RaveZYZZYVAWilliams uses the breakdown of civilization as an unassuming launch point to explore what she has always excelled at: vividly rendered characters navigating an ontologically uncertain existence ... Williams pinpoints the bleak humor and hard truths within a group of individuals who wish to strike a blow for a dying planet but whose failing bodies make their goal improbable ... There is a tension in the novel, too, because Williams does not arrive at these conclusions via any finger-wagging screed; rather, the novel presents itself as a frank and pitiless account of human fallibility, of how easily we can change the narrative of seeing ourselves as stewards of the planet once the planet begins to inconvenience us; and all the while there is a subtle undercurrent of tension because Williams makes her vision of the end of the world grimly humorous and utterly engaging ... at times challenging, at times impenetrable, but always engaging. While staring down the shape of the inevitable disaster awaiting us all, Williams does not blink.
PositiveZYZZYVAThose hoping for a more traditional narrative like Tao Lin’s 2013 Taipei, in which he captured the highs and lows of his character Paul’s young marriage in a cringe-inducing level of detail, may be disappointed. Fortunately, the same level of lacerating honesty in Taipei is present in Leave Society, which keeps the narrative compelling. (Despite the autofiction tendencies of his work, one never has to worry about Lin attempting to paint his protagonists in a flattering light.). More than that, Leave Society introduces the reader to two of the most endearing literary characters in recent memory: Li’s parents, simply referred to as Li’s mom and Li’s dad—and their beloved family dog, Dudu, who serves up a great deal of comic relief ... Li’s research in Leave Society indicates we have come close to diagnosing our 21st century malady. But there remains another distinct possibility, one Tao Lin has always been skilled at reminding us of in his fiction: that those pervasive feelings of loneliness, of being constantly ill-at-ease and second guessing every unregulated emotion, might simply be the status quo in a technology-driven era that has finally commodified human connection.
PositiveZYZZYVA... calling this a \'new\' book may be somewhat misleading, as it serves as more of an \'odds and ends\' release, compiling a series of never-before-collected short essays written between 1968 and 2000; one might think of this as a B-Side album, if you will. But Didion is one of our few living writers who can truthfully be said to have achieved iconic status, one who counts both casual readers and esteemed authors among her devoted audience, and even her \'B-Sides\' ring with the authority of her distinctive voice ... And the essays gathered here may be of particular interest to Didion’s fellow writers as so many of them touch on the act of writing itself ... As is always the case with Didion, no words are wasted—and we are fortunate to have more of her essays to savor in this uncertain time. At first glance, the assortment gathered here may appear to lack cohesion, but the unifying force is, as ever, Didion’s voice—its incisiveness, its understated humor, her pragmatic view. The author can release a book called Let Me Tell You What I Mean in part because, for so many readers, we sense Didion tells things precisely as they are.
PositiveZYZZYVA... it’s perhaps misguided to approach the novel as an example of autofiction or a chronicle of a musical genre’s development; the book is fair more concerned with the realm of ideas than depicting our narrator’s coming-of-age ... readers anticipating concrete scenes dramatized with characters and actions may find themselves frustrated; Girls Against God only grows more abstract and theoretical as it progresses, like a black tape violently unspooling from a cassette reel ... Yet one suspects readers drawn to more experimental literature will feel strangely at home in Jenny Hval’s novel. For all of Girls Against God’s baffling imagery and cryptic dialogue, the narrator registers as an individual longing for an existence outside the binary of light and dark, good and evil; a voice oppressed by a lifetime of being told it must be saved because it is lost, one that sees in the archetype of the witch not a heretic or a deviant but something more elemental: someone who is free.
RaveZYZZYVACline’s work is intensely cinematic ... yet she possesses a gift for rendering the sleights and pain, both real and perceived, that define adolescence, and the ways they can follow us into adulthood ... at its best the collection scratches at some elusive notions about the way we live today ... Cline is committed to capturing these characters’ interiority, which means we often see things from their perspective, rendering them at times sympathetic, even as we witness how willfully ignorant they are of the damage they have wrought ... Daddy makes for a dark, complicated collection for a dark, complicated time ... One also suspects Daddy is precisely the kind of release to steer the conversation surrounding Cline away from idle gossip and back where it belongs: on a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
PositiveZYZZYVAIn Pink’s writing style, words cascade down the page as he creates a line break after every sentence. The ample white space means it’s never long before the reader is turning the page, creating a momentum often at odds with his story’s protagonists ... Pink’s writing captures the flared tempers, the petty grievances, and employee solidarity of the 9 to 5—but most of all he skillfully conveys the toil ... Pink’s writing is made increasingly palatable by the very same thing used to get through the tedium of the working day: humor. Each of these stories is buoyed by Pink’s off-kilter sensibility and comedic nonsequiters.
RaveZYZZYVA... her finest novel yet ... a simple conceit, but one that snares its hooks in the reader from the get go, and sustains the novel until its grim denouement ... Moshfegh’s novels are open deceptions; they gleam with noir and genre surfaces, a clever (and marketable) camouflage which the author utilizes to conceal her misanthropic musings on life, death, and the often brutal gap between ... There is something prickly and unpleasant about Moshfegh’s writing, but in a cultural moment where it often feels like American fiction must be safe and aspirational—or else—it also feels refreshingly honest ... Hardly what you’d call \'light reading\' for a summer where most of us have been living in some form of isolation, to be sure, but arguably a dark antidote to the complacency of much mainstream fiction.
RaveZYZZYVA... a collection of ten dark and crystalline stories that announces the arrival of a distinct voice in contemporary fiction ... mordant wit and biting irony ... [a] complex understanding of reality’s often cruel reversals ... Take the titular story, for example ... It’s one of the most harrowing stories I’ve read in years, a searingly honest look at a woman disconnected by the crime committed against her as well as the vast-reaching technologies—search engines, online dating services, the endless litany of apps—supposedly meant to make our lives more convenient ... Even in a story as bleak as this, South offers a sardonic humor that underscores the absurdity in the way we live ... there is value in a story collection that makes us stop and question just what these screens have wrought in our lives.
PositiveZYZZYVABenjamin Percy is a writer who understands that, in the twenty-first century, the scariest thing to many readers is not the supernatural or threats from beyond the grave, but something altogether closer to home: real estate ... Percy’s strength as a writer rests in his ideas. Each of the pieces in Suicide Woods boasts at least one suggestion that lingers in the reader’s subconscious.
RaveZYZZYVATold in a conversational tone, We, the Survivors is peppered with pop culture references to Hong Kong stars like Andy Lau and Leslie Cheung, and presents a matter-of-fact acceptance of life’s harsh circumstances ... Tash Aw’s skills as a writer lull us into a sense of comfortable familiarity with Ah Hock, which registers as disturbing when one remembers he is a convicted murderer. There are no easy answers at the end of We, the Survivors—and there shouldn’t be: this is a stark rendering of Southeast Asia in the 21st century, a region barreling toward an uncertain future at the speed of modernity. It’s an outlook shaped by the ravages of climate change, by a society that treats its migrant population something subhuman, and by rampant corruption. Yet thanks to Ah Hock’s striking voice, the novel is never less than a pleasurable read.
PositiveZYZZYVAThe Churchgoer is populated with the kind of hard-boiled monologues one associates with the noir genre...and its cast of pistol-wielding drug peddlers wouldn’t be out of place in your average detective novel. But Patrick Coleman’s background is in poetry... a background that’s revealed not only in The Churchgoer’s lush language––even the seediest and most squalid neighborhoods of San Diego County are rendered with great care––but in the way Coleman is far more interested in Mark’s crisis of faith than a conventional plot ... The Churchgoer is at once a cracking noir yarn and an introspective examination of the limits of belief and doubt.
RaveZYZZYVAThe narrator’s troubled mind is laid bare on every page through Goldblatt’s unflinching gaze—there’s little glamorous about Denny by the time her journey leaves her half-naked and caked in mud, but she is vividly real. And the pain of witnessing a loved one’s slow degradation is rendered excruciating enough for us to believe Denny would prefer the physical hardships of repairing a torn roof or scaling a watchtower in a rainstorm over having to say good-bye to her father. Grief can do that ... For readers, though, Hard Mouth is all reward.
RaveZYZZYVAThough the setting may be Argentina, the setup for Selva Almada’s latest novel feels as though it could be plucked from the pages of revered Southern author Flannery O’Connor. But while Almada shares some of O’Connor’s subject matter and spiritual concerns, this is largely where their similarities end. O’Connor’s stories are well known for their frequently doom-laden endings –– the personal violence building to almost apocalyptic proportions in the lives of her characters. Almada tends to take a gentler and more introspective tract ... The climax feels appropriately Biblical...In the grim, often fatalistic world of Flannery O’Connor, this violent confrontation would have likely led to an irrevocable tragedy. But here there is a path forward for these characters, one in which they might learn to let things go and develop as individuals. Alamada’s nuanced approach leaves room to explore her characters’ pasts in some detail, but, crucially, these individuals –– even the Reverend Pearson –– are not defined by their mistakes ... Almada’s novel offers but a brief glimpse of a moment in their journey, but it is one she renders with great and deliberate meaning.
PositiveZYZZYVAA Paper Wasp almost dares readers to see how long they can occupy Abby’s truly dark and tormented mind ... If A Paper Wasp were following a more cliché or expected route, one might expect Abby to ultimately usurp her friend’s position in the movie industry, leading to a tale of sisterhood turned to professional and romantic rivalry. But Acampora is true to her characters ... A Paper Wasp is a dark fable on the nature of friendship, fame, and the way dreams can influence our waking life.
Young-Ha Kim Trans. by Krys Lee
RaveZYZZYVA\"...offbeat and darkly rewarding fiction ... The book opens with the titular novella, told from the point-of-view of a \'retired\' serial killer ... as a writer, [[Kim] ] seems uninterested in the genre or pulp potential of his premise. Instead, he employs the idea of an unrepentant killer with a rapidly deteriorating mental state as a means to ruminate on the nature of memory, familial responsibility, and evil ... The rest of the collection features three shorter works that leave behind thriller trappings for more existential and absurd territory, which proves even more satisfying ... Unconventional and acerbic, Young-ha Kim’s stories possess a knack for black humor as their protagonists find themselves in increasingly degrading situations. Diary of a Murderer feels like a stellar entry point into the writer’s distorted world, and makes clear why his examinations of contemporary urban life and its many contradictions have earned him comparisons to the likes of Albert Camus and Haruki Murakami.
PositiveZYZZYVA[Revoyr\'s] style is both elegant and pleasurable to read; she juggles geographical detail, context, and plotting with a deceptive ease. Revoyr’s L.A. is a city teeming with contradictions, one where the world of everyday concerns and that of the elite class co-exist but rarely intersect until, that is, a random stroke of luck or fate sees a person travel from one world to the next ... At the heart of A Student of History, and what prevents the novel from merely serving as a takedown of the scandalous ultra-rich, is Revoyr’s complex characterization of Marion W ... In many ways, A Student of History adopts the familiar structure of the bildungsroman ... Indeed, part of the pleasure of reading the novel is inhabiting that familiar structure ... Yet by placing the novel in so specific a milieu––Los Angeles in 2019, an era where Americans are feeling the class divide more than ever––Revoyr forges a work that stands on its own. If the book’s ambitions prove modest, it feels entirely appropriate, considering Richard’s ultimate discovery that sometimes a modest life lived well––far from society luncheons and award ceremonies––is good enough.
PositiveZYZZYVAKing of Joy possesses a funereal tone, shifting through events in a nonlinear fashion that suggests a consciousness in Corvus attempting to reckon with the trauma of her past. There’s a dream-like quality to the situations Chiem invents, and animals in the book are often attributed more admirable human qualities than the humans ... he novel tends to take on the same languid energy as the lives it depicts. In that sense, Chiem was likely wise not to extend the story past two hundred pages. But there is something refreshingly ordinary about the author’s milieu. His characters are disaffected urbanites, not academics or precocious wunderkind.
PositiveZYZZYVA\"Unlike the would-be \'disruptors\' of the tech world, Trump Sky Alpha proves genuinely disruptive literature, taking readers on an often violent and unsettling ride, told in a form that feels as fluid and ever-shifting as Internet culture itself. Doten draws ample influence from his science-fiction forbearers, particularly cyberpunk icons such as William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, but by setting his novel only a year or two from our present time, Doten removes the sometimes-reassuring barrier of genre and presents us with a novel that is uncomfortably and hideously now.\
RaveZYZZYVAOne might expect a book with such a broad scope to register as unfocused, diffuse—but to read Thomson is to know you’re in the hands of a skilled writer, one who thinks deeply and who can move between topics in a manner that, if not effortless, at least leaves one charmed enough not to notice the detours ... he has a knack for making us see our favorite performers in a new light while underscoring precisely what is so iconic or integral about their appeal ... In its blurring of personal experience, passionate movie-watching, and critical theory, Sleeping with Strangers raises several intriguing questions: did many Hollywood films of the Classical period throw a sidelong glance at the sanctity of marriage because these ostensibly heteronormative films were the work of so much gay talent? ... If you’re a film buff, or simply a reader who maintains a passing interest in Classic Hollywood, Sleeping with Strangers feels like being in great company; passionate and erudite...deeply necessary.
PositiveZYZZYVA\"... and throughout Mothers Power exhibits a... knack for detail in his depictions of the way people navigate disintegrating relationships, whether due to fading sexual chemistry or the barriers put up by mental illness ... Power lets some of the connections among the stories reveal themselves slowly, and each one can comfortably stand on its own, though the final two chapters are united by the imprint of Eva’s physic pain ... Mothers proves an elegant collection, touching on a host of issues deeply ingrained in our modern experience: the fragility of human connection, the impulse to travel, and the painful ramifications of mental illness, among others. Power’s prose is spare and exacting, excising the needless word in pursuit of emotional truth. Mothers proves a rewarding experience for the lover of quiet short stories that speak volumes.\
PositiveZYZZYVA\"Destroy All Monsters understands the impetus to pick up a guitar and strum a power chord, perhaps out of the misguided notion that the result could lead to some change in the world. And the novel understands the disheartening fact that the country is full of numerous small towns like Arcadia, with its dive bars, shuttered factories, and hobo camps, each of them with their would-be punk rockers like Florian. Amid the story’s nationwide epidemic, Jackson’s characters display crucial growth: what ultimately comes to matter––more than selling out concert halls or recording a promising demo––is remaining true to the memory and last wishes of their friends after they’re gone ... Jackson, whose prose registers as punchy and acerbic, leading the reader through multiple act breaks and perspective changes with ease, is sincere in his depiction of provincial youth yearning for an escape. In the 21st century, rock ’n roll might not mean as much as it once did, but Jackson has written a fitting tribute to its lingering spirit.\
PositiveZYZZYVAAlong the way, Nash peppers the novel with rich details ... The novel’s brevity works in its favor since the narrative’s fleet-footedness reflects Lilith’s lack of deliberation.
A. M. Homes
PositiveZYZZYVA...the time seems right for her latest story collection, Days of Awe (304 pages; Viking), as it presents a chance for readers new and old to check in with this prominent voice in transgressive literature ... Her fiction ushers our American landscape into a literary funhouse, commenting with acerbic wit and deft characterization on the distorted reflection that appears. Days of Awe is a reminder that we are lucky to have her singular talent.
PositiveZYZZYVAHere is a smart novel for adults that deals honestly with the difficulty of nurturing faith in the midst of a world that frequently resists our attempts to prescribe it meaning –– a world full of complications such as infidelity, despair, and disease that undermine the tidy proverbs of a Sunday morning sermon ... One could perhaps criticize Maggie for her somewhat solipsistic view of the world, but her character is discerning enough to call herself out and at least entertain the possibility that what she feels for her distant poet is not love, but merely the inevitable result of martial doldrums ... These are provocative questions, and questions without easy answers, certainly not answers that could be doled out by a laser lightshow and projector screen on a Sunday morning. Their complexity rings true to the difficulties of maintaining any relationship over the span of a lifetime. To that end, Fire Sermon deserves to find an audience beyond only those who will see Maggie’s faith as a reflection of their own.
PositiveZYZZYVA... a smart novel for adults that deals honestly with the difficulty of nurturing faith in the midst of a world that frequently resists our attempts to prescribe it meaning—a world full of complications such as infidelity, despair, and disease that undermine the tidy proverbs of a Sunday morning sermon ... deserves to find an audience beyond only those who will see Maggie’s faith as a reflection of their own.