PositiveThe Cleveland Plain DealerA Florida native, she's shown a fondness for setting her work in the fecund and spooky Everglades. Now, she ranges far and wide … Spinning language with the same antic inventiveness as plot, Russell describes roosters who ‘make a sound like gargled light,’ a sod house ‘like a hiccup in the earth,’ a shy massage therapist who makes her customers' bodies speak … Take a rest in between these stories. Go for a walk, look around. Don't be surprised if the familiar glimmers with a strange, new sheen.
RaveThe Cleveland Plain DealerDespite the many categories into which we can slot it, this tender, darkly humorous novel stands apart. From the opening line, ‘My father has a glum nature,’ it’s a masterpiece of understatement and whatever the opposite of sentimentality is … Ajay’s earnest, deadpan, oddball voice – the voice of a child forced to grow up far too soon – questions without laying blame. This is a novel in which only one thing happens, yet it makes compelling reading from first page to last. Writing a story about hope and sadness this desperate is an act of heroism in itself. To do it with this kind of love, honesty and humility is art of the highest order.
RaveThe Cleveland Plain DealerIt's about Teddy Todd, Ursula's brother and the humblest, kindest, most melancholy hero you will ever meet. The novel takes its title from Emerson's ‘A man is a god in ruins,’ and Teddy is, from the moment we meet him, a fellow whose godly impulses do not stand a chance. A talentless poet who's miserable in his bank job, he hopes the war will give his life purpose … A dazzling stylist, Atkinson is incapable of writing a dull sentence. The narrative frequently blends past, present and future within the same paragraph, giving time the brush-off. Again and again the story rises, then falls. English skylarks swoop across the sky. Young Icaruses leap from burning planes and plummet to earth.
MixedThe Cleveland Plain DealerThe opulent house, like much of the city, seethes with secrets and covert dealings. In Amsterdam, ‘the pendulum swings from God to a guilder,’ and desire is a very complicated thing. Young Nella grows up fast – almost too fast to be credible. She furnishes her toy house with the help of the book's most shadowy character, the miniaturist. Defying guild rules, this superb craftsperson is a woman. Nella at first marvels at her skill, but the tiny replicas begin to mirror and predict catastrophes … Burton's 21st-century agenda peeks through a bit too often. Nella's relationship with the complex Johannes is well done, but her easy acceptance of his ‘transgressions’ feels ahead of its time.
RaveThe Cleveland Plain DealerThe constellation of the title consists of six main characters, who each get a voice, and a score of minor actors who blaze briefly but brightly … Comparisons to Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife, set in the Balkans, are inevitable. While Marra shares Obreht's belief in the power of story to temper suffering, he's more focused on exploring how the trauma of war bares a person's character, for better or worse. He makes even Ramzan, responsible for so many deaths, fully, recognizably one of us.
PositiveThe Cleveland Plain DealerThis isn't some self-referential conceit, though what it is, precisely, is hard to say, and therein lies much of its pleasure … The slippery nature of temporality links the many brief passages where our narrator, in a voice melancholy, funny and tinged with self-conscious irony, ponders many things … The emotional intensity of poetry, along with its originality of thought and language, flickers here on every page, making the narrator a frequently brilliant companion … 10:04 leaves ample room for the reader to participate in the dizzying construction of "both sides of the poem" – past, future, real, imagined.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
PositiveThe Cleveland Plain DealerThe Sympathizer is, among other things, a character-driven thriller, a political satire, and a biting historical account of colonization and revolution. It dazzles on all fronts ... Nguyen wields a wicked sense of humor. He riffs on the infamous meat scene in Portnoy's Complaint, substituting a squid, and delivers a devastating satire of Apocalypse Now. His one fault may be too much ambition, as he aims to deliver the whole of the Vietnamese experience, pre- and postwar, as well as its impact on the American psyche.
MixedThe Cleveland Plain DealerThese early pages have an intensity and verity the later story loses. It starts to feel dragged-out, despite the briefness of the chapters.”