This is narrative in the full-throated, small-D democratic spirit of John Dos Passos, moving among a huge cast of interconnected characters, from the city’s pushover mayor to an itinerant pole-dancer who makes a killing at the pop-up strip club catering to the platoons of oil riggers with unaccustomed cash to burn ... However rigorously grounded in research, Yellow Earth is at heart a fable about capitalism in its purest form ... The finest passages illustrate how far the siren song can travel ... It’s easy to feel lost in a novel with this much sprawl. Complex information—historical, political, legal, environmental, geological—is sprayed with fire-hose force and volume. But Mr. Sayles writes with such verve and colloquial humor that even the most esoteric issues brighten with fascination ... Mr. Sayles superbly dramatizes the man-made disruptions in his novel’s small pond, but in a book motored by anarchy the most unsettling section occurs when the boom goes bust, bringing Yellow Earth to a surprisingly quiet conclusion: the depiction of a modern-day ghost town.
... an exceptional treat. Through a cast of individualized but relatable characters, Sayles paints a vivid picture of a region and the reverberations of its history into the present ... Sayles’s dry wit and cynicism crackle in both the narration and dialogue. The author’s sprawling historical fiction recalls E.L. Doctorow and William Kennedy, and Yellow Earth is replete with astute exchanges that address power dynamics around law, government, big business, and minority communities ... Yellow Earth is a return to form for Sayles, hitting his sweet spot of historical fiction that is dense and compelling. His knack for capturing the character of a region and the real-life ramifications of political and social issues made reading this book feel like overhearing conversations happening all around the country. It’s clear that what ultimately makes Sayles such a skilled artist and wordsmith is that he is always listening in.
Sayles’s scrawl achieves a sensational pace. It is the impressive result of a comprehensive portrayal...and an incredible amount of layering, symbolism, and ideology. There is an urgency to Yellow Earth, and Sayles wastes no words. In many ways, Yellow Earth reads like a Victorian novel. Themes of industrialization, utilitarianism, and the struggles of the working people make appearances in their twenty-first century forms. There is an interminable band of characters ... The result is a deep and tremendous account of rural America. Sayles is brilliant, illustrating the psyche of truckers, farmers, and ranchers with a precision that makes the book suitable for use in history and American studies ... Sayles is able to include a startling display of toxic masculinity, which becomes one of the story’s larger themes. The magic of Yellow Earth is that it doesn’t feel didactic or like an overdone parable. Rather, Sayles fills his work with contradictions. The competing perspectives and ideologies manifest through the characters’ colloquial conversations, inner dialogue, and motivations.
... ambitious, incisive ... The believable and culturally diverse characters in Yellow Earth, all unknowingly buffeted by the same obscure oligarchs and corrupt forces, suggest a lot about the author’s faith in the sweeping possibilities of a novel. He pleases a reader in that way, but he can also go off the rails, sometimes, while exploring niche subjects ... But those occasional sections of Yellow Earth, where a reader might glaze over for a moment, are forgiven in light of the way that all sides in the larger story crash in on themselves at the climax.
... [Sayles's] rare ability to inhabit the intersecting perspectives, motivations, and desires of a diverse dramatis personae is in full evidence in his new novel ... Recalling Upton Sinclair’s Oil! in its canny political observations and vivid descriptions of drilling and extraction techniques, Yellow Earth is about the economic stratification, moral corruption, and opportunistic exploitation fomented by capitalism ... While most of Sayles’s characters are morally compromised, rather than purely good or evil, he’s guilty here of crafting a cartoon villain: Brent Skiles, a steroidal, Ayn Rand-quoting drug runner ... More compelling are less prominent characters ... When taken together, the sequence of chapters creates not a sense of omniscience, but of kaleidoscopic subjectivity. Without falling prey to false 'both sides' equivocation, Sayles masterfully balances and gives fair hearings to competing agendas and doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of human nature; by the same token, he doesn’t give in to cynicism or despair. What animates his fiction is curiosity about different kinds of people and their experiences, and an imagination expansive enough to portray their inner lives. He doesn’t fetishize diversity, but his stories are naturally diverse as a result of his engaged interest in the world around him. Now entering the fifth decade of his career, Sayles remains a standard-bearer for the American novel.
Sayles animates a vibrant and complex cast of diverse individuals caught in an extraction boom driven by greed and hope ... Sayles’ alternating narrators propel a busy, engrossing, and purposeful plot steered by both suspenseful action and intricate emotion. Aligned with T. C. Boyle in his penetrating perception of our place in nature and Tom Wolfe in his rambunctious satire, Sayles is adept at vital detail and dialogue, guided by a keen social perspective, centered by an edgy sense of humor, and inspired by empathy.