Her slim narrative of adolescent crisis is as propulsive as it is disorienting, subverting expectations at every turn ... from the start, Steinberg’s daring experiments with style and perspective make clear that...stock suspense isn’t the point. The narrator’s real quest is to discover whether a soul—hers, if it exists—can be saved ... her voice is by turns incantatory, meditative, vengeful—lyrical yet bitter. Summer uplift, this is not: The epiphany she fears is that the soul is just 'some scared thing that leaves the body when the body needs it most.'
...stylish and innovative ... Speaking sometimes in first person plural...and other times in first person singular, the narration builds a dreamlike atmosphere of repetition and variation, desire and obsession.The semicolon is one of the most sophisticated yet poorly understood pieces of punctuation. Used to link two independent but related clauses, the semicolon allows for a distinctive complexity in a sentence’s meaning and rhythm. A prolific and graceful user of this oft-avoided punctuation mark, Steinberg employs it to lyrical and layered effect ... Steinberg has a BFA in painting, and visually she employs ample white space, line breaks and fragments intermixed with more typically formatted prose. The resulting short statements stab straight to the existential revelations of growing up.
Unfolding as 14 linked stories, the book comes at its central narrative...from an appealingly diverse range of perspectives ... some of the stories plunge forward in a dizzyingly headlong block of prose, individual clauses separated by semicolons. Some take a more leisurely pace, with single sentences often forming whole paragraphs. Still others fall halfway in between, the tension between motion and stasis giving the story its charge. But whatever the specific style, the chief feature of Steinberg’s prose is repetition ... The effect of this is...to create a sense of endlessness in the lives of its characters. Life doesn’t conclude, it rarely moves forward; it just tends to repeat ... everyone in Steinberg’s books is acting out one role or another, a state of affairs that generally leads to much unhappiness for them and everyone they interact with. The narrator plays the girl when she interacts with the guys at the shore (even as she longs to play—and sometimes does play—the guy), and she plays the rich girl when she interacts with the locals (even as she occasionally resists). It’s not easy to get away from these assigned roles, but in doing so lies our only chance at a tentative freedom, our only chance of obtaining that much-sought-after thing, which Steinberg’s characters so rarely obtain, that elusive shred of holy.'
The book thins plot and character into stereotype and shows, in taut, incantatory sentences, often laid out like poems, that the story nonetheless stays in motion; the reader still responds as bidden ... The reader is moved precisely by the young women’s dawning awareness of how little their particular gifts and desires may matter, how unoriginal and undignified are their pains and disappointments ... Shifts of grammatical mood and tense have palpable effects: much of the action takes place somewhere between the conditional and the inevitable, the needn’t-happen and the already-too-late. Suspense is sustained even within and between phrases.
Susan Steinberg’s latest work, Machine, is a novel that upends the format’s structure from the first letter of text. Her unique style allows for the vulnerability of the narrator to easily pour through and saturate the audience. Steinberg’s writing sinks its teeth in down to the bone and refuses to release. We’re pulled into memories as murky as the water beneath the dock near which much of the story is set and left to drown in the narrator’s guilt. We come up gasping for air at the checkpoints where she 'breaks the fourth wall' and addresses her confidants ... Steinberg’s latest novel is a text that if you only read it once, you feel like you’ve missed everything important ... but you do realize just how important it is, so you must turn back to page one immediately before it’s too late.
...a book that demands to be read slowly, line by line, even clause by clause, like a poem. To read it any differently would be a sort of betrayal—and anyway, to skip ahead would bring you little sense of resolution, for in this novel, resolution is hardly the point ... form dictates every aspect of the reading experience: one is compelled to stop after every burst of prose and trace the routes Steinberg has mapped in invisible ink ... Each chapter—some consisting of a single, pages-long block paragraph, others bursts of breathless prose connected by semicolons, as if part of the same long confession—spirals, pulses, and flickers around a memory, an idea, a confrontation. Each sentence crackles with careful suggestion; each and every statement of fact submits itself for subversion ... It’s through deft maneuvers of language—sudden deflections, corrections, and subversions—that Steinberg lays bare the raw conflicts at the heart of Machine: desire and disgust; lust and fear; power and helplessness; youthful adventure and cold-eyed adult regret; physical violence and disembodied escape ... Sentence by surprising sentence, phrase by poetic phrase, Steinberg tells a kaleidoscope of a story—not just of a ghost, but of a haunting.
... [a] hypnotic story that could be described as a noir Gossip Girl novel written in verse ... teens more jaded than those of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (2014), and with more secrets than those of Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember (1999) ... With simple, lyrical language, Steinberg presents a mystery of privilege and youth that deftly captures the unadulterated fear quaking deep behind a teenager’s invincible front.
Steinberg makes the familiar story new, in part, by deconstructing her elements ... Though the girl’s death has little direct bearing on the narrator’s main story, it’s emblematic of the uneasy tone Steinberg establishes and becomes a dark motif for the events that follow ... What makes this tale so thrilling is Steinberg’s artistry with form; she fractures narrative into its fundamental parts. Steinberg writes prose with a poet’s sense of meter and line, and a velocity recalling the novels of Joan Didion. The result is a dizzying work that perfectly evokes the feeling of spinning out of control.