The author of the of the PEN / Robert W. Bingham Prize-winning story collect The Dog returns with his first novel: a panoramic tale set in New York City during the catastrophic blizzard of 1978, told in retrospect by the daughter of a famous writer who used the events of a soiree held during the blizzard as fodder for a bestselling novel—events which his now-grown daughter recounts from her own perspective.
... a raucously inventive tale of loss and erasure told with an authorial assurance uncommon in a first novel. While Hazel begins with a carnival of interconnected characters rattling around in the Apelles, her story ultimately flies out in all directions, spanning generations and continents as it explores the challenge of understanding one’s place in what might be called real life, while schlepping around others’ painful pasts as well as one’s own ... Along the way, there are some trippy excursions involving auditory time travel and the earth’s crust, where not all readers will care to follow. But Livings is a nimble wordsmith. And if his novel can be discursive and the language overwrought — metaphors begetting metaphors like the successively smaller cats popping out of the Cat in the Hat’s striped headgear — the overall effect is thought-provoking, and this rollickingly bleak rendering of 1970s New York is well worth a visit.
The Blizzard Party feels like a life’s work, as if the author managed to include every keen observation, poetic rumination and theory of humanity he’s ever had. This is a good thing because Livings’ observations, ruminations and theories manage to be both satisfyingly recognizable and thrillingly original ... an expansive, discursive novel that allows us into the minds of dozens of bit players at seemingly minor moments. That the author somehow manages to fit it all together, puzzle-like, by the end is a feat of acrobatic storytelling. But this is not a book that exists for the sake of the story. This is a book that exists for the sake of getting at the truth of being alive. It explores the minutiae to get to the big questions ... There is something both exhilarating and a tad tiresome in the author’s desire to get every detail into the book. Livings’ sentences loop and meander. Sometimes, it is observant and funny ... Other times, the writing can verge on navel-gazing and self-indulgence, pulling the reader away from whatever story line she is trying to keep track of. Forgive the tired trope, but The Blizzard Party could be the love child of Jonathan Franzen’s merciless eye for human behavior and James Joyce’s elaborate wordsmithing. It has the feel of a 'big, important' American novel, and it’s a reminder that sometimes fiction is the only possible way to get to the truth of a thing.
Though the book is written in the first person, it freely enters the thoughts of a roving cast of characters ... But even with the steady disclosure of secrets—some of them quite moving—I found it difficult to gain a foothold on this book. The wide spread of characters has a whiteout effect, and a snowdrift of newsy period details—the gas crisis, looming problems in Iran—are blandly generalizing. Mr. Livings tends to use skill and suaveness as placeholders for style. Personal memory, I couldn’t help but feel, should be more idiosyncratic.