... False Calm is far more closely related to Dorothea Lange's photographs from the Dust Bowl [than to Bruce Chatwin or Antoine de Saint-Exúpery's work]. It's not exploration; it's portraiture ... False Calm's lightning-rod nature is both the book's great strength and great weakness. It makes the narrative feel mobile, episodic, loose. Each town only gets one chapter, and Cristoff never returns to a place or a theme... there's sometimes not enough story to satisfy ... But False Calm remains beautiful. It's worth reading as a collection of impressions, an act of witness, and a tribute to the lives Cristoff encounters. Where it falters as a book, it still succeeds as a record.
The stories of priests, abandoned housewives, and others are filtered through the dispassionate prose of Cristoff, the narrator ... In a rare moment of authorial interjection, Cristoff asks readers how we might reconcile this lack with the 'limitless horizons constantly mentioned in Patagonian travel brochures.' It’s a good point, which calls to mind the American West’s own booster-heavy past. It is also the type of engagement the reader may want more of ... [Cristoff's] authorial ghostliness notwithstanding, False Calm is an artful, atmospheric, thought-provoking depiction of life between silence and open space. For readers versed in the American West, the book picks up where Wallace Stegner left off.
[Cristoff's] chronicling is never a dry reporting of facts; rather, she gives Patagonia a face—even multiple faces—as she draws out riveting stories from people whom many might otherwise ignore ... Sketched in lovely prose, False Calm opens up vistas to the true heart of Patagonia. The turbulence within the inhabitants whom Cristoff encounters belies the region’s halcyon facade.