistic range, as Jarrar is equally comfortable telling realistic stories of families and relationships in conflict as she is in exploring more fantastical subjects. The result is a book that never succumbs to predictability; instead, Jarrar uses memorable imagery and character dynamics to examine a host of themes ... Jarrar deftly captures the conflicted emotions that can arise when trying to navigate your own identity and the expectations of loved ones ... the result is a powerful evocation of the complex dynamics at work in contemporary life.
PositiveElectric LiteratureIt’s Moore’s Ulysses, his Dhalgren, his doorstopper engaging with grandiose themes and experimental styles. Which marks this as a mightily ambitious novel in both scope and style, but which can also lead to an occasionally uneven experience. Is it a bold work? Yes, and a singular one, for better or for worse ... I found large chunks of it to be breathtaking in their scope; I found many of the passages, especially those in its first part when characters wrestled with mortality, to be incredibly moving...But it’s also unwieldy in places.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAlthough it takes some time to establish its structure and narrative flow, the work that eventually emerges is powerful and compelling. It feels deeply relevant even when it covers events set several decades in the past ... it can be initially disorienting to see characters age and grow younger from page to page. Where this goes, ultimately, is toward a greater understanding of what motivates these characters ... This is a novel that abounds with ambition, but it largely succeeds in grappling with a host of grand themes.
Daniel Saldaña París, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWhile there’s definitely something of a plot happening in Among Strange Victims, much of the novel’s charm comes from its ability to elude convention. For all of its intentional progression in fits and starts, eventually Rodrigo’s narrative finds a decidedly peculiar direction, ending on a note that’s at once transcendent, melancholy, juvenile and mysterious. Although its stylized narrative can be an acquired taste, Among Strange Victims is deceptively affecting.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...summary doesn’t get at the emotional tension that suffuses this novel, or the carefully modulated tensions that run between the book’s major characters ... fundamentally, this is an atmospheric glimpse into an unconventional, damaged life ... Brightfellow travels into an offbeat mind, but it’s an enlightening voyage.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneEven as The Reactive hits some story beats that readers of a certain melancholy strain of crime fiction will find familiar, it also evades them. This is as much a book about atmosphere and states of mind as it is about the activities in which Lindanathi is enmeshed. And fundamentally, it’s not so much about the dangers that Lindanathi encounters on a daily level. Instead, it’s about answering the question of how he came to be in this position, and how his guilt has slowly spread itself across all aspects of his life. This is an affecting, slow-burning novel that gives a fantastic sense of a particular place and time, and of the haunted inner life of its protagonist.
Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner
PositivePasteThe opening, in which Wyld recounts her summers in Australia growing up, feels more like a pastoral text with illustrations—the first few pages consist of full pages of art accompanied by stark narration. Eventually, this gives way to multiple panels; a few pages after that, the first word of dialogue appears. The effect in these early pages is interesting: mostly black-and-white linework, with the addition of a contrasting shark’s fin in certain panels. It reads like a collage or an intrusion, establishing an aesthetic mode that will proceed through various permutations in the book ... As tensions within Wyld’s family increase, she tells stories of sharks to her brother; Sumner veers between photorealistic illustrations of sharks and a more stylized, cartoonish approach for rendering the family. The juxtaposition is striking ... For readers of Wyld’s earlier work, Everything Is Teeth provides a different perspective on how the natural world can turn hostile, and how anxieties and fears can pervade all aspects of perception. Sumner’s subtle use of color and multiple stylistic approaches make for an interesting visual experience, and this collaboration is enlightening in its expansive exploration of dread and time.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThere’s a lot happening in Amateurs. At times, its density can be foreboding: The pages in which Hicks introduces the cast of characters across two parallel timelines early in the book can be slow going. It’s the sort of novel where trusting in the fact that a payoff will come is essential to reading it. And, in fact, several seemingly minor details, including one character’s obsession with his own annotations of the work of others, tend to pay off by the time the book reaches its conclusion ... The setup of Hicks’ novel is the stuff of classic comic fiction; the minute details and anxieties that surround its characters, however, are what endures.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMuch of Pretentiousness: Why It Matters focuses on issues of class: how it’s lived, how it’s signified, how it’s discussed, how it shapes and affects the creative work that we watch, listen to and read ... in this book [Fox] has written an intellectually rigorous study of culture that echoes the scope of their work. His argument is convincing, and it may leave readers with a newfound respect for the term that gives his book its title.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[In The Red Parts] there are haunting meditations on mortality and motion, leading to some achingly beautiful lyrical imagery ... In the force and precision with which she tells this story, Nelson makes that case adeptly here. It’s a haunting story of the aftermath of a death, but it’s also a powerful examination of numerous aspects of life.
RaveBookforumEvenson’s work appeals to students of the well-crafted sentence and aficionados of chilling horror alike. A Collapse of Horses is one of the few collections you’re likely to find that includes stories that have appeared in both Granta and the anthology Best Horror of the Year ... There are monstrous things to be found in A Collapse of Horses, but the most disturbing of all may be the disorientation that it suddenly spawns, and the lack of certainty that follows.