... a wonderful, immersive debut ... Here is where the novel’s heft earns its great, beautiful weight. Beate decides to move back to Germany, returning with children of her own ... is, in so many ways, a novel of life — at least in James Salter’s sense: 'Life is weather. Life is meals.' As in many great novels, time is perhaps its most magnetic character. Our lives are time spent, and it’s a deep, expansive pleasure to spend a little of ours as these characters spend their own ... Most extraordinarily, Grattan gives us not only life, but a good life, the rarity of which in fiction (and increasingly, reality) is a shame. Is happiness really so uninteresting? Is contentment? Both seem to have developed that reputation, but in Grattan’s hands, life’s joys are magnetic ... Even among the absolute, unequivocal horrors of Eastern Europe in the 1990s, there is room for life. Room, even, for beauty, which Grattan delivers with graceful economy ... Where our present era of decimated attention demands contraction and diminishment, The Recent East offers expansion; it artfully holds open a needed space — to wander, to contemplate, to notice. Even just to breathe. Like the house in the novel, life is so much larger than we remember ... Grattan’s true talent is patience. I think it’s only now that I’ve realized where it is these characters grow. One name for it is family. The other, no matter who offers it, is love. I’m grateful this novel could take me there.
[A] sharply accomplished first novel by a forty-seven-year-old author who up to now has published just a scattering of quietly daring short stories ... The Recent East gives an excellent sense of its chosen then and there, but this is historical fiction in which history remains secondary to personality, where national reunification is less important than the characters’ attempts to make their own stressed-out psychologies cohere ... Grattan’s short stories have been especially adept at rendering the emotional and physical gropings of adolescent gay boys, whose gestures of affection often get lost in aggressive disguises ... Udo remains the book’s central mystery, and it is an indication of Grattan’s skill, not a limitation, that his character never really adds up. Was his participation in the attack some wayward, subconscious release of furies built up but suppressed through decades of totalitarianism? The novelist cannot say, because, finally, he doesn’t know. Part of realism is the acceptance of mystery, especially when it involves human nature. If Adela’s moral erasure of Udo is understandable, Grattan’s sticking with him is nervy, even fearless ... Grattan’s story stretches almost to the present day, but its shuffled chronology makes us feel that we never really leave any of the decades to which the author keeps returning. He even has a nice technique, sparingly used, by which a character’s projections of the future get rendered in the past tense. His command of his story’s intricate continuities, something rarer in a novelist than readers often realize, may signal how long and deeply he has been imagining the book ... But the book never engenders the airless, autofictive feeling that the writer is the story rather than its teller ... Grattan’s rarer achievement is to have written a historical novel whose when and where, however well established, are not really determinative, and whose people remain individual riddles instead of political integers ... Fiction, as always, will have to play catch-up, which is what Thomas Grattan’s career now seems splendidly to be doing.
It is 1990, and Grattan does an excellent job in setting the scene of the bland, hardscrabble working-class life of Upstate New York ... Grattan is excellent at capturing the heartlands of American capitalism and skillful at pointing out the failings and inequities of liberal democracy ... There is a nice irony that Grattan exposes in juxtaposing the harsh reality of American life and its purported hype as paradise, as the ever-famous American dream ... Grattan...is strongest at the beginning of this novel, where careful observation, paired with a slow, assured, and uncluttered prose style, investigates a single profound theme ... However, Grattan seems to lose the thread, and begins to overload his plot with a flow of secondary characters and actions. At times I feel he resorts to synopsizing his narrative and racing to tie up the many plot points he’s set in motion, losing in the end that nuanced tale of personal and political alienation and displacement ... But Grattan is a masterful writer when it comes to finding the odd and alien struggles of our present-day predicament. He is deft at exposing our longing, especially in being queer, to dispel and discard old myths and crushing ideals, to defect and cross borders in imagining a stranger, freer and more diverse home.