RaveThe Chicago TribuneThe most frustrating thing about The Fishermen is that the author has no other books for the reader to devour once the final page is reached ... The Fishermen operates on several levels. On the surface, it is a story of any family\'s worst nightmare playing out with terrible, unstoppable momentum ... Beyond the intimate recounting of the family\'s tragedy, the story is a fresh rethinking of the ancient story of Cain and Abel ... The Fishermen carries a dark message — that sometimes chaos arrives in your home and takes up residence there until it destroys you and everything you care about. There is nothing you can do about it.
PositiveThe Chicago TribunePanic in a Suitcase is fresh. It is a grotesque, a Hieronymus Bosch-like painting of the immigrant experience. Like Bosch\'s work, it is strange and surreal and even off-putting. Like Bosch\'s work, it also is memorable ... Everything in the novel is described from this unusual and unappealing point of view, lending familiar experiences and places a sense of unfamiliarity ... The brilliance of all of this, of course, is to give readers a chance to experience familiar things anew, becoming immigrants in their own now-exotic land ... The other weakness is, unfortunately, Pasha. We are told he is a genius, the most poetic and eventually famous person in all of Odessa. But the Pasha we meet and follow through the book is entirely uninteresting, limp and mostly mute ... A valuable addition to the novels capturing the Eastern European immigrant experience in America.
PositiveChicago TribuneThe book is set in the near-present post-apocalypse and, through flashbacks, the near-past. The main character is Candace Chen, a millennial Chinese immigrant. Before the apocalypse, Chen was a worker bee at a New York City book production company manufacturing Bibles. Post-apocalypse, she’s pulled into a cult made up of survivors heading to the Chicago suburbs ... Underneath this suspenseful zombie story is a deeper one about the immigrant experience and growing up.
RaveChicago Tribune\"Rachman has succeeded in painting a vivid portrait of a man of such magnetic charisma that everyone he meets winds up orbiting him long past the time he has lost interest in them ... The Italian Teacher, Rachman manages to conjure a fresh perspective on fame and its destructive effects on the people ensnared by it. Instead of running toward celebrity, readers may find themselves instead turning around and running away.\
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneWhile flawed, Benjamin’s tale is propulsive and colorful, capturing moving truths about the way we handle the knowledge that we all eventually die ... Benjamin does a credible job of conjuring the Gold family, and their ties to each other. Their deaths, one by one, land hard ... This is not to say the book has no flaws. Daniel’s tale fails to capture the vivacity of Simon’s, Klara’s and Varya’s stories ... These flaws, however, are overshadowed by the power of the rest of the novel and especially by its moving last section.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...a near-perfect escape from these anxious times ... The Story of Arthur Truluv is sweet and light and completely free of politics. It’s about love, hope and second chances. Miraculously, Berg’s slim story — it runs just over 200 pages — manages to settle into these themes without being sugary or cliche ... In some ways, Berg’s book is a fantasy that challenges the reader to cast aside cynical assumptions and see the good in people and in the world ... I finished Berg’s novel in one long sitting on that gray afternoon. For several days afterward, I felt lifted by it, and I found myself telling friends, also feeling overwhelmed by 2017, about the book. Read this, I said, it will offer some balance to all that has happened, and it is a welcome reminder we’re all neighbors here.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThe Revolution of Marina M. is an often exasperating, strange story of a spoiled, entitled aristocratic girl coming of age during the Russian Revolution. And yet, despite its narcissistic heroine and its meandering story, Janet Fitch’s novel shimmers with vital energy. The Revolution of Marina M. is a little bit silly, but it is also quite fun ... Marina is an infuriating character in a lot of ways: She is entitled and self-absorbed, a terrible friend and the maker of many bad decisions. And yet, after spending so much time with her, a reader would be hard-pressed not to like her. And that is what makes what happens to her over the course of the novel so disturbing. On the other hand, were these outlandish events meant to convey the terror of revolution? Or were they the product of a restive writer searching for a way to end her story? The sexual enslavement of Marina, in particular, stood out as problematic and marked a change in the flow of the story. What was the purpose of this detour? ... Many books, especially those requiring 800 pages of time from their readers, would be undone by the absence of a clear purpose. And yet, astonishingly, The Revolution of Marina M. is hard to put down. Like Marina, it is maddening and flawed. It makes a good many bad decisions. And yet it is charming and lively and, ultimately, worth the time.
PanThe Chicago TribuneHeather, the Totality can best be described as a simplistic, cold portrayal of flawed, repellent people. Any reader picking up the book in the hopes of finding Weiner’s gorgeous portraits of human frailty will be disappointed, but grateful the story runs just 144 pages … There is the kernel of a good idea in this idea of parents becoming fanatically obsessed with their children, but Weiner spoils it with the general awfulness of Mark and Karen and the side story of Bobby, who, predictably, begins to obsess about Heather in an unhealthy way … So what is this story about, if it is not a satire? It’s unclear.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneStay with Me is a triumph — a complex, deeply felt exploration of love, marriage and family amid cultural and political upheaval in Nigeria from 1985 to 2008. Adebayo's story contains enormous energy. Over and over, this reader found it hard to close the book and move onto other things ... This humane approach to her characters gives Adebayo the space to examine painful, dark human emotions without prompting condemnation of characters she clearly loves ... If this sounds grim, it is — until the very end of the book, which offers a lovely coda of hope. The effect of this ending filled with light is profound. Adebayo drives the reader in a thrilling, headlong rush.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] compelling new book of short stories ... Ferris' writing is dark, funny and cold. He does not display warmth or sympathy for his characters. And while he repeatedly illustrates the danger in sacrificing the present for fantasy, Ferris is not trying to diagnose a social ill or moralize. Finishing the book, a reader won't come away with newfound energy to enjoy life as it is. Instead, Ferris seems to be saying, this is how people are, and this is how they always will be. We sabotage our happiness, and there's not much anyone can do about it.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...[a] deeply moving new memoir ... Ford imbues his writing with love, empathy and an honest striving for the truth, modeling, in a profound way, a method for seeing our parents as clearly as we can ... he succeeded in turning their stories into a loving exploration of a child's relationship to his parents, and to the mysteries that remain despite the closeness of their bonds.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneAnything Is Possible triumphantly and repeatedly overturns readers' assumptions about the most memorable characters in My Name Is Lucy Barton ... Taken together, these two books are a profound statement about the elusiveness of truth about ourselves and others. People are more complex than we can ever know, and it is better to assume when observing others that anything is possible. But Strout is gentle in her assessment, not judgmental.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneFrom the very start, White Tears is hard to put down. It is addicting and utterly unpredictable, a headlong rush toward an ending this reader did not see coming ... Is it OK that, in a story about race, the black character's story is left to the end, or is that the point? Perhaps it is his point, but I'm not sure it is OK. Perhaps his intention was to make the reader think about this. In that, he succeeded. But if that was not his intention, then his message was simply muddied.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveThe Chicago TribuneNguyen is an exceptional storyteller who packs an enormous amount of information and images into a short work ... Nguyen is able to show us so much so quickly because he is an efficient writer — giving us not a word more than we need to fully grasp what he is saying ... Nguyen's vision of the Vietnamese migration to the United States and its impact on the nation is complex. His message is not Pollyannaish or demonizing, as some of the most simplistic of writing about them can be. Nguyen's message, instead, is that they are people, like all of us, with complicated lives and histories.
Lindsey Lee Johnson
RaveThe Chicago TribuneJohnson, who taught writing to teenagers at what she describes as a 'private learning center,' convincingly captures the varied inner lives of these children. She describes them as alien to adults and young kids, and, at least for some of these wealthy teens, lacking ethics and morals. She also portrays with precision the cringe-worthy dance between adults and teenagers, who yearn for support from their elders while rejecting offers of help as hopelessly lame ... Johnson beautifully lays out the complex factors that lead Cally and her friends to brutally bully a fellow student. The cruel episode has a tragic momentum that is hard to read, and also hard to put down. Johnson's novel possesses a propulsive quality, an achievement in a book of, after the initial traumatic event, short character sketches. Yet it moves forward relentlessly, towing the reader with it. I read this book in one, long sitting ... Of course, 'rich kids have problems too' is not necessarily a deep insight. Johnson's fresh take is the subtle political angle she weaves throughout the novel.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneChabon never names his fictional grandfather, or his fictional grandmother, but they are brought to vivid life through his grandfather's colorful stories ... The book has flaws. For one, another family's stories are never as interesting to outsiders as they are to loved ones. Moonglow lacks a sense of propulsive momentum for most of its first half ... Moonglow is, for long spans, a collection of stories that, while colorful, serve mostly to tell us a lot about a (fictional) person we don't know and a family we will never know ... That said, Chabon's writing is lovely, and some readers will enjoy it so much they will forgive the lack of propulsion in the story.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThere were many reasons for Chizuru/Rio to snap, and yet Luce, to her credit, does not simply explain away the murder. Instead, she points to this darkness within Chizuru/Rio as an important contributing factor, creating a deeper, more complex portrait of the character as a child, and later as an adult who struggles to control this inner force ... It is as if Luce knew how to start her novel and how to finish it, but wasn't sure how to fill in the middle ... Luce knows how to end her story, and does so satisfyingly. It is similar to the procession of a good, long hike, in which the middle is the part one has to get through to get to the triumphant end.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIf all of this sounds quite heavy, Proulx manages to propel the plot along, lighten it with moments of levity and a continuous stream of fascinating historical details ... Proulx explores the ramifications of this slow-moving war over hundreds of years, on an intimate, human scale. She vilifies neither side ... In such a sprawling novel, there are periods of lethargy, where the text is weighed down with too many characters ... And yet, once consumed, Proulx's novel will leave readers with new perspectives on a familiar history.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
RaveThe Chicago TribuneKnausgaard's books feel like an antidote to the sterile, branded curation we sift through every day. It offers this rich texture as a contrast to the perfection of those suntanned smiles. He is saying, here is what life really feels like. It's messy. It often ends in failure. It often detours and rambles.