RaveFull StopA study in claustrophobia, a locked-room mystery of sorts, a ghost story without the ghosts, a parable about tourism and power: all of these describe Marie NDiaye’s slippery, mesmeric That Time of Year ... pages all dripping with paranoia, tendrils of fog blurring the lines between reality and the uncanny ... the story unfolds with the thwarted urgency of a dream, rife with odd details and detours while its central mystery grows faint in the background. This unresolved tension lends the novel an anxious, foreboding energy; as the critic Amy Gentry once wrote of Helen Oyeyemi, NDiaye \'opens more parentheses than she closes\' ... Like many other books published in 2020, That Time of Year feels eerily suited to our times. For one, the novel is an ideal quarantine read; clocking in at a brisk 130 pages, this atmospheric mystery can easily be devoured from cover to cover in a single rainy afternoon. But NDiaye’s tale is also a vivid portrait of ennui: the seductiveness and corrosiveness of boredom, the draining experience of being trapped in a single space, isolated from the routines and relationships of your life.
Burhan Sönmez, trans. by Umit Hussein
RaveFull Stop... a slim, captivating new novel ... There is a taste of Borges in this premise: its hypnotic circularity, its diamond-sized glimpse of the infinite. And in other ways too, such as how the text slips back and forth from a close first-person \'I\' to a distant third-person as Boratin drifts into and away from himself. Yet Boratin’s investigation of his past also closely recalls Christopher Nolan’s ingenious film Memento ... There is a political edge here, too ... Labyrinth is the mystery novel at its most existential, in which the person who has disappeared is the protagonist himself, in which the mystery is the greatest of them all: consciousness, identity, the unknowability of self. The choices that have led us to this point, and how they define us.
RaveFull StopI adored Oval, Elvia Wilk’s gleefully acerbic satire of class, greenwashing, disruption culture, and yes, \'authenticity.\' A searing depiction of big tech’s habit of stealing our souls only to sell them back at 200% list price, Oval is kind of like The Jungle for the age of late capitalism, if The Jungle gave fewer fucks and was blessed with an A+ sense of irony ... it’s to the book’s immense credit that it also happens to be savagely funny, a roasting of the 21st century workplace that makes Office Space look genial by comparison. Wilk has terrific fun puncturing the breathless hype around innovation culture, infusing her set pieces with the high-wire absurdist energy of a Marx Brothers movie ... the book bares its teeth in its closing chapters ... What Wilk exposes in these final pages, deftly, is not only the emptiness of \'innovation\' or \'disruption\' culture, but that a culture built around empty words can still result in very real, very devastating consequences.
RaveThe Masters Review...luminous ... New work from the notoriously non-prolific Chiang is, to put it mildly, an event ... Exhalation is the sort of book that’s so good it’s hard to know what to say about it besides \'read it.\' Every sentence fits; every word glimmers; the level of precision, like an engineer crafting a line of code, is evident in every line. It’s immediately clear, too, why Chiang is so revered in genre circles, or why his small body of work has swept just about every science fiction award you can name ... For the true brilliance of Chiang’s work lies in his range and versatility as a storyteller. No two of Exhalation’s stories are alike ... Each page of Exhalation bursts with color, with heart, with probing curiosity about faith, parenthood, free will, and their place in the universe.
Pola Oloixarac, Trans. by Roy Kesey
PositiveFull Stop... bracingly inventive and occasionally bewildering ... This esoteric, centuries-spanning approach brings to mind David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film The Fountain, though Oloixarac’s novel is far stranger and more challenging than both. If anything, the book’s blend of futurism and natural science feels most kin to the freaky ecological sci-fi novels of Jeff VanderMeer ... The narrative can be inscrutable, especially in its hallucinatory closing stretch, which consists of a lengthy monologue delivered in a jungle palace by a six-foot-tall rat.
MixedThe Millions\"Famous Men, like New York itself, jostles with the voices of many of these recent transplants as they struggle to assimilate ... Despite a premise Philip K. Dick would’ve admired, Famous Men isn’t quite a sci-fi novel, but something more like its inverse—a book less concerned with alternate universes than their absence ... Famous Men is so chock-full of ideas that its plotting and characters come across as an afterthought at times; a scattered third act and too-neat conclusion in particular feel like they were taken out of the oven a little too soon. But the book also illustrates a side of immigration that often gets left out of the news reports: how refugees, seeking safety and security, first must paradoxically sacrifice those very things; how homesickness and grief linger without relief.\
MixedFull StopBolin, it turns out, is less concerned with Dead Girls than she is with \'the more troubling mystery of living ones\' ... This line of questioning, which treats the Dead Girl Show as just one facet of a larger problem, is both more interesting and less than Bolin’s initial focus. On the one hand, the book’s wide-angle approach opens the door to a thornier and more nuanced argument about the nature of power and privilege ... For how wide-ranging Dead Girls is, it often fails to place its topics in this broader cultural conversation, giving several essays the narrow, cloistered feel of book reports ... There’s also a sense that Bolin has left several key questions unaddressed ... because women are now telling these stories, taking back a narrative held hostage by the male gaze and repurposing it to reveal the toll of sexual violence on victims, survivors, and their families. Bolin may find fault with this, but she does her book a disservice by not even grappling with it ... the title is a heavy anchor from which its restive essays struggle to break loose. And Bolin’s project, for better or worse, is more ambitious than its title suggests, more difficult to pin down — and part of a growing and necessary conversation.
RaveThe Masters ReviewEach of [the stories within Half Gods] is a fully-formed thing, ten carefully sculpted little worlds. And yet each is so deeply interlinked with its neighbors that to label this a \'collection\' feels like a disservice to the wider tapestry Kumarasamy has woven... Kumarasamy is concerned with the repressed traumas and unspoken resentments that, left alone, can pry families apart piece by piece. Indeed, Half Gods gains its emotional resonance not only from its characters\' nuanced internal lives, but from the cumulative effect of stacking these narratives next to each other. The result is a subtle and complex book that requires and rewards a reader\'s attention, one that feels less like a group of individual stories and more like a sweeping family epic in disguise.
Rachel Z. Arndt
PositiveThe Masters ReviewAcross 19 brief essays, Arndt probes our insatiable need to reduce our lives to numbers, from gym routines to dating apps, sleep cycles to body weight ... something deeper haunts the pages of these often personal essays: the specter of anxiety, the fear of vulnerability ... Arndt is a thoughtful, deliberate writer—one might say measured—infusing her prose with wit and flashes of poetic insight. (She is the assistant poetry editor at McSweeney’s.) And Beyond Measure is an elegantly structured book, its flow and recurring motifs reminiscent of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. What’s missing, though, is something like a coup de grâce, a moment when the collection connects its various dots to reveal the bigger picture—and thus elevate its 19 interwoven essays from a clever conceit to a profound, overarching point about the way we’ve chosen to live our lives.