... heady and elegant ... The Heavens is something of a chameleon, a strange and beautiful hybrid. Just when you think you’re standing on firm footing, the ground shifts ... Chief among the novel’s many accomplishments is the fluidity of this movement. The dual worlds and perspectives are convincingly distinct and granular, coaxed to life by Newman’s self-assured prose, which manages to be at once disciplined and sensuous ... The book is, blessedly, not about offering a diagnosis or unknotting the riddle of how Kate understands time; rather it is about illuminating the riddle itself. Revelations, often thrilling ones, abound... but no definitive answer is reached ... I woke from The Heavens as I hope to emerge from any work of fiction: moved and unsettled, a new and intoxicating set of questions alight on the mind’s horizon.
The novel is a fantastic representation of the alternate-reality/time-travel genre with reality changing every time Kate returns to the present. While many novels have explored 'The Butterfly Effect,' the subject is not always handled with such expertise ... There are times this novel is funny; alternatively, it’s terrifying, and there are passages that are absolutely heartbreaking ... The author’s language is captivating and lyrical. She paints with great skill Kate’s fluid reality of Manhattan, with its party-filled summers and snowstorm-stopped winters ... Author Newman has a strong ability to put us in the moment with her characters ... The Heavens blends elements of speculative, historical, and literary fiction with mastery. I enjoyed Newman’s humor, eccentric descriptions, and period dialogue.
Revising a writer as great as Le Guin is dangerous business and The Heavens suffers in comparison, especially in its philosophical underpinnings. Ms. Newman wants to say something about how individual aspirations are antagonistic to the collective good, but the point feels forced and by the end the novel has become ensnared in the web of its gimmick, preoccupied with murky explanations of how the dream worlds work (something to do with subatomic particles) ... Ms. Newman sensitively captures the heartbreak and confusion that follows from Kate’s seeming mental illness. There are complexities enough in this timeframe to make you wish the novel stayed in it.
The narrative toggles between the modern and Elizabethan ages, with vivid accounts of the latter including Emilia’s growing relationship with Will Shakespeare, and snaps back to Ben’s reality on 9/11. In this tender love story, Newman ponders the impact of individual action on the world as she creates alternative universes, realities, even endings. Fiction as provocative as it is ambiguous.
I’ve never encountered a version like the Shakespeare in Sandra Newman’s latest book, The Heavens ... The Heavens is a novel with so many premises, in fact, that the permutations of those we read feel a bit dizzying and sometimes even a bit disappointing because they inevitably mean we won’t have time to cover more ... The whole edifice upon which Newman’s changing premises are built is Kate herself, who has dreamed herself as another person all her life—but who, obviously, no one believes ... what’s most intriguing about it all is how easily Newman convinces us that Kate is entirely in the right ... Any ordinary writer can create a world where mind-bending time-travel and flights of fancy are basically the same thing, and most could also elevate the simple banalities of romance in modern-day New York with elegiac party tricks. But few could credibly grant a pitied girl like Kate with staggeringly convincing world-historical agency, and even fewer, I suspect, would choose to abandon vague lyricism for realism in such a situation ... The feint that Kate’s delusion is real is impressive in how plainspoken it is ... In lesser hands, this would all be rather tedious ... marvelous.
How rare and wonderful it is to find a book that surpasses already high expectations. Sandra Newman’s The Heavens is one such title. It’s a fantasy about reality and it’s one of the best new novels I’ve read in ages ... I’m glad that Newman decided against writing a realistic novel, because her imaginative range staggers. How many writers can convincingly recreate the England of Elizabeth I and imagine a whole series of variant New Yorks? Ben and Kate move through at least a dozen realities over the 250-odd pages of The Heavens, but Newman is a deft worlds-builder, permitting readers to infer whole new realities from a single line of dialogue or a passing detail ... I will be telling everyone I know about this novel.
Newman is known for her bold imagination, and this kaleidoscopic novel is no exception. Like an apocalyptically tinged version of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Kate and Ben’s love story encompasses difficult questions: What is mental illness? Can art, or love, have power? Is humanity doomed? And if it is, then how do we create a life with meaning? And even though the novel’s dream-logic structure is challenging, Newman’s sentences, like the embroidery Kate practices, pull the story along with their intricate beauty. A complex, unmissable work from a writer who deserves wide acclaim.
...stellar ... Newman’s novel expertly marries historical and contemporary, plumbing the rich, all-too-human depths of present-day New York and early modern England, and racing toward a well-executed peak. But it’s the evolution of Kate and Ben’s relationship that serves as the book’s emotional anchor, making for a fantastic, ingenious novel.