If it’s possible for a woman to live convincingly as a man, even one as alcoholic and dyspeptic as Abe, Koelb demonstrates precisely how it’s done. Abe’s impregnation of Inez is not a scene you are likely ever to forget ... Here is a novel of bewitching ingenuity, one whose darkling, melodic mind conceives a world of ruin and awe, a sensibility cast in sepia or else in a pall of vying grays ... When too many rookie novels sputter and sag...Trenton Makes boasts the force of real freshness. It asserts its authenticity in the plinths and joists of its architecture, in the bold intricacies of character and plot, but also in the only spot that truly matters: the prose.
...[a] striking debut novel ... In the book’s opening pages, Koelb paints a gripping portrait of rough masculinity, but begins to undercut that portrait almost instantly ... The narrative pull of this novel doesn’t derive from the mystery of Abe’s gender identity, resolved for the reader before many pages have been turned. Its power stems from the manner in which Koelb conveys Kunstler’s efforts to draw out manhood from himself ... This is a peculiar, gripping book, and Koelb’s is a distinctive voice ... a fascinating interrogation of the industrial American dream.
This book won’t be for everyone. The writing style, leaving readers uneasy and off-center, takes some getting used to ... Overall, this is a well-crafted book, but one that I think will turn off many readers for various reasons. However, it would make a great book club selection because there are so many topics to discuss.